By Matt Noonan
BOSTON, MA – After an usually slow start against an impressive Mansfield Hornets [24-2] the New Bedford Whalers [24-0] bounced back and earned the MIAA Division I South title with a 47-46 victory.
“It’s an exciting time,” said New Bedford head coach Michael Gonsalves. “Tonight we have everything we got, we played a hell of a Mansfield team.”
“I thought the defense was [New Bedford’s] defense athleticism,” said Mansfield head coach Michael Redding. “We got that nine point lead and it seemed like they knew it was tied and they stepped up the defensive pressure, forced a bunch of turnovers that we hadn’t been doing and they just ware you down.”
After winning the opening tip, New Bedford’s offense stalled and struggled to score points while Mansfield’s offense jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead thanks to Hornets junior guard Katherine Campbell [7-points].
Eventually, the Whalers did respond by converting a variety of their points inside the paint, however, their shots selection from beyond the arc wasn’t impressive.
New Bedford’s junior guard Allexia Barros [23 points] and Mansfield’s senior center Colleen Copley [13 points] appeared to be the true heros for both teams during the opening quarters, as they not only scored on offense, but also, forced their opponents to shoot off target. Yet, New Bedford’s offense continued to appear incredibly out of sync during parts of the second quarter, which allowed Mansfield to end the quarter on a short run and head into halftime with a two-point lead.
“We just needed to relax and play good defense,” said Barros. “Our defense comes from our offense and that’s how we [eventually] won this game.”
Barros and her teammates regrouped during the break and played a completely better half of basketball during the third and fourth quarter, which clearly caught Mansfield off guard. The Hornets and Whalers offenses seemed to swap places, as Mansfield struggle while New Bedford forced turnovers and scored breaks on the transition.
“I think Wednesday night might have taken a little bit out [of my team], might have been a little tired down the stretch. I think it was more just their defensive pressure, but we played tough against an undefeated team,” said Redding.
The Whalers began the fourth quarter by continuing to provide extra pressure on the Hornets and slowly, the momentum shifted, which allowed New Bedford to earn their largest lead of the game, but also, control the final minutes of momentum.
Mansfield did respond during the closing seconds with a critical three-pointer from senior guard Keli McPherson, which brought the Hornets within three points during the final seconds, but their exciting run came crashing down, as New Bedford kept the ball away from Mansfield and celebrated on the Boston Celtics parquet floor.
New Bedford will return to the TD Garden on Monday when they face the Division I North champion, Andover for the chance to then advance to Worcester for the Massachusetts state championship. Although, one thing the Whalers will certainly want to improve upon is their free-throw shooting, as the team finished the game [5-19] from the line.
“We’re not that bad from the free throw line,” said Gonsalves.
“[We need to] practice on our free throws more,” said Barros.