MILFORD, Mass. -– With the new No. 1 team in the state in Mansfield visiting, the No. 23 Milford Hawks (14-2) looked to deliver a knockout punch in the first round.
They landed a shot, but it wasn’t enough to keep Mansfield down, as the Hawks’ first quarter lead turned into a 76-52 loss at the hands of the No. 1 Hornets (16-1).
Milford went toe-to-toe with Mansfield in the first quarter, evening coming away with a 23-22 lead. But as Milford slowed, Mansfield continued to roll, pulling out the 24-point win.
“We’re getting everyone’s best,” Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan said. “It was a great atmosphere. I said to my guys when they called their first timeout at 13-13, ‘They just threw their biggest punch, and we’re still tied.’”
Milford jumped out to an early lead, and extended it to as much as six. Mansfield bounced back to take the lead midway through the quarter, but a free throw at the end of the quarter gave the Hawks the lead.
“They just came out firing,” Mansfield sophomore Brendan Hill said. “I was real proud of my team, we bounced right back. We took their punch and delivered one back.”
After an exciting first quarter, the Hornets stepped up big defensively, only allowing four Milford points in the second quarter on just one field goal and two free throws.
“I think at some level the game fatigue starts to kick in and the adrenaline level starts to come down,” Vaughan said on the contrasting quarters. “It wasn’t as much of an adjustment as it was just executing the game plan a little better.”
Hill and junior Rocky DeAndrade both finished with a team-high 17 points for the Hornets, while Milford senior David Mercier was the only Hawk in double-figures at 21.
DeAndrade and Hill both found success offensively in the third quarter, when Mansfield turned a 11-point halftime lead into a 16-point difference to start the fourth quarter. DeAndrade had nine in the third.
“They started to press us so that started to open up gaps for us,” DeAndrade said. “I was getting deny defense so I started playing the middle.”
As it has been for this season, Mansfield has received strong play from not only the starters, but from their deep bench. Senior Greg Romanko had 13 points, sophomore Ryan Boulter had 12, junior Kevin Conner had 9 and sophomore Michael Boen had 8.
Conner, who didn’t practice yesterday because his knee was bothering him, added a big spark including a first half dunk, and four second-half offensive boards that kept Mansfield’s lead in safe distance.
“He got two [offensive rebounds] off free throws which is unusual and got the big dunk,” Vaughan said. “Defensively, he was outstanding. I was very happy with his play tonight.”
Milford’s Michael Tracy had eight points, while Michael Titlebaum finished with seven.
Both teams will be back in play on Friday in key Hockomock divisional games as Milford hosts Oliver Ames and Mansfield will host No. 20 Taunton.
A WORTHY REMATCH
Mansfield will now look to continue their winning ways on Friday with a visit from the Taunton Tigers. When these two teams met in the beginning of January, the Hornets edged out a 68-62 win. Now Taunton will be looking for revenge and Vaughan expects another great game.
“I say this with Taunton playing a really good game the first time, but I actually expect a better game out of them,” he said. “I’m excited and I’m happy to be at home. They’re backs are against the wall and they pretty much have to win to stay in [Hockomock] contention.”
In the win last time, Hill had 24 points while DeAndrade had 16. Hill expects the same effort from Taunton this time around.
“A lot of energy,” Hill said on what he’s expecting. “They are fast and quick. I think we handled it really well last time. Hopefully we can get out to a bigger lead and open things up a bit.”
1-0 AS NUMBER ONE
Mansfield was ranked as the top team in the state for the first time this season in the latest ESPNBoston.com Top 25 poll that came out this week, but Hill didn’t feel any added pressure with the new number next to the team’s name.
“It doesn’t get to our team’s heads at all,” Hill said. “We just want to go out and win, we’ll beat anyone we play. We don’t get big heads or anything like that. We just want to go out and win.”
When Vaughan saw they were ranked as the best in the state, it brought back a familiar feeling.
“I got the feeling that I got the first time, in my fourth year, when Mansfield showed up in the Top 25,” he said. “It’s not something you can say often for a team for a suburban town in southeastern Massachusetts that you can be number one.”
But Vaughan noted how often the top teams have fallen in the NCAA this season, and hopes his team can use that as a guideline going forward.
“It puts a bigger bulls-eye on our back,” Vaughan said. “At the end of the day, our guys are realistic. We had goal number one of making the tournament. We had goal number two of winning the Hock. Number three is winning games in the tournament. If we can do those things, our goals are accomplished regardless of the additional accolades.”