Bulldogs Fall to Top Seed Wellesley in State Title Game

Canton girls hockey
Canton captains Marissa Devine, Colleen Kelleher, Kendra Farrelly, and Andrea McNeil pose with head coach Dennis Aldrich and the MIAA D2 State Finalist trophy. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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BOSTON, Mass. – Wellesley and Canton (18-4-3) combined to hold opponents to only 48 goals in 47 games this season, including just three goals apiece during their three tournament games leading into Sunday afternoon’s Div. 2 state championship game at the TD Garden.

It was no surprise then that scoring was at a premium in the final. Jenna Harrison’s goal with only 4.7 seconds remaining in the first period turned out to be enough to lift Wellesley, which was in its fourth trip to the TD Garden in the past five years, to a 1-0 victory and the state title.

“We’ve been riding Colleen for so long that we thought if the shots were even then we’d have a very good chance,” said Canton coach Dennis Aldrich. “I don’t think we concentrated enough on getting shots through them. We sometimes would make a little extra move, we felt confident about that, but it wasn’t necessarily the game plan.”

He also praised Wellesley, adding, “They are the best team we’ve faced this year and they are a true champion.”

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The Raiders dominated puck possession and created far more scoring opportunities than the Bulldogs, who found their chances limited throughout the game. Senior goalie Colleen Kelleher put in another stellar performance in net, stopping 30 shots in her final game for Canton.

“Another big game by Colleen,” said Aldrich feigning a yawn about his senior goalie who has been consistently strong in helping Canton get to the TD Garden in each of the last two seasons. “I’m trying to red-shirt her by the way. She’s a heck of a player…and she’s the first one to pass it off to her teammates and that’s what makes her special.

Canton was limited to just eight shots in the game. The offense was stymied by the talented Wellesley defense, which blocked a number of shots to protect sophomore goalie Liddy Schultz and kept the Canton attackers to the outside.

Olivia Vernon had the first good chance for Wellesley, forcing Kelleher into a glove save three minutes into the game, and Erin Fleming skated to the right circle to bring out a blocker save. Canton took seven minutes before creating its first scoring chance. Alexa Maffeo’s shot from the point picked out freshman Lizzie Tassinari on the near post but Schultz got down quickly to block.

Wellesley nearly took the lead with three minutes left in the first after Kelleher’s initial save went straight to Lauren Ruggiero but the rebound effort slid just wide. Tassinari drew a save out of Schultz that fellow freshman Maria Femia followed up but also could not beat the Raiders goalie.

A warning shot came with 30 seconds left in the period when Mackenzie O’Neil got free on the right side, but fired her shot just wide. With the clock ticking down in the period, Wellesley finally made its dominance pay with a great individual effort. Harrison dragged the puck through her legs and dangled past three Canton defensemen before lifting a shot past Kelleher.

The rest of the game followed a similar pattern of Wellesley getting a number of shots on Kelleher, while the Bulldogs struggled to get into the transition game that made its offense so potent during the season.

Kelleher made a kick save to deny Isabelle Kressy from the slot and made a pair of quick saves to keep out Catherine Crosier and then the rebound shot from Bliss Vernon. In the third period, she also stuffed O’Neil on the edge of the crease and then seconds later on a one-timer from the right circle.

Canton created few chances but in the second period the Bulldogs nearly pulled even. SeniorKatie Halloran skated down the near boards and picked out freshman Ellie Rae Roberts, who was all alone in front. Roberts struggled to handle the pass and then rushed a backhand effort on goal that Schultz pushed aside. It was the only shot that Canton would put on target in the period.

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Despite experiencing the TD Garden ice for the first time, the freshmen on the second and third lines put in impressive shifts for the Bulldogs on Saturday.

“They’ve got a huge upside,” said Aldrich. “Ellie Rae’s speed is terrific. Maria, her compete level, and Lizzie is just one of the smartest players we have. They’re definitely going to be future leaders coming through.”

The other great chance came only a minute later when Maggie Malloy found room on the near boards and sent a near-perfect pass across the crease to Lauren Fitzpatrick, but it went straight through with Schultz stranded.

Malloy came into the game having scored six goals in three playoff games, including all three game-winners, but she struggled to consistently get on the puck in the final. The top line, which includes Kendra Farrelly, Malloy, and Fitzpatrick, had all but one of Canton’s goals in the postseason but managed very few shots on goal in the final. Malloy had one inside the final six minutes but that would be Canton’s last of the game.

“We tried to break into short, two-minute games, play each shift out there like the goalie’s pulled,” Aldrich said of the mentality in the third period. “If we could match that intensity, go a shift at a time, forget about the match-ups, where everything goes to the net. Forget about mistakes, out-compete them in the third period.”

He continued, “I thought we were certainly a little more desperate than they were and we’re hoping we could catch them being a little comfortable and playing not to lose, but they’re a well-coached team and they did a nice job. They’ve been here before and they’ll be here again and hopefully we’ll be joining them.”

Aldrich also praised his group of seniors, including a few who do not see much time on the ice but got the chance to skate at the TD Garden in the final nine seconds after a late penalty on the Bulldogs forced them into a defensive zone face-off.

“These guys were with us when we played our last game at Ponkapoag Rink and the next year the rink went down and we were a road team all over the place,” he said. “These guys were there. They played the first game in our new rink and brought us to the Garden the last two years, so for them I’m just so thrilled.

“It will sting now but they’re going to look back and they’re going to smile.”

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Warriors Rally Again, This Time to Win State Title

Foxboro Girls Basketball
Foxboro seniors Ashley Sampson, Lily Sykes and Shannon Smally hold up the Div. 2 state championship trophy after beating Hopkinton at the MassMutual Center. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Foxboro just couldn’t make it easy. After storming back from 20 points down in the second half to win a dramatic state semifinal in overtime against Pentucket, the Warriors found themselves down by 14 points to Hopkinton in the first half, having scored just nine points, in Saturday morning’s Div. 2 state championship at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

“I think they were feeling a little confident, more than they should’ve coming into the game and then they recognized the fact and were reminded of the fact that that’s a very good team,” said Foxboro coach Lisa Downs.

Just as it did in the semifinal, the Foxboro defense turned the game around in the second half. After allowing Hopkinton seniors Ivy Gogolin (13 points) and Regan Keavany (six points) to score 19 combined in the first half, the Warriors held the pair to only five after the break.

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Behind a lockdown defense, Foxboro (26-2) used a 32-14 second half run to pull out a 49-41 victory and seal the program’s second state championship, and first since 1995.

“That just shows that we never give up,” said senior guard Ashley Sampson, who scored nine of her team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter. “We were down 10 to a good team but our defense, especially Lily pestering the guards, it got us back into it.”

Lily Sykes, who finished with 11 points, five steals, and two charges taken, added, “We knew that we played that 2-3 really well against Pentucket, so we were like okay we can work on it for Hopkinton too but obviously it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, clearly, because they hit every single outside shot. Man is our bread-and-butter so we just stuck to that and we know that defense creates offense.”

For Sampson, Sykes, and fellow seniors Grace Tamulionis and Shannon Smally, the state title was the culmination of their four years together at Foxboro. From playing together as freshmen in a South final to winning back-to-back Davenport division and Div. 2 South titles to getting redemption for last year’s loss at the TD Garden and reaching the title game, going on the journey together made the result that much sweeter.

“It’s the best thing that could ever happen,” said Sampson. “To end the season all together, it doesn’t feel real right now.”

Tamulionis added, “It means everything. We’ve been talking about it since freshman year, working towards it and I remember last year at the banquet she (Coach Downs) was like this is our goal this year just get here and to actually do it is…just awesome.”

The ultimate happy ending did not look promising in the first quarter. Foxboro managed just four points, on an Abby Hassman jumper to start the game and a Sampson jumper that cut the lead to 8-4. Hopkinton was hardly lighting up the scoreboard, but all four made field goals were threes (two by Keavany) for an early 12-4 lead after one.

In the second, the Hillers got the ball into the hands of Gogolin and the UNH-bound senior provided Hopkinton’s first 13 points in the quarter. The Hillers pushed the lead to 23-9 as Foxboro continued to struggle to find the range. Sykes (11 points) buried a three and Sampson followed with a pull-up jumper before Katelyn Mollica (eight points) got her first points on a tough finish at the rim.

With an 8-4 run, Foxboro got the lead down to 10 at the half and, just as they had done three days before, the Warriors refused to panic.

“I think it was nerves at first but it was the same as any place we’ve ever played,” Tamulionis said. “The game made us a little nervous and it took us a little while to warm up.”

Downs remarked, “Even if I had a shred of doubt in my mind, I was completely moved when I saw their eyes. There was a timeout and I just looked at each of them and they were just like, coach we’ve got this.

“They knew what they needed to do, they knew what their capabilities were compared to what they had already done out there and we knew it was just a matter of time and we needed to kick it into gear.”

The Warriors got going at the start of the second half. Sykes nailed her second three to start the third, Sampson hit a pair at the line, and Tamulionis finished a fast break off a Sykes assist. Sykes grabbed a steal and a layup to cut the lead to just one.

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“Defense is always our thing because you can have an off-night shooting but the only time you’re going to have an off-night on defense if your effort isn’t there and my girls are always giving 100 percent,” said Downs.

Hopkinton scored the final four points of the quarter to extend the lead to five heading to the fourth, but the Warriors had stolen the momentum.

Tamulionis hit a pair of threes early in the fourth that kept Foxboro within three points. Sampson twice got the Warriors within one, once on a steal and layup and then on a pair of free throws. Sykes got another steal in the backcourt and went in for a layup that gave Foxboro a 38-37 lead, its first since the opening basket.

“It was a little bit of redemption because coach would’ve killed me,” said Sykes of the go-ahead basket. In the Pentucket game she had missed a layup that would have tied it late in the fourth quarter. She joked, “I hit it and was like, finally I hit a layup.”

Mollica scored with a drive to the rim and Sampson became more aggressive taking the ball to the basket and getting to the line. She went 7-of-9 down the stretch and Mollica added four from the charity stripe as well.

“I just wanted to win that game,” said Sampson of her mentality in the final quarter. “I was going up weak when I had the opportunity to go inside but I had to go up strong and, if not make it, then draw the foul and take the free throws.”

The seniors have played 99 games together during their high school careers. It has been a long journey to this moment and it was one that each of them wanted to savor.

“It’s wicked exciting. I don’t even know, it doesn’t feel real at all. It’s just awesome,” said Sampson. When asked what it meant to be a state champion, Tamulionis simply added, “I don’t believe it. It’s crazy.”

Sykes said, “It’s the best feeling ever. They’re my best friends off the court and to win this with them is huge.

“I’m speechless. I just knew that it was the senior leadership. Freshman year we were all on the court playing, all three of us, and to just come back and step up in this huge game is just amazing.”

Downs, who was an assistant coach in 1995, the last time that the Warriors won the state title, praised her seniors for their contributions to the program and admitted that along with the excitement of winning is the sadness of not having another practice or game with this group.

“It’s kind of surreal,” she explained. “It was 111 days ago, I counted on the calendar, that we started the season and we knew we had to put some tough games on our schedule because no one else would play us this year.

“I always kind of knew we’d get to this point, not that I’d let them know, but the Coyle game at their gym we won by one, I saw the exact same faces that I saw in that timeout [today]. Obviously, it’s bittersweet because I’ll never have a group like this one.”

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Seniors Carry Foxboro to Thrilling Semifinal Comeback

Foxboro girls basketball
Foxboro senior Ashley Sampson scored 19 of the Warriors final 20 points, to lift Foxboro to a dramatic come from behind victory and a spot in Saturday’s state title game. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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WOBURN, Mass. -As the clock was winding down in overtime, Foxboro coach Lisa Downs stood with her hands behind her head at the end of the Warriors bench. Her face filled with happy disbelief, as though she couldn’t believe what she was seeing from her team. She was not alone.

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Foxboro had fallen behind by as many as 20 points in the second half, struggling to stop North champion Pentucket from getting to the basket on one end and struggling to get anything to go down on the other end of the floor. It looked as though, for the second straight year, the Warriors would end their season in the state semifinal.

But something changed in the third quarter. Foxboro switched to an aggressive 2-3 zone that took away the driving lanes and seemed to lift the team’s energy level and a couple of shots started to fall. The lead was cut down to 10 at the end of three and momentum was with the South champs heading to the final eight minutes at Woburn High.

That was when the senior leadership took over. Lily Sykes buried three shots from beyond the arc and Ashley Sampson put together the type of run that made her a Hockomock League MVP as a junior. After being held to just two points in the first three quarters, she scored 20 in the fourth quarter and overtime, including 19 of her team’s final 20 points, and made a driving layup on the left baseline to tie the game with 2.6 remaining in regulation.

Sampson would go on to score 14 points in overtime, shooting 6-for-6 at the line in the final minute, leading the Warriors to an improbable, thrilling, 58-54 come from behind victory and a spot in the state championship game on Saturday morning.

“We had three captains on the floor the whole game, so we just had to keep telling everyone to keep going no matter how much we were down by,” said Sampson after the game. “I don’t really know what I was thinking, I just didn’t want that to be the last game.”

Downs said of Sampson, “She played like the MVP that she is. When the pressure is on, she’s the one we want to have the ball in her hands and with those seniors on the court we knew we’d be in good shape if we could just chip away a couple baskets at a time.”

She added, “I knew once we got it close that it was going to be anybody’s ballgame. It just came down to who was going to finish when the clock started ticking down to the end and we did.”

Coming off an atypical South final in which the Warriors were held to a season-low 40 points by Nauset, the scoring slump continued in the first half on Wednesday. Abby Hassman started the game with a three and had five in the first quarter, but Foxboro only managed seven as a team. The Warriors were outscored by Pentucket sophomore Casey Hunt, who had 10 by herself.

The second quarter was little better, as the Sachems continued to find holes in the heart of the Warriors defense, driving to the basket and using that penetration to open space for shooters at that the three-point line. Sophomore Angelica Hurley scored eight of Pentucket’s 17 in the quarter, while Sykes (16 points and seven rebounds) scored all seven for the Warriors.

Trailing 29-14 going into the break, Downs implored her team to not let this season, which included a perfect 16-0 record in the league and only two losses overall, be ended in this fashion.

“She just pretty much said, in the nicest way, we’ve never played like that so we really couldn’t do any worse,” said Grace Tamulionis of the halftime team talk. “We just came out and played like it’s a new game and just started over.”

Downs said, “I begged them at halftime not go out this way and none of the seniors wanted to end their entire Foxboro High School [careers] playing the way that they did the first half. They just dug their heels in and did what they did all season, which is win it with defense.”

Pentucket did not back down to start the second half, scoring the first five points to build its largest lead, but there were signs of life from the Warriors. Freshman Katelyn Mollica (eight points) drilled a three to cut the lead to 17. After Hunt scored on a put-back, Tamulionis (five points) knocked down a pair of jumpers.

Hunt responded with a drive to the basket for a 38-21 lead. Foxboro would outscore the Sachems 22-5 from that point on.

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Much of the change in momentum could be traced back to a defensive switch in the second half from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone that allowed Sykes and Mollica to be aggressive on the Pentucket perimeter players.

“It starts with defense, it always has,” Tamulionis explained. “So, when we started playing hard defense I think it really helped on our offense.”

Hassman kicked it out to Mollica for a three to get the run started and Sampson finally got on the board with a jumper. Hassman (seven points and seven rebounds) took the ball to the hole and scored off glass to make it a 10-point game heading to the fourth quarter. The energy seemed to be with the Foxboro bench and fans, as though they could sense there was more to come.

Tamulionis fought for a tough offensive rebound and swung a pass out to Sykes for her third three-pointer of the game to cut the lead to single digits. After a Pentucket basket and a Sampson free throw, Sykes knocked down a step-back three and then buried another, after a Sampson offensive rebound, to get Foxboro within just two points.

“That was not us the first half,” said Sampson about the difference after the break. “We’ve never played like that and we just knew that we had to step it up in the second half and get back to our game.”

Now the Warriors were firing on all cylinders and the crowd was roaring them on. Tamulionis had two chances to give Foxboro the lead and both shots were halfway down but kicked out and Sykes had a steal and fast break for the tie, only to have the layup roll off the rim. Hurley (15 points) made them pay with a three that restored a five-point lead and a momentary respite.

Sampson answered, scoring on a drive plus the foul with a minute remaining on the clock. Again Foxboro had chances to tie or take the lead but couldn’t get that crucial bucket. After two missed shots with 11 seconds to play, Sykes saved a Foxboro possession by diving on the floor to force a jump ball.

There was no surprise who would get the ball in the final seconds. “I did because I don’t think I had really scored until then,” said Sampson when asked if she expected to get the ball at the end of the game. “I was frustrated with myself but there were other people stepping up. That’s all you can ask for.”

The ball swung around to Hassman in the corner who took a dribble towards the top and then flipped it back to Sampson on the baseline. She took one dribble to the rim and scored to make it 43-43. The officials put 2.6 on the clock and Pentucket got a shot off but it hit the backboard and bounced away.

In overtime, Sampson took over. She hit a three from the right wing to give Foxboro the lead and then made it 49-45 with another three on the left. She responded to a Sachems basket with one of her own and then was perfect at the line in the final minute. In the process, she became just the third Foxboro player to pass the 1,500-point mark for her career (Jennifer Brown was the last in 1998).

Sampson said, “I’m pumped. This is what we were working for all season, so now we’ve got our chance to get it.”

“I don’t even know. I don’t know how we did it, but I’m so excited,” added Tamulionis. When asked about how far these seniors have come, from playing as freshmen against Duxbury in a South final to now having the chance to play for a state title, she said, “We’ve played together since we were in fifth grade, so I think to get this chance is just such a good opportunity and we’re all wicked excited.”

Foxboro (25-2) will face Central champion Hopkinton for the third time this season on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. The teams split two games in the regular season.

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Bulldogs Shut Out Archies to Get Back to the Garden

Canton girls hockey
Maggie Malloy (27) scored the only goal of the Div. 2 state semifinal to lift the Bulldogs to a win over Archbishop Williams and seal a return to the state title game. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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BRIGHTON, Mass. – Last winter, Canton was the No. 14 seed, an underdog and an afterthought for many of the people picking favorites to make a run at a state championship. This season, the Bulldogs have been considered Div. 2 title contenders for months and earned the No. 2 seed coming into the tournament. There was no sneaking up on opponents this year, instead Canton has had to deal with the weight of high expectations.

While the journey has been very different from last year to this one, the end result is the same. Canton will be heading to the TD Garden to play for the state title on the final day of the winter season.

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The Bulldogs earned their spot in the final with a 1-0 victory over third-seeded Archbishop Williams on Monday night at the Warrior Ice Arena courtesy of 16 saves from senior goalie Colleen Kelleher and a goal from junior Maggie Malloy, her sixth of the postseason.

“Last year was insane,” Kelleher explained. “We had no idea we could even do that, it was a joke. We just kept going, game after game, but this year it was more like, we have to make it back and we have to get our second chance and we have to win. I think we were a little more motivated this time but it still feels just as sweet.

Canton coach Dennis Aldrich said, “Last year we snuck up on a lot of people. We were supposed to lose every game last year. To do what these kids have done with the target on their back all year because people knew where we were last year…this is a bigger accomplishment for this program. They stuck together.”

The Bulldogs got off to a strong start to the state semifinal, suffering no hangover from last week’s win over Notre Dame Academy (Hingham) that avenged last year’s title game defeat. Andrea McNeil set up Maria Femia for a golden scoring opportunity just five minutes in only to be denied the opener by Archies goalie Allison Delmonte.

Two minutes later, Lauren Fitzpatrick drove at the net from the left circle but a last-second poke check by the goalie kept her from getting off a shot. McNeil stole the puck on the forecheck but missed the net from the slot and freshman Lizzie Tassinari managed to get off a shot while falling down and forced a pad stop.

Kendra Farrelly nearly picked the top corner only to have Delmonte get her shoulder to the first try and also block Farrelly’s follow up. Canton finished with six shots in the first, despite controlling most of the play and keeping Archies on its heels.

The Bulldogs kept pressing at the start of the second with the forecheck continuing to cause problems for the Bishops, forcing turnovers and leading to shots on goal. The Canton forwards were also putting in shifts in the defensive zone and one backcheck by Femia allowed her to break out quickly and create an odd-man rush with Tassinari but again Delmonte made the save.

The breakthrough finally came with 8:42 left in the second. Malloy, who also scored the game-winners in each of Canton’s two previous playoff games this season, showed off her speed in the neutral zone after an outlet by Alexa Maffeo and got space in the right circle. As she angled towards goal, she fired an unstoppable shot just under the bar for the 1-0 lead.

“There is no one who works harder,” said Aldrich of Malloy. “She deserves everything she gets because she’s the hardest working player on our team. She’s a gamer and she brings it every night. She may not have the polished skill that some people do but what she has you can’t teach.”

Femia and Tassinari continued to cause fits on the second line with both having good scoring chances in the second and Fitzpatrick got free for a shot after Leah McClellan managed to keep a puck in at the blue line.

Before the game, Aldrich talked about trying to wear Archies down and in the second period he used his third line of Marissa Devane, Ellie Rae Roberts, and Katie Halloran a few times to try and add a little energy and give his other lines a short breather.

Aldrich said, “We don’t normally go strictly two lines but we looked to do that in the first period to maybe get a little quick strike on them. It didn’t work as planned but then we were able to spot the third line out there a couple times and it really got us energized. They only got maybe three, four shifts but they were important shifts for us.”

Canton gave Archies the chance to get back into the game with three penalties in the third period, but the Bulldogs were so aggressive on the kill that the Bishops struggled at times to get the puck out of their defensive zone.

“When you’re tired,” Aldrich explained, “if you’re out-worked by the penalty kill it works against you; you have to work harder. I think we wore them out just enough. We take pride in the third period too, whether we’re even strength or a man down, we try to keep it simple and we actually did a great job of that.”

McNeil and Malloy both had chances to seal the win but Delmonte continued to be stout in the Archies goal. Kelleher was largely untroubled on the other end of the ice with the biggest save of note being a second period stop on Mackenzie Heath after she skated in all alone. With 4:35 remaining in the game, Kelleher was called on again after Hanna Bell spun in the slot and fired a snap shot that the Canton goalie was able to kick aside.

It was a solid stop, especially since Kelleher had been mostly a spectator as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 10-1 advantage in shots in the third.

“It’s so nerve-wracking,” said Kelleher of not having to be ready after a long time between saves. “Even though in the games I face more shots I may let in more goals but I’m more focused in the game and my legs are warmed up. It’s definitely harder in these types of games.”

Archies finished with a flurry, desperately seeking the tying goal. Heath had the final scoring opportunity as she pinched in from the point on the power play, but her shot was saved by Kelleher.

At the final horn, the Canton players raced to their goalie to celebrate. This tournament run may be different than last year, but in the end that feeling of knowing that you are playing for a state title remains.

“I couldn’t stop smiling,” Kelleher gushed. “My heart just like burst. I don’t even know, it gave me butterflies. I’m so excited still.”

Canton (18-3-3) will face top seed Wellesley in the Div. 2 state championship game on Sunday at the TD Garden, time to be determined.

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Foxboro Rides Defense To Earn to Back-to-Back Titles

Foxboro girls basketball
Foxboro’s Ashley Sampson (17 points) drives to the basket against Nauset. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)

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TAUNTON, Mass. – Foxboro came into Saturday evening’s Div. 2 South final against Nauset at Taunton High averaging more than 65 points per game this season, but what turned out to be even more important for the Warriors as they aimed for a second straight sectional title was that their defense was allowing fewer than 37 points per game.

It was not a pretty game. Neither team shot well and the game was played more at the pace that Nauset preferred, which was in the half-court, running down the shot clock and not allowing Foxboro to get into transition. Yet, at the end, Foxboro was once again heading to the TD Garden with another trophy in the case following a 40-23 victory, in which it allowed Nauset only six made field goals in the entire game.

“From day one, first day of practice, we wanted to make sure that defense was the best aspect of our game, so we came out here and we just played the best defense we possibly could,” said senior Lily Sykes. When asked if there was a point that she was concerned about winning the game, especially as the offense struggled, Sykes replied, “Honestly, I personally no. We just have too many weapons for teams.”

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Nauset had only two seniors on its roster coming in, while Foxboro, even with senior center Shannon Smally sidelined with a shoulder injury, started three seniors and four players with experience on this stage. Foxboro used that experience to not panic even as its shots were not falling.

“That’s a young team and it’s intimidating to play in this type of venue and with this many people and all that pressure,” said Foxboro coach Lisa Downs. “The seniors could just settle themselves down better than the younger kids.”

Sykes added, “We played in the sectional finals freshman year. I don’t think any of us were nervous, so we just came out and knew we were going to win.”

Things started well for the Warriors, who jumped out to a fairly typical 13-1 lead in the opening quarter. Ashley Sampson (game-high 17 points and six steals) knocked down a pair of threes to get things going and then completed a three-point play to give Foxboro the early advantage. Freshman Katelyn Mollica, the lone starter who is experiencing the playoffs for the first time, also drilled a three.

Nauset’s lone basket of the first was a three by 6-foot sophomore center Skyeler Sandison that made it 13-4. Abby Hassman hit a jumper off one of Sykes’ five assists to give Foxboro a 15-5 edge after one quarter.

Sandison was the primary threat for Nauset coming in and Foxboro relied on Grace Tamulionis to front the center and deny passes into the post. The strategy worked perfectly. Even when Tamulionis was not able to deflect the pass, a Foxboro player was lying in wait on the backside to get the steal. Sandison finished with only five points and even though Tamulionis only scored four herself, after leading the Warriors with 19 in the semifinal, she was a key to the win.

“She did amazing,” said Downs of Tamulionis. “We only had one day to practice for that and Sandison was our main focus. We were kind of leaving Ashley’s man unattended to double team on her because once she gets the ball in the paint she’s pretty deadly in there.”

The offense started to sputter in the second. After Chelsea Gibbons hit a pair at the line, she picked up a steal and fed Sampson for a rare fast break bucket. Mollica (13 points) added a steal and layup to push the lead to 13, but Nauset would answer with five straight to give the fans who made the trip up from the Cape a little hope.

Sampson took the momentum back with a floater and a transition basket off a Gibbons assist. It was 25-13 at the break even with Foxboro admittedly not playing at the top of its game.

“I give them credit, they were getting back much quicker than I thought they would,” Downs explained. “They were also pressuring our rebounders so we couldn’t get the outlet as quick as usually do…but when we had the open court we were able to attack the basket.”

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The third quarter was even worse, as the two teams combined for 11 points. Nauset got four, including a three-pointer, from Reagan Meehan, but Mollica drained a three as well, Tamulionis hit a free throw line jumper, and Sampson scored with an offensive rebound. That was all the scoring for the third.

“We know what we’re capable of but we were a little bit tense and our shots were a little bit flat,” said Downs, “so we just need to really exaggerate that follow through.”

Tamulionis scored with a layup off a Sampson assist to get the fourth quarter started and push the lead to 17 at 34-17. Meehan (eight points) completed a three-point play to give Nauset some life, but Mollica knocked down a corner three and added two more with a steal and layup to seal the victory.

It does not matter if the win was pretty or not, Foxboro still gets to take home the trophy for the second straight year and gets another shot at playing at the TD Garden. It is something that the Warriors have been thinking about for a full year.

“With this group of seniors, I would’ve been upset to have left too early,” said Downs. “They have unfinished business and they got a taste of it last year and they haven’t forgotten it.”

Sampson said, “It’s really exciting. Last year obviously didn’t end how we wanted but now we have the experience of playing there so it won’t be totally new to us. I think that will really help us.”

Sykes added, “I thought coming into the season we had a chance but with every single person contributing it’s the best season ever.”

Foxboro (24-2) advances to face North champion Pentucket at the TD Garden on Tuesday at 5:45.

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Mansfield Knocks Out Boxers to Win South Title

Mansfield boys basketball
Mansfield won its first South sectional title in five years with a strong performance against Brockton at Taunton High. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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TAUNTON, Mass. – There are a lot of programs that would love to have the level of consistent success that Mansfield has enjoyed over the past several seasons, but heading into Friday night’s Div. 1 South final at Taunton High the Hornets were not thinking about all the games that they had won in the last five years.

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The Hornets, especially the senior class, were thinking about the two sectional finals they had reached in the past three seasons, including last year’s loss to Needham on the same court, and focusing on ensuring that the third time would be the charm to bring home the program’s third South title. It was.

Mansfield put in another dominant performance on both ends of the floor to beat Brockton 79-65. The Hornets used a 15-0 run in the second quarter to break the game open, led by as many as 24 points, and the 14-point final margin was the closest that the Boxers got in the second half.

“We’ve lost it twice and our senior year we wanted to go out on top and win the South sectional final,” said senior point guard Sam Hyland after the game. “We’re not done yet, but that was awesome. It meant a lot to win it.”

Senior John McCoy added, “We want to win the state [tournament]. We had three goals at the beginning of the season – to win the Hock, win the South sectional finals, and to win the state title – so far we’ve done two of those three.”

When Mansfield coach Mike Vaughan was asked about what drove the Hornets to get over the hump and bring home the title, he replied, “Last year, when we lost to a very good Needham team, the guys who played last year felt that pain, they wanted to get back here and represent the South in the state tournament.”

Few teams are playing as well as Mansfield at this point in the season and even fewer teams are as good when facing a team for a second time. The Hornets avenged one of their two losses by beating BC High by 13 in the quarterfinal and rolled past Newton North for the second time this season in the semifinal. After beating the Boxers by five in a tight game a little more than two weeks before, Mansfield made sure this meeting was nowhere near as close.

One of Mansfield’s strengths is the balance it has on offense and in the first quarter six different Hornets scored, including Tommy Dooling who drilled a three after a scramble for a loose ball fell to Ryan Otto and he swung it over to the junior guard. The three put the Hornets up 19-15 after one.

“I know my job,” said Hyland about the team’s depth. “I’ve got to get the ball over half-court and let someone make a play. Vine hit a couple shots, Damani was huge obviously, Tommy Dooling hit the biggest shot of the year for him, and Johnny has always been huge.”

McCoy answered a Brockton basket to start the second, but the Boxers got a layup off an inbounds pass to cut the lead back down to just two. The Hornets scored the next 15 and never looked back.

Senior Justin Vine (11 points) started the run with a straightaway three off another of Otto’s five assists on the night. Damani Scott also started to get going with a basket off an offensive rebound and a transition basket after a Hyland steal. After the Boxers finally ended the run with a runner, Vine added another three, this time from the corner off a Tyler Boulter feed. Mansfield went into the break leading 41-26.

“The thing I like about this team right now is they’re really engaged with the game plan,” said Vaughan. “They’re executing what we’re putting in; they’re executing the little things in the game we need to do to win.”

Brockton came out for the third quarter energized but, similar to the game against Newton North, the Hornets always seemed to have an answer to prevent a comeback. The Boxers cut the lead to 15, but Otto (nine points) chased down an offensive rebound and Hyland moved it over to Boulter for a big three in the corner.

Despite the Brockton full-court press, the Hornets continued to get the ball into the offense thanks in large part to Hyland keeping turnovers to a minimum. He explained, “[Coach] told me before the game tonight that when they’re pressing you have to be like a boxer. You can’t let them keep pounding you, you’ve got to try and attack them.”

Boulter would score seven of his 10 points in the third to help stretch the lead, while McCoy continued to take over the game with his ability to get to the rim. The senior, who was greeted by “MVP” chants by the Mansfield crowd after every basket, scored six in the third on his way to a game-high 23. He also pulled down nine rebounds, had a pair of steals, and dished out three assists.

“It was almost like he was pacing himself early, letting the game come to him and we said to him at halftime of the last game you need to put your will on the game,” said Vaughan of McCoy. “There’s reasons why basketball has superstars and he played like a superstar the other day and tonight was no different. He’s a game-changer on both ends of the floor.”

In the fourth quarter, Mansfield made sure the game stayed out of reach with stellar ball movement to find open looks. Scott caught fire on the fourth, scoring 10 of his 21 in the final quarter. He buried a pair of threes from essentially the identical spot right in front of the Hornets fans and he capped a near-perfect night for the Hornets with a steal and dunk that put Mansfield up by 24.

“We’re just excited to be able to close the loop on the South and put our name back in there,” said Vaughan, who has now won three South titles as coach (2011 and 2013 being the others). “It’s been a while since we’ve gotten this so we’re excited to be back here and now we’ve got more work to do starting tomorrow morning.”

Although there is still work to be done, the players were definitely enjoying the moment on the floor. As the crowd was being urged to disperse, Hyland stood at midcourt cradling the South championship trophy. When asked how it felt at that moment, he said, “It feels pretty awesome right now. This thing feels pretty great in my hands right now.”

Mansfield (25-2) will play the North champion, either Everett or Lawrence, at the TD Garden in the state semifinal on Monday night at 7:30.

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