NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – The Hornets got off to a great start against Kelley-Rex rival North Attleboro in a non-league meeting on Friday afternoon. Behind two of Bill Grant’s three goals, Mansfield took a 4-0 lead in the first half and that turned out to be the difference.
The Rocketeers closed the gap with a fourth quarter rally but in the end the early deficit proved to be too much and Mansfield held on for an 8-5 victory.
“That was the really difference that our guys popped out to,” said Mansfield coach Tim Frias, “and, you know, North is a great team, they’re well-coached and you see them work hard after every ball, so nothing’s safe.”
North Attleboro coach Kevin Young, whose young team only has three seniors in the starting lineup, admitted that the lack of intensity at the start hurt on Friday.
He said, “That class last year was nice and strong, carried the load, so these guys have to step up and learn and they are. The second half was good…made a push at the end.
“We just have to get confident, start working together, and not make JV kid mistakes.”
Grant opened the scoring inside the opening minute off a feed from Connor Finerty. The score would stay the same for nearly seven minutes before Grant won a ground ball and then fed it to Ryan Smith, who had his first shot saved by Danny MacDonald but batted in the rebound.
Sam O’Connell made it 3-0 for the Hornets before the end of the first quarter off a great pass from Jon Reed from the ‘X.’ The Mansfield passing moved the North defense around and got MacDonald to chase out of his crease for a second to allow space in front for O’Connell.
“That’s the philosophy we’re working on on offense,” said Frias. “The faster you move the ball, the more opportunities you’ll get, especially with a lot of guys that can shoot. Move it around and you’ll get open and they’re getting it.”
North had a few chances in the first quarter. Sean Powers made three of his seven saves in the half and the Rocketeers hit the post twice, including a chance for Zack McGowan that smacked off the bar from close range. One shot by Owen Costello slipped past Powers but the muddy field held the ball just short of the line and the goalie was able to cover in time to prevent the goal.
Grant tacked on his second goal of the game on a man-up three minutes into the second quarter, but North was finally able to get on the board on its own EMO when freshman Nick Ward fired a shot inside the post.
In the second half, Finerty restored the four-goal lead on an assist by Hunter Ferreira, as the senior cut through the middle of the North defense. On a turnover, Ferreira got his first to make it 6-1 and it looked like Mansfield could run away with the game.
But, North had an answer. Costello beat his man to the middle and despite heavy contact was able to get a shot away and beat Powers. Shortly after, Colin Young beat the Mansfield defense in transition after a strong clear and made it 6-3.
Frias laughed when asked if the muddy field affected his team, which is used to playing on turf. He said, “It slows you down and they take advantage of it on some of their clears. It was brilliant how they had great clears and we almost lost it based off of that and make it into a race.”
The North defense started to clamp down after the break and limited the chances for the Hornets and was aided by MacDonald, who made five of his nine saves in the second half.
“We have Danny in net this year, last year he was on attack,” explained Young. “That’s his position and I expect him to go far. He’s kind of a young kid too but he stepped up and made some huge saves. He’s been outstanding for us.”
The defense could only hold out so long, as Grant beat his close defender with a head fake to the back of the cage and then a spin move into the middle before depositing his shot to MacDonald’s left to complete his hat trick.
“That always helps,” said Frias of getting a hat trick from Grant. “Between him, Hunter, and Connor you figure we’re going to get one out of one of those guys.”
Smith fed Reed for his second goal of the game to make it 8-3, but North did not give up and managed to cut into the lead with a pair of quick transitions in the final minute.
McGowan beat his defender and then finished just under the bar and then Collin Young tacked on his second on a man-up in the final 30 seconds to cut the lead to three.
“That sense of urgency has to come all game,” said Young, “it can’t come just because we need a goal with a minute left. I think they’ll mature. The kids I have now will grow into people as strong as the teams we graduated.”
Frias admitted he was starting “down the path” to being nervous as North scored two quick goals, but he was proud of his team’s strong start to the season.
“That’s a credit to these seniors,” he said. “They’ve played on some very good teams, we’ve just had a hard time grinding it out. They’ve lived it so now they’re grinding it and they’re coming together.”
Mansfield (4-1) will face Hanover on Tuesday, while North Attleboro (2-2) will travel to Taunton.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.