Remarkable Run Ends for Canton in State Title Game

Canton girls hockey
Sophomore Lauren Fitzpatrick (17) celebrates Canton’s second goal against Notre Dame Academy (Hingham) in the state title game at the TD Garden. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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BOSTON, Mass. – Heading into the third period down by a single goal to defending Div. 2 state champion Notre Dame Academy (Hingham), the Canton girls’ hockey team was probably thinking that it had the Cougars right where it wanted them.

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The Bulldogs (14-5-6), who entered the playoffs as the No. 14 seed, had shown a propensity for coming from behind to pull out wins during an improbable tournament run that had brought Canton all the way to the TD Garden for its first state title game appearance since 2006. Despite being behind by a goal, the Bulldogs remained confident.

“It was only 1-0 and we have come back from 1-0 games so many times,” said senior captain Rebecca Eckler. “We can get a goal in 30 seconds. We just knew that we can come back, we can do this, never give up and even with a minute left, we just cannot give up.”

Canton did come back and tied the game early in the third period. Andrea McNeil popped in a backhander on the rebound and fired up the large contingent of fans that made the trip up 93 for the early morning game.

However, the Cougars (23-0-1) responded just nine seconds later to regain the lead and freshman Katherine Pyne caught fire, scoring all four of NDA’s goals in the third period, while classmate Skyler Irving added a goal and three assists. The Cougars skated to a 5-2 victory and back-to-back state titles, despite a roster that has zero seniors.

“To see them tie the game, we could have crumbled,” said NDA coach Jean-Yves Roy, “and things could have gone south for us but I think it showed a lot of character and bounced back very next shift and we just kept rolling from there.”

Defense has been the strength of the Bulldogs all season. Sunday’s final was only the second time this year that Canton allowed an opponent to score more than two goals in a game and the first time since Barnstable scored four all the way back in December. That defense was put to the test against the high-scoring Cougars.

Junior goalie Colleen Kelleher stood tall to make an early save on a scoring opportunity for Emma Duffey, but six minutes into the game Irving reacted first to a rebound and was able to finish for a 1-0 lead. Pyne also had Kelleher beat two minutes later only to see her shot come back off the crossbar.

Kelleher made nine saves in the first and the Bulldogs grew into the game as the opening period wore on. Sophomores Katie Trerice and Leah McClellan, senior Molly McLaughlin, and freshman Alexa Maffeo all making solid plays to limit the Cougars to shots from the edges and the forwards starting the defensive effort with an aggressive forecheck.

“We thought we had a pretty good grasp on what they wanted to do and it kind of in a way fit into what we do anyways,” said Canton coach Dennis Aldrich. “A couple times they almost stuttered with the puck because we were taking away their wide wings and stuff like that.”

Sophomore Lauren Fitzpatrick had Canton’s best chance of the first period with a solo rush up the right side and a shot from the circle that was blocked aside.

Canton took control in the second period and started to create scoring chances by forcing turnovers in the neutral zone. McNeil had a good chance just a minute into the second but her rush to the net was blocked at the last second. Five minutes later, Trerice had a shot through traffic batted away and Ava Bevilacqua took the rebound the length of the ice and forced Kelleher into a save.

Kendra Farrelly nearly created the tying goal with seven minutes left in the second but her initial rush was tipped away by NDA goalie Erin Murray in the crease and Farrelly’s deflected follow-up was well saved by Murray. Three minutes later, Farrelly again created an opening down the left but her shot through the crease could not be tapped in at the back post by Fitzpatrick.

“These girls’ heads never drop,” said Aldrich. “There’s no panic. Our mantra all along has been attitude and focus and it’s not if it’s going to happen but when and how.”

Just two minutes into the third period, Canton’s seemingly stole the momentum for the game with the tying goal. McNeil pounced on a rebound off a shot by Fitzpatrick and planted it top shelf.

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Aldrich said, “When we tied, I don’t think the girls were surprised, I certainly wasn’t surprised. I’ve seen them do it over and over again.”

NDA won the ensuing face-off and the puck slid all the way down into the Canton zone. Pyne showed off her speed to react first to the loose puck and she buried the chance for a 2-1 lead. The game was tied for only nine seconds.

“It was just one of those squirter pucks,” said Aldrich. “There’s no one at fault, no one to blame, just one of those squirters that happen. When you’ve got someone like the Pyne girl swarming around like a shark, she smells the blood and she can finish.”

Pyne added a second goal a little more than a minute later, but again Canton showed the resiliency to fight back. Fitzpatrick turned in the high slot and flung a shot at goal that took a funny bounce and ended up in the back of the net.

NDA responded quickly to regain the two-goal advantage. Pyne’s wraparound effort slid under the pads of Kelleher, who appeared to have it covered until she was bumped but the goal was given. With 2:26 left, Pyne added her fourth and the team’s fifth to seal the title.

Despite the disappointment of losing Sunday’s final, Rebecca Eckler reflected on what it meant just to get to that round. She said, “The journey here was just as awesome as it was being here. We never gave up in any games and all our hard work paying off and to come here…it was just awesome. I’m so proud of everyone and we did our best.”

Aldrich noted that three years ago, the Bulldogs won just three games. He praised the leadership of the seniors for getting the program to this point. “These guys, especially Rebecca and Kristen (Eckler) being our leaders, kept everyone focused on what we wanted and needed to do as a program. We got consistently better each game,” he said.

Aldrich added, “I coached boys’ hockey for 13 years and these guys, no offense to the boys, have taught me more in five…I’m just very, very grateful and proud to go on a run like this.”

When asked what it was like to skate on the TD Garden ice, Kristen Eckler said, “When we first stepped onto it, I couldn’t wait for that moment. I’ve been thinking about it all week, you step out there and you see your town, you see your parents, you see your family, it’s just awesome to have this experience.”

She joked, “If you told me a month and a half ago that I’d be playing at the Boston Garden, I would probably slap you or something because I wouldn’t believe it…It was just so much heart, soul, and hard work, blood, sweat and tears…that’s just our team.”

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Nine Hockomock Players Selected for Shriners Classic

Hockomock Shriners Game History
Hockomock Shriners Game History

 

Shriners Classic
Hockomock League MVP and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year John DeLuca (6) of King Philip is one of nine players from the Hock selected for the annual Shriners All-Star Classic. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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The rosters for the annual Shriners Classic were recently released by the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association and nine Hockomock League football players were selected to compete in this year’s game at Bentley University on Saturday, June 17 at 4:00.

The nine players, all seniors representing seven Hockomock schools, who will be part of the South team roster are Joe Bartucca of Foxboro, Riley Burns of Milford, John DeLuca and Carl Sanuth of King Philip, A.J. Gibbs of Mansfield, Adam McLaughlin of Taunton, Bobby Mylod and Thomas Reynolds of North Attleboro, and Ryan Sullivan of Stoughton.

The annual all-star game pits graduating high school seniors from teams in the North and the South and raises money for the Shriners Hospital in Boston. Through the years, the MHSFCA has partnered with the Aleppo Shriners and has donated more than $1 million through its all-star game.

The players were nominated by their coaches and then selected by the coaching staffs that were elected by the MHSFCA to run the game. The South team will be coached by Bill Kinsherf of Archbishop Williams.

In addition to being part of the Shriners Game, Burns, DeLuca, and Mylod were also chosen by the MHSFCA as part of the annual All-State Super 26 Team. Also, North Attleboro assistant coach Jack Johnson will be honored at the annual banquet as one of six MHSFCA Assistant Coaches of the Year.

Each of the nine players were Hockomock League all-stars this fall. DeLuca was named both the league MVP as selected by the coaches and the HockomockSports.com Player of the Year.

The Shriners Classic will be held on June 17. For more information, visit http://shrinersclassicsports.com.

Hockomock Shriners Game History
Hockomock Shriners Game History

Fourth Quarter Rally Lifts Warriors to South Title

Foxboro girls basketball
Foxboro relied on the experience of having played in the South final two years ago to stay calm and rally in the fourth quarter to win its first sectional title since 2003. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com

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BROCKTON, Mass. – Two years ago in the Div. 2 South final, freshmen Ashley Sampson and Grace Tamulionis combined for 20 points in a loss to eventual state champion Duxbury. On Saturday afternoon, Sampson, Tamulionis, and the Warriors returned to Brockton High and used that experience to good effect to rally Foxboro in the fourth quarter.

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Sampson scored eight of her game-high 19 points in the final quarter (and added 10 rebounds as well) and Tamulionis scored six of her 11 points in the fourth to bring Foxboro back from a point down to beat Westwood 47-38 and claim the program’s first sectional title since 2003 and book a trip to the TD Garden.

“I think having been in here before, even though it was two years ago, was a huge advantage,” said Foxboro coach Lisa Downs. “I’m sure that a lot of their team hadn’t been in this venue with this many people. Even though they’re juniors, they play like seniors and they weren’t cautious at the end.”

Tamulionis added, “Knowing the environment really helped with all the fans and I know freshmen year everyone was nervous but this year almost all of us had been here before so it really helped.”

The Wolverines did not look overwhelmed by the environment early and came out strong in the first quarter with senior forward Carly Sugrue knocking down a pair of threes and scoring eight of her 13 points. Haley Connaughton also hit one from deep and Allison Morin had three assists, as the Westwood offense was clicking at the start.

Sampson was keeping the Warriors afloat on the offensive end with eight points in the first, all coming off drives to the basket. Foxboro’s aggressiveness driving to the basket led to seven Westwood fouls in the opening quarter. Junior Shannon Smally (six rebounds) also provided a spark with three points and a couple boards in the first.

“She did a lot of the things today that we’ve been asking her to do all along,” said Downs of Smally. “Luckily, it’s gotten to the point that she’s doing things in March we asked her to do in December, but she timed it perfectly.”

Foxboro trailed 17-14 after one and would continue to struggle shooting from the outside for the better part of the next two quarters. The Warriors stayed in the game in large part due to a defensive effort that held the Wolverines to only 21 points over the final 24 minutes.

“We just had to focus on our defense,” said Sampson. “Our shots weren’t falling, but our defense is what got us back into it.”

With Westwood leading 24-19, Foxboro inbounded the ball to Lily Sykes for a half-court heave as the half expired. The horn sounded and the shot fell short, but an official’s whistle blew just before the clock read all zeroes and Sykes made 2-of-3 free throws to cut the lead to just three.

In the second half, Downs made a change and put Sampson on Sugrue, a switch that limited the Westwood forward to just two points after the break.

Downs explained, “Ashley’s got these long arms because Carly does a good job with these step back jumps and Ashley can just get a little more in her face.”

Foxboro finally found the range from three. Sykes (seven points) buried her only shot of the game to cut the lead to 26-24. After a Westwood basket, Sykes drove baseline and kicked it all the way out to the three-point line for Riley Collins to knock one down and tie the game. The Wolverines responded with four straight but then again Collins got a clean look and hit from three sending Foxboro into the fourth down just 32-31.

Tamulionis said, “No one got frustrated and I think that really helped. When coach called timeout, she just kind of settled us down a little and we knew that we had to step it up.”

Catherine Bonfiglio (team-high 14 points) started the fourth with a drive to the basket to extend the lead to three, but her six points accounted for all of Westwood’s points in the fourth. After a ragged start in which both teams missed a lot of open looks, Foxboro clamped down and contested every Westwood chance.

On the other end, Sampson, the Hockomock League MVP, started to assert herself. She drove baseline and finished with a reverse layup plus the foul and then knocked down a jumper off a Sykes assist to give Foxboro its first lead (36-34) since the first quarter.

When asked if she knew that it was time to be aggressive at that point, Sampson replied, “I don’t know. When I got the third foul, I kind of got into my own head. I just had to calm down and play.”

Tamulionis stepped up next, knocking down a long jumper off a Smally kick out to extend the lead to four and then stepped a couple feet further back to drain an open three that made it 41-36 with 1:05 remaining.

Foxboro went 6-of-8 at the line in the closing minute to complete its run as the top seed in the South by lifting the sectional championship trophy.

“I knew we had it in us,” Downs said, “and I never panicked too much because I could see it in their eyes that they had this game within their grasp and it was theirs to win or lose. Defense was going to win it for us.

“It’s so exciting. The girls knew that they could win today and never looked back.”

Tamulionis said, “It’s awesome. The whole year, the whole team has worked so hard and we deserve it. Everyone has done a great job all year.”

Foxboro (22-2) advances to the Eastern Mass. final at the TD Garden on Monday at 5:45 to play the winner of Arlington Catholic and Hamilton-Wenham.

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Long-Range Rockets Take Down Hornets in South Final

Mansfield boys basketball
Max Boen (2) gets pumped after Phil Vigeant (12) stole the ball and finished plus a foul that gave Mansfield a 33-30 lead late in the second quarter. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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TAUNTON, Mass. – Not only did Needham make 11 threes in Saturday night’s Div. 1 South final at Taunton High but the Rockets also timed them perfectly. Five of them in the first quarter, including one from just inside half-court by Thomas Shaughnessy at the buzzer, a big three to end a Mansfield run in the second, and three in the fourth quarter that each time matched a Mansfield basket.

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The long range shooting of Thomas Shaughnessy (game-high 26 points, including four threes) and Matthew Shaker (20 points, including six triples) and strong play defensively to limit the Hornets on the offensive end propelled Needham to its first ever sectional title with a 65-56 victory.

“Any time a kid can hit from that range, it changes the way you play and good basketball players at this stage make big plays,” said Mansfield coach Mike Vaughan. “I thought we didn’t make enough of them down the stretch to weather that and give us a fighting chance to go on a run.”

Needham brought four busloads of fans to the game and the energy of the crowd translated to the play on the court, as each of the five threes in the first quarter was followed by a salute of some sort to the crowd. Shaker buried three from beyond the arc in the first and Shaughnessy had 10 points, including a pair of threes.

Mansfield, which is normally a team that makes a fair amount from long-range as well, knocked down only one three, from junior John McCoy (11 points) but were having some success taking the ball to the basket. Senior Max Boen had four of his 10 points in the first but also added three of his six assists and three of his four steals.

In the second quarter, the Hornets started to put things together on the offensive end and limited Shaughnessy to just a single point. An 10-0 run to start the second, capped by a Tyler Boulter (10 points) three put Mansfield in front, but Brandon Monheimer hit a pull-up jumper and then Connor Reidy hit a three-pointer (his only bucket of the game) to give Needham a slight edge.

“We never got that separation that we needed,” said Vaughan, “and we didn’t get any easy baskets. Probably after watching the film what I’m going to be most frustrated with is we didn’t get the easy baskets that we typically try to get in games.”

Phil Vigeant stole the ball at mid-court and scored plus a foul to give the Hornets a 33-32 lead at the half. In the third quarter, it felt as though Mansfield may just start to pull away against the Rockets, who were making the program’s first ever trip to the South final, but again clutch shooting put the Rockets back in front.

Boen skipped a pass across to Christian Weber for a three from the corner and then scored on a pair of drives, including one acrobatic finish in the lane with his back to the basket. Each time, Needham had a response and Shaughnessy gave the Rockets the lead for good with a three that made it 47-44 and assisted on a basket by Mike Klemm at the buzzer for a five-point lead heading to the fourth.

“They want the game kept in the 50s for pace and we want the game in the 60s and trying to hold them in the low 50s and we just never got anything in transition, we never got any easy baskets,” Vaughan explained. “Even when we ran and jumped them and tried to speed them up, they did a good job of making possessions long and slowing the game down.”

In the fourth, Mansfield could not find a way to make a run. Every time the Hornets scored, Needham responded with a basket of its own to only increase the excitement of the crowd, which the Rockets clearly fed off.

Boulter buried a three to start the quarter but Shaker answered right back with his fifth of the night. Vigeant knocked one down at the other end to bring Mansfield back within two only for Shaker to hit one from five or six feet behind the line.

Vaughan said, “He hit two that were 25-26 feet away and, the way that we defend, those are indefensible. You have to live with those.”

Boulter scored off an assist by Sam Goldberg but Shaughnessy got free for a corner three that was the dagger for the Rockets. Needham shot 7-for-8 from the line in the final minutes to seal the win and bring the fans storming out onto the court to celebrate.

“We were holding the ball longer than normal on possessions,” said Vaughan. “We were having a hard time reversing the ball. In the first half, I thought we played 24-25 feet away when we want to work 19 feet and in.”

Mansfield finished at 23-3, including 15-1 in the Hockomock League.

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Hornets Run Into Braintree Buzzsaw in South Final

Mansfield girls basketball
Perennial power Braintree put on an offensive clinic to win its fifth Div. 1 South title in the past six years, beating Mansfield 72-43 at Taunton High. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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TAUNTON, Mass. – Mansfield came into Friday night’s Div. 1 South final at Taunton High allowing only 37 points per game, including just 31 points in each of its two playoff victories. Of course, the Hornets had not faced a team like Braintree this season.

The Wamps, perennially one of the top programs in the state, nearly put up double what the Hornets were allowing per game this season. Braintree knocked down nine three-pointers (seven in the first half) and, even with star guard Keelah Dixon sidelined with an injury for the third and fourth quarters, rolled to a 72-43 victory and the team’s fifth South title in the past six years.

“They’re great off the dribble, they had some great drives and when we did double they kicked out,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding. “We’re a really good defensive team and they were simply at another level tonight executing, shooting…they’ve got a lot of kids who can score in different ways.”

He added, “Offensively, I thought we were okay but the more shots they made our morale dropped a little bit and they just pulled away.”

The Hornets were hanging around early in the game, trailing 10-6 midway through the first quarter, but the Wamps went on a 15-4 run to break the game wide open. Adriana Timberlake (team-high 17 points) and Jenna Roche (14 points) knocked down three from beyond the arc and Isabella Tonetti added eight points in the first.

It only got worse for Mansfield in the second, as the Hornets were held to just two points on a basket by senior Jen Peel (seven points), while Braintree continued to pile on with 15 to hold a 40-12 lead at the break. Dixon (13 points) added seven in the second before hobbling off at halftime.

“They’ve got nine, 10 kids who can play and, you know, they can all handle the ball, they can all shoot the three if you leave them open, and they’re a handful to handle defensively,” said Redding. “On the other end, they’re as good as anyone defensively. That’s a tough combination. We’re a good team and we certainly met our match and were humbled tonight.”

Mansfield rarely gives up 20 points in a half, but on Friday the Hornets twice allowed Braintree to score 20 points in a single quarter. That included the third, as Timberlake scored eight points, including a pair of threes, and Roche added eight of her own.

The third was also Mansfield’s top offensive quarter with 17 points. Junior center Meg Hill scored six of her game-high 19 points (to go along with 10 rebounds), Ann Maher scored off a Mady Bendanillo assist and Peel (eight assists) and Erin Daniel each nailed threes.

Hill added another seven points in the fourth and Maggie Danehy showed flashes with a finish despite contact, but the Wamps continued to execute perfectly against the Hornets defense and cruised to another sectional title and trip to the TD Garden.

Redding noted, “I like how we battled. We scored 30 in the second half. Obviously, it’s too little, too late, but the kids have a lot of heart and played more like our team in the second half.”

Mansfield will bring back all but two players for next season, as it tries to three-peat as Kelley-Rex division champions.

“Our kids had a great year,” Redding said. “To get to the final is a great achievement and it’s tough to lose like this but I’m just so proud of what we had to do to get here. Thirteen of the 15 are back and maybe this experience will get is a little deeper next year.”

One of those seniors who will not be back next year is Peel, who has been a starter for the Hornets for three seasons and turned into one of the top guards in the league. Peel found it tough to score consistently in the playoffs, but Redding knows that the Hornets will miss her next year.

“She’s seeing everyone’s best defender,” explained Redding. “Every time she gets the ball, they’re going to double and help and she’s just not getting much space to breathe let alone shoot. She finds a way; she’s such a competitor.”

Mansfield finished the season at 20-4 and 15-1 in the Hockomock League.

Defense Reigns As Mansfield Grinds Out Semifinal Win

Mansfield girls basketball
Mansfield sophomore Mady Bendanillo scored 11 points, pulled down eight rebounds, and had four steals to help the Hornets beat Wellesley and reach the Div. 1 South final. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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BROCKTON, Mass. – Prior to Tuesday night’s Div. 1 South semifinal between Mansfield and Wellesley at Massasoit Community College, questions were being asked at the press table about whether or not either team could get to 40 points.

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The two teams are among the best in the state on the defensive side of the ball and both have held opponents under 40 points per game this season, including Mansfield’s Hockomock-best 37.4. In the opening round, Wellesley held Marshfield to just 32 and the Hornets limited high-scoring Attleboro to only 31.

It was never going to be a pretty game, never going to be a shootout, but in the end Mansfield did just enough on offense and once again clamped down on defense to win 40-31 and advance to the South final on Friday night.

“It was a grind,” Mansfield coach Mike Redding admitted after the game. “This bracket is just brutal with good teams and good defenses. Right now, it’s just survive and move on and for the first time in I think six years we’re back in the final.”

He was quick to praise the Raiders, adding, “I thought maybe we could get close to 50 and hold them to 40, but they were very good defensively. They’re quick, well-coached, they took things away that we normally wanted to do.”

Mansfield was able to get out to an early lead in the first quarter by holding the Raiders to just four points. Offensively, Jen Peel could not find her own shot (scoring only five points and making one shot from the field), but she dished out three of her five assists and had a pair of steals.

When Kara Bendanillo drove and kicked out to the corner for an Emily Vigeant three, the Hornets had an 11-4 lead after one. After Wellesley cut the lead to just three, Mansfield responded with an 11-3 run sparked by sophomore point guard Mady Bendanillo, who scored five of her 11 points in the quarter.

“We call a lot of different stuff where she’s got to get the ball to a lot of different places,” said Redding of Bendanillo, “and it’s just amazing how she runs the offense. I think she may have come out for a minute or two in the first half and that’s it; she can go for 32 minutes and she doesn’t take a possession off.”

Meg Hill scored inside to start the run and then Bendanillo started to get out on the break. She finished in transition off an Ann Maher pass and then tipped the ball loose to Maher who fed it right back for another basket on the break, plus the foul.

“If Jen has to play the point then she has to do all that work bringing it up and she doesn’t get the points, so Mady has certainly been a key to transition from losing all those seniors to this group,” said Redding. “Her playing the point and creating chances for Jen has been one of the secrets of our success.”

The Hornets led 22-13 at halftime, but things fell apart offensively in the third quarter. The Raiders stymied Mansfield on nearly every possession, holding the Hornets without a made field goal and to just four points from the line in the quarter. Luckily for Mansfield, the defense did not miss a beat and did not allow Wellesley to get going, with the exception of Gianna Palli, who scored 12 of the Raiders’ 19 points in the second and third quarters combined.

“No, not at all,” said Hill when asked if it was easy to get going against the Raiders defense. “We’ve always heard about Wellesley’s defense and it was important that we kept taking shots…She was really long (Wellesley forward Dorian Cohen), so over the head wasn’t working and bouncing was too low to the ground and it was just hard to get the perfect combination but in the end it worked out.”

Hill, who was not feeling well on Tuesday, finished with a team-high 14 points and 13 rebounds, but the combination of Cohen and Leo Sperling made it very difficult to get the ball to her in the post. Even with the struggle to score, Mansfield led 26-23 heading to the fourth.

After a couple more free throws, Bendanillo stole the ball from Sperling, who had just grabbed a defensive rebound, and laid it in for the Hornets’ first made basket of the second half (10-1/2 minutes after the break). The Raiders battled back with Kelcie Zarle scoring in transition and then Palli adding a three-point play that cut the lead to five points with about a minute remaining.

Peel continued to struggle, making her lone basket on a drive to the hoop in the fourth, but she pulled off the pass of the game to set up Hill for the killer three-point play that sealed the win. Driving down the left side of the lane, Peel angled as though she was going up for the shot but with her left hand bounced a pass around the defender to the waiting Hill, who finished it with contact.

Hill joked, “If I’m being completely honest, I had no idea where the ball was and I just kind of hoped it would work.”

Redding added, “It got it to six or seven and everybody, I think, took a breathe of relief that we had a little cushion again and then we went to man and they went a little cold shooting and we made some free throws.”

It may not have been the prettiest win, but at this stage of the season there are no extra style points to be awarded. Redding certainly did not mind how the result was attained.

He said, “At this point we’ve got to be considered one of the top defensive teams. We’re holding people to 30 points on a regular basis and if we do that we can win any night.

Hill agreed, “It’s amazing, I can’t wait. It’s just live to play another day.”

Mansfield (20-2) will await the winner of Wednesday’s other semifinal between Braintree and Newton South on Friday night at 5:30 at Taunton High. The Mansfield boys will follow in their final against Needham at 7:45.

“Hey, a Hornets doubleheader on Friday night in Taunton, it should be fun,” said Redding. “At this point, we’re playing on house money, so we’ll just show up and go for it.”

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Warriors Win Rubber Match With North, Head to Final

Foxboro girls basketball
Foxboro junior Ashley Sampson (5) drives to the basket against North Attleboro in the Div. 2 South semifinal at Massasoit Community College. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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BROCKTON, Mass. – North Attleboro won the first meeting with Foxboro this season, thanks in part to a huge fourth quarter by senior Ashley Ahern. With Ahern out injured for the second meeting, Foxboro ran over the Rocketeers and clinched the Davenport title with a 26-point victory.

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On Monday night at Massasoit Community College, the teams met for the third time to not only decide the season series but also to see which team would represent the Hockomock in Saturday’s Div. 2 South final.

With Ahern in uniform for the introductions, but not able to play, North came in with the plan of slowing the game down, turning it into a half-court battle, playing physical defense, and trying to take advantage of its edge in size in the post. The game plan worked perfectly, but Foxboro showed that it had some grit to go along with its ability to put points on the board.

Behind a game-high 20 points from league MVP Ashley Sampson and 17 from fellow junior Lily Sykes, Foxboro defended, crashed the boards, and found just enough offense to pull out a 49-39 victory that earns the Warriors a second trip to the South final in three seasons.

“We did exactly what we needed to do to beat that team,” admitted North Attleboro coach Derek Herber from the first row of the bleachers following the game. “You can’t let them run, you can’t let them shoot all those shots…Through three quarters we did what we needed to do; we just needed a little more offense to get to that spot.”

Foxboro coach Lisa Downs recognized the difficulty of playing an opponent for the third time and credited her team for finding a way to win.

“At this point, jitters are normal and we’re in a different gym, some of these girls have been here and some have not, so we’ll take a ‘W’ any day,” she said. “It wasn’t the prettiest of wins but they played with heart.”

The first quarter was not pretty, but the Warriors had a lead and it felt like they were ready to pull away as they did on their home court three weeks ago. Sampson and Sykes split the scoring in the first, each with six points, but Foxboro lacked the typical frenetic pace that it usually plays at.

North was slowing things down and shots were not falling, which made it difficult to get into the full-court press the Warriors prefer. Sykes opened the second with a drive that extended the lead to eight, but it was the only made field goal by the Warriors in the quarter.

The Rocketeers climbed back into the game with Julia Feid (six points) scoring on a drive and Samantha Taggart drilling a three (her only basket of the game) to cut the lead to four. Emily Haskell gave North a big lift right before the break with a steal and a layup and then a runner on the baseline. The junior’s only four points of the game made it 20-17 at the break.

“I think we were beating ourselves to be honest with you,” said Downs. “We were overthinking our shots because we had some wide open looks and we were just thinking too much instead of releasing the ball. We were only up because of our defense.”

When asked about the sloppiness of the first half, Herber insisted, “Part of the sloppiness is that everything we do, they know, and everything they do, I know, so the sloppiness is playing a third game against a team you’ve seen in a high stakes game.”

In the third quarter, senior forward Caroline Collard started to get going for North, scoring six of her team-high 10 points. Liz Morehouse added three of her five points, including a turn around jumper from the left block. After Feid pulled up for a jumper and Collard scored off an Emily Schromm inbound pass, North was within one at 29-28.

Foxboro was still struggling to find the range and in desperate need of a spark. Sykes stepped up and drilled a three off a Sampson assist to extend the lead to four and then Sampson was able to beat Feid in the post for a layup to give Foxboro a six-point edge heading to the fourth.

“When the shots weren’t falling, we were getting into our own heads, so we just had to settle down,” said Sampson of the Warriors struggles on the offensive end of the floor. “In the third quarter, Lily hit some huge shots and I think once she did that it made everyone more confident.”

Things started to get going for Foxboro in the fourth quarter. Grace Tamulionis opened the quarter with a jumper that Feid answered with a drive, but then Sampson drove and kicked it out to Riley Collins for a straightaway three (her only point of the night) and Foxboro finally had some separation.

“At this point in the season, 22 games in, we’re still telling them to shoot with confidence,” said Downs. “Grace finally warmed up a little bit in the second half, which was huge, and Ashley, so we stepped up when we had to step up and played with grit.”

Tamulionis had six of her seven points in the fourth and Sampson added six as well. North did not give up with Schromm knocking down a jumper and driving the length of the floor for a layup plus the foul. She missed the free throw but grabbed her own rebound with North down 44-38.

The Rocketeers had only more chance to get closer but a long three by Feid was halfway down and popped out and Tamulionis clinched it with an offensive rebound and score on a missed free throw on the other end.

“I’m so proud of the way the girls played,” said Herber. “We held them down as best we could to get to that point. We tried to muck it up as best we could and slow it down and take advantage of our post players.”

When asked about his senior class and what they have brought to the program, Herber could not hide his emotions. He said, “Every year we try to focus on our seniors, but these kids have been with our program as long as I’ve been here, for three years, and they’re just great kids. I just wish better for them today.”

For Sampson and the Warriors the win means a return to Brockton High where the Warriors played eventual state champion Duxbury in 2015. Sampson said, “It’s really exciting. We have an opportunity to win the South final, so it’s just really cool.

“It’s definitely tough. They beat us the first time and we beat them last time by 20-something, so they were out for blood. They wanted it and so did we. It was tough but we had to be mentally prepared for it.”

Foxboro (21-2) will face No. 7 Westwood in the Div. 2 South final on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Brockton High.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.