Thursday, March 15, 2018

Unsung Hero: Sam Hyland's Defense at the Center of Mansfield's Success

Photo by Eamon Convey 
By Matt Feld (@MattyFeld612)

In its run to its second state final appearance in school history, Mansfield’s offense has been nearly flawless.

The Hornets have scored at least 70 points in all five of their postseason games while shooting over 50-percent versus No. 4 Newton North and No. 3 Brockton.

Throughout the state tournament, the Hornets have been in a one-possession game in the second half for all of 15 combined seconds.

Johnny McCoy has lived up to his regular season honor of Hockomock League MVP and Damani Scott has emerged as a mismatch for opposing point guards. Tyler Boulter has showcased shooting streaks that bring back memories of his older brother, Ryan, and Justin Vine has been a key contributor off the bench. 

It is at the other end of the floor, however, where Mansfield’s Sam Hyland has left the most impactful mark on the Hornets success.

As the season has gone on, Hyland has become one of the top defenders in Massachusetts with his quickness and build allowing him to develop into a point-forward in Mike Vaughan’s system.

Hyland, a varsity soccer star and senior captain, finds himself on the opposing team’s top player on a nightly basis. Based on the path the Hornets have had to navigate to get to the state finals, Hyland has found himself guarding almost every premiere player that Massachusetts has to offer.

Over the last two weeks Hyland has gone up against BC High’s Travis Evee, Newton North’s Ethan Wright, and Everett’s Ghared Boyce – three players all that have reached the 1,400-point scoring plateau.

Hyland shined in his matchup against Wright in the South semi-finals. Going up against one of the region’s most athletic players and top scorers, Hyland held Wright to a mere nine points on 4-of-11 shooting.

Evee and Boyce had more successful evenings filling up the stat sheet. Evee poured in 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting while Boyce finished the Division 1 State Semi-finals with 22 points.

For Vaughan, however, Hyland’s purpose is not restricted to shutting down the sharpshooter the Hornets are facing on a given night. Rather, it is about simply forcing the offense into a corner where they left to solely rely on its star player to do the work.

As the game goes on, Hyland’s constant aggression takes affect leaving the usual fourth quarter star with little left in the tank.

What makes Hyland such an appealing candidate to guard the opposing teams top player for the Hornets’ coaching staff goes beyond his performance on the court.

Vaughan and associate head coach Bobby Introini have been consistently impressed with Hyland’s basketball awareness, intuitiveness, and enthusiasm for the game plan.

The two-sport athlete spends countless hours analyzing a scouting report on his upcoming matchup noticing tendencies that players abide by.

“His basketball IQ and attention to details are off the charts,” said Introini. “He is locked in when it comes to following a game plan and studying player’s tendencies. That, along with the fact that we know we are going to get his best effort every second he is out on that court.

Boulter, a three-year teammate of Hyland’s, shared similar sentiments.

“His IQ is off the chart,” said Boulter. “He is the ‘practice captain’, he keeps all of us in check to make sure we are performing at the highest level and when we are struggling in a drill, he does the little things and builds confidence in everyone so we can bounce back and find that rhythm.”

That mellow demeanor, high confident persona was on full display in the events that unfolded during Hyland’s matchup with the Princeton commit in Wright. While most spectators would presume that the goal would be to take Wright’s right hand away, Hyland’s focus was on limiting Wright’s touches with his left.

It was a pattern that Vaughan and his staff had picked up on – Wright’s offensive artillery was tougher to stop when he used his off hand.

Coach told me that if he goes left he can score at all 3 levels (at the rim, pull-up, and 3) but if he goes right he's going try to get to the rim and that's where our help is the best,” recalled Hyland.

What makes Hyland’s efforts even more impressive, however, is the different skillsets he’s been up against.

While Wright may be known for his length and athleticism, Boyce is known for his quickness.

Hyland proved to be plenty fleet of foot, keeping Boyce in front of him for most the night and forcing him to take tough off balance jump shots.

When Boyce did get by him, Hyland was be able to slow him down just enough to allow the Hornets’ help defense to step up.

“(Boyce) is no doubt a superior athlete but I thought I did a decent job of forcing him to take a lot of shots to get his points and a lot of contested shots,” said Hyland.

This all the while he is expected to also be the Hornets’ steward on the offensive end.

Hyland is at the helm going up against an opposing guard who is often much quicker and more attuned with the skills typically associated with a point guard.

In an offense that is dependent on hard cuts and constant movement Hyland’s leadership is at the fulcrum of its success. For the postseason, Hyland is averaging over four assists per game.

“Hyland’s been our unsung hero right now,” said Vaughan. “He doesn’t score a lot of points, he takes everyone’s best shot because he has to take the ball up and then he’s getting everyone’s best player [defensively].”

In Saturday night's Division 1 State Final, Hyland will likely go up against Franklin’s Chris Edgehill for a third time this season.

An elusive guard with the ability to shoot from all over the floor, there is no telling how many points the Panthers’ sophomore sensation will pile up

If the last month of the season is any indication, however, the numbers will be the toughest Edgehill has attained since the year’s opening tip.

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