MANSFIELD, Mass. – The wind was whipping across Alumni Field on Wednesday afternoon and it felt more like the middle of the winter than the start of spring, but the turf was clear of snow and so Mansfield and Canton each took the field for the second time this season.
It took a little longer than usual for the two teams to warm up, the first half was dominated by turnovers and misplaced passes, but in the end the teams went right down to the wire. Seniors Caroline Maher and Julia Todesco each scored hat tricks for the Hornets to pull out a 10-8 victory and push Mansfield to 2-0 on the season.
Mansfield coach Alexis Kobey was not surprised that her upperclassmen led the way on Wednesday. She said, “Both Julia and Caroline played amazing. Claire Maroney anchored our defense back there…Those three are really the backbone of our team. They anchor everything for us.”
Things did not start well for the hosts. Canton opened the scoring nearly four minutes in when Caroline Hagen bounced a shot past Mansfield goalie Tori Lawlor. Jill Pulutchko answered off a feed from Katie Garvin to tie it for the Hornets two minutes later, but Canton came right back with the first of two goals by senior Casey Bradley, on an assist by Abby Colburn.
Todesco and then Maher went back-to-back for Mansfield to give the Hornets their first lead of the game at 3-2 but then Bradley tied the game and classmate Mary Nee smacked the post on a quick break. On her next chance, Nee went over the top of Lawlor (10 saves, seven in first half) to make it 4-3 Bulldogs.
Midway through the first half, Kobey made a change on the draws. She put Todesco on the initial draw and moved Maher up to the edge of the circle with Maggie Dunn and occasionally freshman Emily Vigeant to try and gain control. The switch worked and the Hornets won 8-11 draw controls in the first half and 14-20 for the game.
“We kind of switched it around to get different looks and Emily Vigeant, a freshman, we were trying to get her some looks on the draw,” said Kobey. “But Caroline is so good with those one-handed catches, she has such a good eye.”
Lawlor made a huge kick save to block a chance from Bradley with 9:25 left in the half and two minutes later Maher spun past her marker to tie the game at 4-4. Vigeant put Mansfield ahead at halftime, 6-4, with a pair of goals, the first of her career.
The first came off a turnover that she forced directly in front of Canton goalie Kathryn Doody and the second after she had earned a free position opportunity.
“Her first varsity goals, so that’s big for her,” said Kobey. “She was excited. Her and Katie Garvin are our two freshmen and they came right in and made an impact on the game.”
Canton came out of halftime with renewed energy and immediately got back into the game. Just 1:43 after the break, Colburn took advantage of a restart with Lawlor out of the cage and found Rebecca Eckler alone in front to make it 6-5.
Mansfield pressed forward looking to extend the lead but was denied by Doody, who made seven of her 12 saves in the second half, including four in the opening six minutes. Her stops allowed the Bulldogs to tie the game with 19:48 left on Nee’s second of the game.
“She had a great game; a few big saves,” said Canton coach Chrissy O’Connor of Doody. “She really stepped up and had a great game.”
O’Connor added, “I thought they did a good job in the second half of kind of pulling it together. We’re still kind of early on in the season, so we’re still trying to work some things out.”
Mansfield took less than a minute to regain the lead. Todesco forced a turnover in the defensive zone and started a quick transition that went from Mary Folan to Dunn for a 7-6 lead.
Olivia Devoe answered right back for Canton from a free position chance, but then Todesco scored two in a row, both slicing across the Bulldogs’ defense, to put the Hornets ahead 9-7.
Maroney picked up a card and Canton had an extra player on the field, but the Bulldogs struggled to make the advantage pay. Finally, Nee made a steal on defense and sparked a quick transition. Bradley picked out Hagen in the middle and she cut the lead to just one with 10:57 left.
O’Connor said, “I think it took us a little while to figure out to double team on the man down, but they did a good job of starting to pressure. Our shooting – we hit the post a couple of times, had a couple of overthrows but overall I’m happy with how they played.”
As the clock wound down under six minutes remaining, Canton was probing for the tying goal. The Bulldogs had more than a minute of sustained pressure, but the Mansfield defense was staying with cutters and not allowing good looks. The one chance that the Bulldogs had was stopped by Lawlor.
“I think that’s what really saved us, making that save that gave them the extra confidence,” said Kobey. “When the goalie saved, they’re like yeah! When we went to the timeout, we had the lead and I told them it’s our game.”
Todesco made another play, this time on the defensive side of the game, when she scooped up a ground ball to end Canton’s possession. The play transitioned into the attack and Maher capped her hat trick with a finish that made it 10-8 with 5:17 to play.
The game was sloppy at times, but Kobey admitted that the conditions were at least partly to blame. She explained, “The cold conditions are tough because the blood’s not flowing a much and your hands are freezing and you can’t feel the stick.”
O’Connor is in her first year as head coach and has started with back-to-back losses to perennial power Franklin and now Mansfield. Despite the defeats, she is pleased with how the team is coming together.
She said, “Starting off with Franklin is difficult, but I was happy with how they came back and stayed in this game. It wasn’t the outcome we wanted but I was happy with the fight the whole game…baby steps.”
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.