DeMattio, North Beat Attleboro to Win Blue-Red Cup

North Attleboro baseball
Senior catcher Zach DeMattio drove in two runs, including the game-winner in the fifth inning, as North beat Attleboro to win the annual Blue-Red Cup. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Last year it was North Attleboro that came into the rivalry game under the lights against Attleboro at Community Field needing a win to keep its playoff hopes alive. The Bombardiers pulled out that win to keep North out of the postseason, but on Wednesday night the roles were reversed and the Rocketeers exacted a measure of revenge.

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Behind a complete game, four-hitter from senior Peter Cohen and a pair of RBI from senior catcher Zach DeMattio, the Davenport division champion Rocketeers pulled out a 3-1 victory, bringing home the Blue-Red Cup for the first time in three years and officially knocking their rivals out of tournament contention.

“I think that was in the back of their minds,” admitted North coach Mike Hart. “We knew they were going to come out jacked up and we had to match it and exceed it. I definitely think we matched the excitement and the energy. It’s probably the most energetic I’ve been this season and I think it’s the same with them.”

Offense was in short supply, as the two teams only combined for eight hits. Cohen kept the Bombardiers off-balance and junior Eoin Kelleher limited the high-powered North offense to just four hits as well.

“We’ve been in this situation before and came through,” said Hart. “We just stuck to our approach and believed that we could do it. I think it helps us coming towards the playoffs. It’s the Hockomock League and every game’s going to be a fight, no matter who it is.”

Attleboro coach Matt Bosh added, “That was a great game, two good teams, great crowd, rivalry, atmosphere, you know, and it was 3-1. That’s an awesome baseball game. Cohen pitched outstanding. He made good pitches when he had to. It was a great pitcher’s duel.”

The visitors took the lead in the top of the first. Tim Callahan led-off with a double into right center and, with one out, Alvaro Espinal drew a walk. Nick Raneri made a great barehand play on the run on a swinging bunt up the third baseline by Jon Candiales, but both runners moved into scoring position.

Corey McKenna singled to left, scoring Callahan, but Brendan McHugh came up firing and threw a strike to DeMattio at the plate, who managed to get the tag on Espinal just before the runner touched home.

The lead was short-lived. North answered back in the bottom half of the inning. McHugh started it with a single to left and then stole second. Nick Sinacola moved him to third with a grounder to the right side and DeMattio roped a line drive to right to bring McHugh home. McKenna ended the inning with a barehand pickup and throw on the infield grass to get Raneri.

Neither team would manage another hit until a two-out single by Sam Larkin in the top of the fourth. Both went in order in the second after Jeff Gale was caught stealing by Dakota Kirby and both had base runners in the third on a couple of walks, but the pitchers and the defenses were keeping scoring chances to a minimum.

That changed in the bottom of the fifth. With one out, nine-hole hitter Ryan Warren dropped down a perfect bunt up the third baseline for North’s first hit since the first. McHugh followed with a walk. Sinacola hit a grounder to second but Attleboro couldn’t complete the double play to end the inning, as the University of Maine-commit hustled down the line to keep the inning alive.

“Ryan does a very good job with that,” said Hart. “We were just trying to keep Attleboro on its toes too and it does spark some energy on the bench.” About Sinacola beating out the double play grounder, Hart added, “He’s been a great leader just hustling down there.”

DeMattio ripped a single through the left side for his second hit and second RBI of the night to put North back in front. After Nate Pearce walked to load the bases, Raneri took one off the top of his helmet to give North an insurance run.

Hart said, “Zach’s a special player. He’s definitely become a better hitter since last year. He may not have all the home runs that he’s had in the past but he’s definitely become a better hitter.”

Bosh joked, “I was kidding with DeMattio that’s why he hasn’t seen a pitch in four years because he hammers it every time.”

Attleboro went into the seventh down by two trying to keep its playoff hopes alive and Kirby gave the Bombardiers some added energy with a lead off single. Troy Van Vliet came up next and hit a soft liner that North first baseman Aidan Harding was able to snare at full stretch.

Cohen fed off the big defensive play and was able to bear down, closing the game out with a strikeout and then a grounder into the hole at short that Shawn Watters not only got to but was able to fire a strike to second to get the game-ending force.

“Peter’s a bulldog. He’s out there and he’s battling every single pitch,” Hart said. “He has good stuff and he trusts his fastball, which has got a little movement on it. He just gets out there and battles and I think that’s really what a lot of our seniors and our whole team bring to the table.”

This has been the type of loss that has defined Attleboro’s season. The Bombardiers have lost six games by three runs or less this spring, including four by just a single run.

“Our kids battled but yeah it’s been the story of our season. We lose games like that,” said Bosh. “Our pitching has been great…but late in the year a lot of teams are pitching well so your runs aren’t going to be in bunches. I’m proud of my kids, they fought hard.”

North Attleboro (15-1, 12-1) will continue to prepare for the state tournament on Friday night against Bishop Feehan, again under the lights at Community Field. Attleboro (8-11, 6-9) will close out its season on Thursday at home against Stoughton.

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Franklin Continues Hock Win Streak Against Foxboro

Franklin girls lacrosse
Franklin junior Annie Walsh (3) and her sister Erin each scored four goals to lift Franklin to a victory against Foxboro in a battle of league champions. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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FRANKLIN, Mass. – Franklin and Foxboro have been the dominant girls lacrosse programs in the league for several years, winning a combined 14 league titles in a row (including this spring’s Kelley-Rex and Davenport crowns) and perennially making deep state tournament runs as well.

While the two teams have shared success in the league, the head-to-head matchup has recently been one-sided. The games have typically been close, but it is Franklin that has regularly come out on top, as part of the Panthers incredible win streak against Hockomock opponents that stood at 70 games entering the yearly matchup with the Warriors on Wednesday night at Pisini Field.

This felt like a year that Foxboro could flip the script and end the Panthers’ long unbeaten run, but instead it was a familiar storyline. Annie and Erin Walsh scored four goals apiece, Franklin goalie Gianna Cameron made eight saves (six in the second half) and the Panthers pulled out an 11-5 victory.

“They came out with a lot of energy, a lot of passion,” said Franklin coach Kristin Igoe Guarino. “it was our senior night so we were honoring them and that energy translated on the draw. Annie did a great job, our circle people (Hailey Toolin, Erin, and Kelsey MacCallum) did awesome fighting for the ball.”

Franklin won 9-of-10 draws in the opening half, which limited the Warriors ability to get the ball into the sticks of their talented attacking corps. Also, the Panthers took full advantage of the opportunities that they were presented with.

“They were using every opportunity they had, for the most part, and capitalizing on them,” said Foxboro coach Brittany Sherry. “When it’s only being done on one side for us, the defense can only do so much, Sara [Addeche] can only make so many saves.”

Following a Nicole Houlihan steal, Annie Walsh put Franklin in front with a shot over Addeche’s stick into the top corner. Less than a minute later it was Erin Walsh bursting through the middle of the Foxboro defense to double the lead.

The Warriors got on the board three minutes later when senior Cat Luciano found space in the middle of the Franklin defense. Erin Walsh answered back with a pump fake and finish, but Foxboro again got the lead down to one with a lefty shot on the run by Sophia DiCenso.

Kelsey MacCallum scored her first of the night to make it 4-2 and then the Franklin defense made several big plays to keep Foxboro at arm’s length. Grace MacCallum was the vocal leader for the defensive unit, calling out switches, slides, and double teams. With the help of Halle Atkinson, MacCallum forced a turnover and scooped the ground ball to win possession back and on the other end Annie Walsh went high-to-low for Franklin’s fifth.

“Grace has been on this team for four years, so she’s a huge leader on the defensive end, kind of the director of the team,” said Igoe Guarino. “We’ve been pushing the defense to get even better and she’s been leading the way.”

She added, “Our communication was up, we were just playing as a team out there. Our doubling, we had a second slide ready and then our goalie just backing us up when they did shoot.”

Foxboro got one back with man-up goal by Molly Murphy off a perfect pass from DiCenso. With three minutes left in the half, Kelsey MacCallum was denied in transition by Addeche, but Franklin forced a turnover on the clearance and Erin Walsh found MacCallum with a precise pass across the crease for a close-range finish.

“We were moving the ball and ball-moving is great but eventually you’ve got to put points on the board,” said Sherry about the Foxboro attack. “We weren’t attacking the cage, we were looking to just a few players to get it done and when those players aren’t getting it done then other players need to step up.”

Murphy had one more chance before the half but Cameron read the bouncing shot and was able to deflect it up over the bar just as the horn sounded. At the start of the second half, Foxboro had several chances in the first few minutes to cut into the lead, but Cameron made three saves to keep it 6-3. Franklin then broke the game wide open.

“When we need her to save it, she does,” said Igoe Guarino of Camerron. “She had 15 saves against Walpole (on Monday) and she had a ton today against some of their best shooters. We’re just lucky to have her.”

Erin Walsh picked up her second assist when she connected with a cutting Katie Jones and the freshman went behind her back on the run for a highlight-reel finish. Walsh then added back-to-back goals on free positions to put the Panthers up by six. Annie Walsh got into the scoring with a drive from the left side to complete her hat trick.

“They play the whole game,” said Igoe Guarino of the Walsh sisters. “They hustle to get ground balls and win us possession and they just do an excellent job of reading when to take one-on-one and when to pass. They draw a lot of attention, but they both finished really well today.”

Murphy scored again to end the Franklin run and Mackenzie Cusack got the benefit of a bouncing ball through traffic on what appeared to be a pass that slipped past Cameron to make it 10-5 with 3:31 left, but Annie Walsh scooped a ground ball on the far sideline and took it herself to seal the win.

Foxboro came into the game on a nine-game win streak and had key players battling illness, but Sherry admitted that Franklin might be in the Warriors’ heads at this point.

“We love competition with Franklin,” she said. “We had the win streak going and…we’re just scared of Franklin. Every time we hear Franklin, we just don’t get it done and if this was any other team we would have a better result.”

Franklin (12-4, 9-0) has not lost a league game since April 2012 and the Panthers will try to complete another perfect league campaign next Wednesday against Canton. Foxboro (11-3, 7-1) will try to bounce back on Thursday with a trip to North Attleboro.

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Roach Scores OT Winner to Lift Canton Past Scituate

Canton boys lacrosse
Canton junior Griffin Roach scored with 1:38 remaining in the first overtime to lift the Bulldogs to a dramatic victory over Scituate. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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CANTON, Mass. – With 50 seconds left in regulation, Scituate’s goalie made his first save of the night and the Sailors, who led only once, had the opportunity to win the game. Canton LSM Brendan Albert’s stick check knocked the ball loose as the clock wound down and he managed to flick the ball backwards off the sideline to be scooped up by Matt Martin.

That defensive stand forced overtime in Monday night’s Div. 2 South showdown at World War II Veterans Memorial Field, but the Bulldogs would need another stop if they wanted to have a chance at the win. Canton held on defensively for more than two minutes before snatching possession.

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Following a timeout, the Bulldogs put the ball in the stick of junior attacker Griffin Roach behind the cage with classmate Mike Shaw setting a screen to give Roach a step of space. That was all he would need. He drove towards the alley and spun back on his defender towards the goal and finished in traffic to lift Canton to an 11-10 victory.

“They’ve been shutting off Mike Shaw, so we thought lets play some two-man game with and what are they going to do?” said Canton coach Bill Bendell of the closing sequence. “There’s no one I want the ball with that’s better than Griffin Roach. It was like slo-mo, we’ve seen it so many times in practice. he bring it so high and then inside roll and buried it.”

About the defensive stand that set up the winning possession, Bendell raved, “If they don’t beat us in transition, then we’re going to be okay because 6-on-6 we’d been playing really well.”

It has been a difficult stretch of the season for the Bulldogs, who lost to division rival North Attleboro by two and Sharon by one. It was also the second straight overtime game for Canton, which lost to King Philip last time out in a game that was a mirror image of Monday night.

“We had that,” Bendell said of the KP loss. “We had possession for like three minutes in overtime and then they had it for 10 seconds and scored.”

He added, “We deserved this one. That’s why the celebration was probably a little excessive but it was all that monkey off our backs.”

Scoring was at a premium in the first half. Dan Cohen got the night started with a man-up goal off a Kevin Albert assist, ripping a shot from straightaway. Scituate scored 90 seconds later to tie it, but Canton regained the lead with six minutes left in the first. Charlie O’Connor raced straight off the bench and down the middle where he received a pass from David Allen and held it until finishing on the edge of the crease.

The Sailors tied it again three minutes into the second, but Roach scored his first of the night with a drive to the cage from the right side, spinning past his marker and flicking a shot over the goalie. Scituate hit the post and Canton missed a chance off a turnover when Kevin Albert’s pass sailed over Shaw’s stick.

Cohen opened the scoring in the second half to build a two-goal lead, but Scituate answered back with three straight goals to take its first and only lead of the night at 5-4. Sophomore Jack Connolly made a big save and outlet pass to Cohen for a transition goal that tied the game and stole back momentum. Connolly finished the game with 16 saves.

“He’s a monster,” said Bendell. “I thought he played out of his mind. That’s one of the reasons the zone can be so effective is he takes up a lot of the cage, he’s athletic, he makes clears very well and now we’re going the other way.”

Cohen added an assist on a man-up situation a minute later with a perfect skip pass to Shaw on the left wing and the attacker patiently picked the near post corner to make it 6-5. Nick MacKay forced a turnover at midfield with a minute left in the third and ran around in the offensive half trying to use up the rest of the clock, but then the long pole dodged past his tired marker and scored with three seconds left in the third.

Bendell said of Scituate, “They never went away. At one point we had a two-goal lead near the end and I thought okay this is going to be it. They kept coming.”

The teams traded goals to start the fourth quarter, with Cohen scoring his fourth of the night. Scituate then scored two in a row to even the score at 8-8. Allen struck the post with a rocket of a shot, but the carom went right to a teammate, Kevin Albert, who found the back of the net with a lefty shot on the run.

Again, Scituate tied the game and had the chance at the lead but Connolly made one of his four fourth quarter saves. Albert was again the player to step up and put the Bulldogs in front with a similar effort to his first goal.

“When things were stalling is when Kevin said, I need to make a play and he scored a couple of big goals,” said Bendell.

Things got nervy at the end, especially with the way things had been going in close games in recent weeks, but the Bulldogs were able to pull out a much-needed win. Bendell said, “In my head, I was thinking that I just hope our guys believe because we were close against North Attleboro, close against Sharon. We had those games in hand and let them slip away, so we needed this. This is karma.”

It was also a win over a potential playoff opponent. Bendell added, “We needed a resume win this year. Not to take anything away from the teams we’ve beaten but we didn’t have that marquee win. This is a good team that we beat. We can build on this.”

Canton (4-5, 6-6) will be back home on Wednesday against Taunton, now needing two wins in the final four games to seal a tournament berth.

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Foxboro’s Valenza Helps UMass Claim CAA Title

Luc Valenza
Former Foxboro standout and Hockomock League MVP Luc Valenza and the UMass men’s lacrosse team avenged a loss in last year’s final by beating Towson to win the CAA title. (Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics)

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After last year’s Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) championship game defeat to Towson, the University of Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team walked into the locker room to start fall practice and noticed a new piece of memorabilia hanging on the wall. The UMass coaches had pinned a photo of the Minutemen taken during the trophy celebration, as they watched Towson collect the title for the second time in three seasons.

“We had that image up so we’d know what that feeling was,” said Foxboro alum and senior long pole Luc Valenza. “We just never want to have that feeling every again. That was motivation every single day from fall ball and finally we can take it down, since we brought it home.”

Last weekend at Garber Field, the Minutemen got a measure of revenge. UMass, the top seed in the CAA Tournament and 16th-ranked team nationally, held Towson to just one goal in the fourth quarter and pulled out a 12-8 victory that clinched the program’s first CAA title and its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2012 (20th overall).

“It’s definitely pretty special, definitely a great feeling,” said Valenza, who admitted that facing Towson again in the final made the victory even better. “This is my first time bringing it home at the CAA, so it was a great feeling. It was one of our many goals this year, so it’s awesome going into the playoffs and NCAAs.”

When asked what it was like at the whistle when the title was secured, he replied, “It was great. It was a great feeling, a lot of excitement, a lot of joy, and it was a surreal moment for sure.”

In the championship game, Valenza, a former standout at Foxboro and 2014 Hockomock League MVP, led the Minutemen with four ground balls and three forced turnovers. He finished the season with 21 ground balls was named to the All-CAA First Team at close defense.

Early in the season, a UMass title felt unlikely. The Minutemen got off to a 1-4 start with losses to Army, Harvard, Yale (the Minutemen’s first round opponent in the NCAA Tournament), and Albany. While UMass did not get the results it was looking for in that rough opening stretch, the Minutemen also faced two teams currently ranked in the top four nationally that have both been the top team in the country at one point this season (current No. 4 Yale and No. 2 Albany).

Since the loss to Albany on March 6, UMass is unbeaten. The Minutemen have won 11 in a row heading into the NCAA Tournament and have allowed eight or fewer goals in each of the last six games.

“Trusting the process,” said Valenza about what turned the season around. “Every week going into it one game at a time. We started off 1-4 and obviously that’s not ideal but we just stuck with it, trusted ourselves, trusted the process and it all worked out in the end.”

He added, “Really, just heart and hustle, making the tough plays, getting the ground balls, defensively just communicating with each other, trusting the game plan, and it’s all kind of come through.”

That winning run will be put to the test against Yale on Saturday afternoon. UMass lost the first meeting 13-10 at Garber Field, although the Minutemen do have a 19-8 edge in the all-time series between the teams. This time, UMass will be taking the bus ride to New Haven, Conn. and, according to Valenza, will enter the game with plenty of confidence.

“Looking forward to a little redemption,” he explained. “We’re a different team than when we lost to them and we’re a more confident group and excited to bring it on Saturday. We feel confident in our abilities and our matchups.

“Hopefully, we can keep this thing going.”

It has been a long road to this point for Valenza, who began playing lacrosse in sixth grade when someone explained to him that the game involved aspects of other sports he played, and would allow him to hit some people.

“Originally, I was a middie,” Valenza said, “but Coach DeVellis came up to me and said, ‘You know what? I think you’ll do well with a long pole in your hand, you just get to hit people from here on out.’ So, I was like this works for me.”

He was one of the top-rated players in the Hockomock League throughout his four-year varsity career at Foxboro, garnering statewide notice and twice being named to the Eastern Mass. All-American second team. “Have to Coach Noone a shout-out over there,” said Valenza. “I learned a lot from him and I’m sure other guys did too. He’s a great coach to play under, you get a lot of experience, and become a better player for it.”

“He led us for four years,” said Noone, who also played at UMass, graduating in 1994. “The kid is just a freak athlete and we used to joke that you want to be a surgeon, not a butcher, and he’s slowly become a surgeon. He’s tough as nails. I’m so proud of him.”

“It is the best,” Noone added about the importance of a former Warrior succeeding at that level. “That’s a product of Foxboro lacrosse. Great family, great kid, and he’s tough man.”

After playing only three games as a freshman at UMass and eight as a sophomore, Valenza has been a constant presence in the UMass defense for the past two seasons, making 15 starts as a junior and 16 so far this spring. He recognized the development in his game during his time in college and noted that it gave him the confidence to perform against top competition.

“Going into the game, confidence was a big thing and understanding whoever we play, me personally and throughout the team, we were ready for the challenge and were excited for the opportunity,” Valenza said.

When asked if he had time to look back at how far his career has come from his first time picking up a lacrosse stick to now, Valenza chuckled. He said, “I’m sure when it’s all said and done and settled down, I’ll be able to look back on it but for the moment, I’m just living in it.”

When the season comes to a close, Valenza’s lacrosse career will continue after he was called up to the Italian national team to compete in this summer’s FIL World Championships being held in Israel in July. He tried out with more than 100 players earlier this year and was one a select few that will get this experience.

“I was fired up,” he said. “I was very excited to get that call and have this opportunity. I’m excited to travel over there and be part of the team. It’s going to be a great moment, great learning experience, and just a great opportunity.”

That is a few months away and, for now, Valenza’s focus is on the game against Yale and the chance to close out his senior season on a high. He said, “Of all years, senior year is a pretty special one, especially since this is kind of our legacy.”

Having already added to the trophy case with the CAA title, Luc Valenza and the Minutemen will try to keep the season alive as long as possible.

“It’s been good so far, but really we just want to keep it going. We don’t want it to end, take it one game at a time and keep grinding through.”

Valenza is one of three former Hockomock players on the UMass roster. He is joined by junior LSM Mike Sullivan (Franklin) and freshman midfielder Josh Rotman (Sharon).

(Editor’s Note – UMass lost to Yale in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday afternoon. The Minutemen fought back in the fourth quarter and cut the lead to just three but fell 15-12. Valenza had two forced turnovers and three ground balls in the loss.)