BY KYLE DaLUZ FOR THE SUN CHRONICLE
MANSFIELD — Down by four with a minute to go, the Mansfield High girls’ basketball team found itself on the brink of postseason elimination at the hands of the Durfee Hilltoppers in Thursday night’s quarterfinal round of the Division 1 South Sectional MIAA tournament.
That’s when Mansfield High coach Mike Redding called a timeout to try and regather the composure for the stretch run. The Hornets answered, scoring the final four points in regulation to force overtime where Mansfield pulled out a 60-54 victory before a roaring home crowd.
Facing an early exit from this year’s tourney, the No. 3-seeded Hornets looked to go to Megan Hill in the clutch, but the Hilltoppers kept Hill from getting the ball.
“We were trying to get a play to Megan inside.” said Redding of his plan of attack for the final minute of regulation. “We did a good job down the stretch of getting some stops and making the plays we needed to make.”
Mansfield junior Caroline Maher drove baseline and hit a contested layup to cut the lead to two with 45.8 seconds remaining. Then on the defensive end, the Hornets forced a shot clock violation to have a chance to tie the score with 14.8 seconds to play.
After a timeout, Mansfield’s Jennifer Peel took the ball coast to coast and laid it up and in, followed by a blocked shot from Hill on the defensive end to force overtime.
“It was a big hoop.” said Redding. “(Peel’s) had a great run, and she struggled finishing but when it mattered she made the big hoop to get us to overtime.”
Once in the extra session, No. 3 seed Mansfield (18-4) outscored the Hilltoppers 8-2 over the final four minutes to advance to the Division 1 South Sectional MIAA semifinals where the Hornets will face No. 2 seed Bishop Feehan (19-2) at a site and time to be determined.
To get there, the Hornets received big contributions from Hill, who had four rebounds in overtime and scored the first two points of the final quarter, while Peel hit two free throws with 17.9 seconds to play to give Mansfield a four-point lead.
“This team’s been down before and we’re not going to throw in the towel,” said Redding of his team’s come-from-behind effort. “We were lucky to win it, but we’re happy to move on.”
Mansfield led by eight after the first quarter, but saw the game tied at halftime, 27-27, and trailed, 41-39, heading into the final quarter thanks to a stellar offensive effort from Brianna Camara, who had 28 points and 10 rebounds in the contest.
“We started OK, but it seemed like they were more game ready in those middle two quarters,” added Redding. “It was more of them just playing great than anything else.”
“The kids are so tough,” said Durfee High coach Brendan Kelly. “They’re tough kids and they care. I wish we could’ve executed a little bit better down the stretch.”
Mansfield got off to an early lead, using a balanced scoring attack to forge a 14-6 lead after the first quarter. From there, Durfee went on a 14-7 run in the first six minutes of the second quarter to climb back in the game and only trail 21-20 with the two teams ending the first half deadlocked.
In the second half, Durfee (14-8) led throughout most of the third quarter and for the duration of the fourth quarter up until Peel’s game-tying layup with under 10 seconds to play.
The Hornets were paced by Maher’s 18 points to go with six rebounds. Freshman Hill added a double-double with 13 points, and 13 rebounds.
“She’s (Hill) able to alter a lot of shots,” said Redding of his 6-foot-1 center. “She had a lot of defensive rebounds for us, and did not play like a freshman tonight.”