The Panthers beat Feehan for the second time this season (Franklin won 10-3 in the regular season meeting) and the experience of playing a regular season schedule loaded with tournament-caliber opponents, including many ranked in the top 10 in the state, is paying off, according to head coach Kristin Igoe.
“I definitely think strength of schedule is a big factor,” she explained. “We’ve been in games where we’re up, we’ve been crushed, and we’ve been close at half…we’ve had every situation and I think that helps in the tournament.”
The Panthers have faced the likes of Westwood, Notre Dame Academy (Hingham), and Needham, which are widely considered the top three programs in the state, as well as perennial Div. 1 powers like North Andover, Lincoln-Sudbury, and Andover.
With that experience under their belts, Franklin was ready to play a type of defense that Feehan coach Nancy Anderson-Semple admitted was on a different level of physicality than the Shamrocks had encountered in the regular season.
“They’re playing teams that are tougher than ours during the season, so they’re used to playing that way,” said Anderson-Semple. “A lot of our kids have bruises everywhere, hits to the head, all that kind of stuff; we’re not used to that physical type of play.
“They have a tougher schedule where I guess they’re allowed to do that, so that was a little bit of a shock to the girls.”
While the Panthers had success against the Shamrocks in the regular season, Igoe insisted her team was focused to take on Feehan on Tuesday.
She said, “Our biggest thing was don’t underestimate Bishop Feehan. Even though we beat them in the regular season, it doesn’t matter. It’s tournament; it’s a whole new slate.
Thanks to strong play on the draws from senior Mandy Semple, Feehan was able to hang with the Panthers early in the game. Freshman Annie Walsh opened the scoring on a drive to her right hand three minutes in but the Shamrocks quickly answered to tie it.
Kendall Reardon scored on a low, eight-meter shot to regain the lead and Kenzie Pleshaw, who was recently named the Hockomock League MVP, made it 3-1 with a sidearm shot on the run, undeterred by a bump on her way to goal. Semple got one back but Emily Spath came down 24 seconds later to make it 4-2.
“They have an excellent draw taker and that’s where their momentum was,” said Igoe. “They would constantly win draws, which wasn’t good for us, but if they scored our defense shut them down on the next one of Dani [Lonati} made a save. It was important to not them get on a run.”
The defensive unit for Franklin proved to be the difference in the first half with a strong ride that stymied the Shamrocks in transition and then a settled defense that took away cuts and passing lanes. Led by Sam Jones, Olivia Truenow, Grace McDermott, and Dana Lewandowski, among others, the Panthers would limit Feehan to just three goals in the opening half.
Meanwhile, the offense was clicking into gear. Caroline Lounsbury assisted on Spath’s goal and on the next goal by Julia Jette that capped off a transition started by Truenow’s outlet pass. After Semple scored her second, Lounsbury converted an eight-meter try for her first goal of the game.
Pleshaw capped the half with a pinpoint shot across her body into the top corner with three seconds on the clock to give Franklin an 8-3 lead at the break.
Feehan tried to turn things around in the second half and again the draw controls played their part as the Shamrocks won the first two and turned both into goals by Caroline Toomey. But, Walsh snagged the next draw control for the Panthers and then converted on a free position for her second of the night.
“You would never know that she was a freshman,” said Igoe of Walsh. “The way she ran up and down the midfield today, she played like a senior. She may not get credit for all the goals and assists but the ground balls, the draws, she caused turnovers, she didn’t give them second chances.”
Semple converted her hat trick but Feehan still could not put a run together, as the score stayed 9-6 or five minutes before Diana Griffin put one under the bar for the Panthers, which was followed by goals from Pleshaw and Reardon to build the lead to six.
Feehan scored to make it 12-7 with 5:20 remaining but before the ensuing draw, lightning was seen and the teams had to take a 45-minute break until the weather cleared. Walsh scored off an assist by Pleshaw and then played provider on Griffin’s second to let the Panthers close out the game in style.
It was not unexpected to see the Panthers, the top seed in the sectional, get back into the final, but a little bit of a surprise is that it will be Acton-Boxboro making the trip to Franklin on Thursday night, not No. 2 seed Lincoln-Sudbury.
When asked about A-B, Igoe remarked, “I know they beat a great Concord team and a great L-S team, so they must be good. They were losing a bunch and people kind of doubted them and they said, who cares. They must be good and we’re not going to underestimate them.”
The final is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.