Not a lot went right for the Mansfield High girls’ basketball team last season.
The Hornets lost players to stomach flus and twisted ankles. They lost games by a couple of points. Just two years removed from a trip to TD Garden for the state semifinals, Mansfield finished 4-16, missing the postseason for the first time in recent memory.
Through the string of close losses, coach Mike Redding knew his team was getting better. The record never reflected it, but he could see it, and he knew that his players saw it too.
Losses to Taunton and North Attleborough by a combined 66 points midway through the year turned into six- and seven-point losses in the final week of the season.
The Hornets battled the whole year, still working hard despite the disappointment.
This season, that’s paying off.
Mansfield won eight of its first 10 games, an exact reversal from last year’s 2-8 start. Playing more man-to-man defense than zone, the Hornets are yielding 10 points per game fewer than last season. Now they’re the team stretching fourth-quarter leads rather than losing them. That’s been the case since their first game.
In the opener against Attleboro, the Hornets watched their 10-point lead dwindle to three with 1:38 left. It was exactly the type of game Mansfield lost a year ago. Not this year. The Hornets ended the game on a 6-1 run for a 59-51 win, as four players scored in double figures.
Two days later, Mansfield found itself in another close game, this time at King Philip Regional. Down two in the final minutes, the Hornets ended the game with six consecutive points en route to a 41-37 victory. “A year ago we wouldn’t have found a way to win those games, but this year they hung in there,” Redding said. “Coming out of that week, we said, ‘Hey, we are going to be all right.’ ”
Redding has been coaching at Mansfield for 16 years, so he knows how important the first few games of a season are. He feared a couple close losses early in the year could lead his team to a repeat of last season. With the wins, just the opposite happened: His Hornets started rolling.
Mansfield won its next four games — three by double digits — including a 69-46 rout of perennial Hockomock League power Oliver Ames. They had lost to OA by 26 last year, and never scored over 60 points in a game.
Redding learned more about his team in its first loss than its 6-0 start.
Two weeks ago, Franklin toppled Mansfield, 56-40. The Hornets were outmuscled on the boards, 46-23, and Franklin’s Lexi Martin torched Mansfield for 27 points.
“It was a wake-up call for us that all the games in conference are going to be close this year,” senior cocaptain Janet Maher said.
The team shook off its first loss, bouncing back two days later to beat Stoughton by 19.
“Even at practices, they are much more competitive than they were last year,” said Maher. “Now we play a game pace. Last year we slowed things down.”
“It’s easy,” Redding said, “when you are 4-0, 5-0, 6-0 to work hard and everyone is having fun, but we really came back after that Franklin loss and worked hard the next two days.
“That was really a show of our character to battle back and avoid those back-to-back losses.”
Redding credits that character to the influence of last year’s seniors, Gina Stoyle and Erin Glavin , just as he had predicted at last year’s end-of-season banquet.
“If we do have a good year,” he said at the time, “a lot of it is owed to how [Stoyle and Glavin] kept the kids together — kept them playing hard. They might not get to enjoy it, but they would be a big part of any future success we have.”
This year’s leadership from Maher and fellow senior cocaptains, 5-foot-8 Hannah McKillop and 5-11 Lauren Beecher , has also been important. The 5-10 Maher leads the team with her ability to shoot from outside as well as play down low and draw fouls. She scored 15 in the team’s season-opening win over Attleboro.
Maher had 14 in a loss to North Attleborough on Jan. 17, but was outdone by her younger sister Carolyn , a sophomore. The 5-7 guard hit five three-pointers for a team-high 15 points. The Hornets hung with North Attleborough into the fourth quarter.
Carolyn is one of two sophomores starting for Mansfield, and a big reason why Redding is optimistic about the future. He’s seen the cycle before: a handful of good years, then a bad one, and then another good run. He thinks he’s going to see it again.
“We are right at the start of another really good run,” Redding said. “We are going to be good this year, and we might be even better in the next two to three years.”
Tenacious D is the key
An 11 a.m. tip, in a different venue, against one of the favorites to win the Boston City League proved not to be an obstacle to the North Quincy High boys’ basketball team. Playing the early game of the BABC Classic against Dorchester at Reggie Lewis Arena, the Red Raiders moved to 11-0 with a 47-30 victory.
North Quincy seniors 6-9 Anthony Green and 6-4 Efthim Butka each finished with double-doubles, but it was defense that coach Kevin Barrett credits for the team’s hot start.
Dorchester had scored at least 50 points in each of its games entering Monday, and North Quincy’s defense shone in a 61-35 beatdown of previously unbeaten Scituate the previous Friday. “The kids are taking pride in holding opposition to 35 on Friday night and 30’’ on Monday, Barrett said. “The tenacious team defense has been the thing that has brought us the success. That’s truly the reason we are undefeated after 11 games.”
In the win at Scituate, junior forward Matt Gerakis got a career-high 32 points. “He’s made the leap,” Barrett said. “I’ve been telling a lot of people that was the most efficient 32-point game I’ve probably ever seen.”
This year’s team is now just the fourth in school history to be undefeated halfway through the year.
A learning experience
Returning to the Hoophall Classic in Springfield for a second year, the Braintree High girls hung with Christ the King early but could not keep up with the powerhouse from Queens, N.Y. Christ the King guard Sierra Calhoun , who is headed to Duke, tallied 30 points in a 69-52 win for the Royals, handing the Wamps their first loss of the year. Braintree sophomore Brianna Herlihy had 15 points and seven rebounds in the defeat.
“Just like last year, it was a great experience,” said Braintree coach Kristen McDonnell. “Very rarely are you going to play a team with that depth of experience, and also with the top two kids who are going to big-time colleges. It highlighted some of the things we need to work on.”
Also competing in the showcase, Archbishop Williams had no answer for Mater Dei (Calif.) and the No. 2 junior in the country, Katie Lou Samuelson . She had 21 points in the first half of an 86-37 win.