After a decade of patrolling the sidelines as an assistant coach for two local programs, Dave DeStefano is getting his turn in the spotlight.
King Philip athletic director Gary Brown announced the hiring of DeStefano as the new boys basketball coach on Friday afternoon. DeStefano is the Warriors’ fifth head coach since the start of the 2011-2012 season.
“I’m really excited for this opportunity,” DeStefano told HockomockSports.com. “I’d like to thank Gary Brown and Dr. Lisa Mobley, I’m very appreciative and look forward to working with them. I look at this as a fresh start for everyone in the program. All the players, they are going to have to earn everything. There’s going to be constant competition for each spot and for playing time. I’m really excited to put a product out there that the KP community will be exited about, both on and off the court.”
DeStefano spent the last three seasons as the JV coach at Hockomock rival Foxboro High. Prior to that, he spent seven seasons as an assistant coach for Bishop Feehan. During that stretch, the Shamrocks won four Eastern Athletic Conference titles as well as the 2015 D2 South Sectional championship.
“I am extremely proud to announce David DeStefano as the new coach of the King Philip Boys Basketball program,” Brown said in a statement. “David brings passion, enthusiasm, and a wealth of knowledge as the new leader of this program. He impressed our search committee and administration with a personal coaching philosophy that is an excellent match with the core values here at KP.”
King Philip is coming off a season in which it went 4-16, losing six of those games by six points or less, including an overtime loss (74-71) to eventual D2 State Champion Tech Boston. King Philip graduated five players from last year’s squad.
“I plan on working really closely with the youth program and try to build up from there,” DeStefano said. “I don’t want to be just the varsity coach, I want to build the program as a whole and that starts with the youth programs. I want to build a culture of success with the high school program that a lot of other programs have at KP. And we’re going to build it through confidence and unselfish attitudes.”
After four years of trips to Vermont, Albany, and Hartford, former Stoughton star Aaron Calixte will be taking his game to a whole new level next season. The redshirt junior guard has decided to transfer from the University of Maine and will play his last season of college eligibility at the University of Oklahoma and take on the powerhouse programs of the Big 12.
With the graduation of standout Trae Young and the transfer of his backup Jordan Shepherd, the Sooners had an opening at point guard and Calixte is confident that his game is ready so that he can step in and perform for a perennial NCAA Tournament contender.
“We played against a couple of high majors throughout my college career so it will be just an adjustment more than anything,” Calixte said in a phone call from Maine, where he is completing his senior year of classes. As a senior, Calixte is a graduate transfer, which means he won’t have to sit out a year and will join the Sooners for a preseason camp in June.
“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “I think one of the main things for me during this transfer process was me getting to a school that plays on a high level to showcase what I can do. I think that can help my career going forward, so I’m more than excited.”
First off I would like to thank god for putting me in the position I am in today. Without him none of it would be possible. With that being said, I am excited to announce my commitment to Coach Lon Kruger & his staff at the University of Oklahoma!!??#BoomerSoonerpic.twitter.com/gycheJOEVR
Coming into this past winter, Calixte had considered the possibility of transferring to a larger program, but it wasn’t until after the Black Bears completed their season with a loss to Vermont in the America East Tournament and head coach Bob Walsh elected to opt out of his contract that he made the decision to move on.
He admitted that his coach’s decision to leave was an impetus for his own move and that if Coach Walsh had remained in charge, his transfer would have been a more difficult choice.
“If he had stayed, I would have had to have a conversation with him and my family to see if I was going to take that route,” Calixte explained. “With him not being here anymore, it just made the decision that much easier. I came in with that guy and it would’ve been weird if I was here and he wasn’t my coach.”
A positive relationship with the coaching staff was important to Calixte ending up in Orono and it has also played a part in his move to Norman. Just a couple days after the Sooners lost to URI in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Calixte said that OU coach Lon Kruger and his son, and assistant coach, Kevin were sitting in his living room talking about the opportunities in Oklahoma. That relationship grew over the next month, while Calixte weighed his options, and just two days after his official visit to Norman he declared his move on April 17.
The coaches played a role, but he also wanted to go someplace where he could take advantage of his senior year by being on the court. “I definitely didn’t want to go to a school where I was going to have to play spot minutes or anything like that,” he said. “This is my last year, so I definitely want to play a lot. That was definitely one of the main things that I considered going into the transfer process.”
When asked if the transfer process was any different than being recruited after high school, Calixte joked, “It was similar just because coaches were calling and telling you the same things trying to get you to come, but this time it was Tom Crean (Georgia), Coach Kruger, Fran McCaffery (Iowa), coaches like that calling me.”
As a junior at Stoughton, Calixte had built a strong case for himself as a potential DI college player but he lacked the national profile of his rival from King Philip, Jake Layman, who went on to play for Maryland and is now with the Portland Trailblazers. Calixte attended Lee Academy to build his recruiting profile and got his collegiate chance at Maine.
He started 28 games as a freshman with the Black Bears and 26 games as a sophomore, scoring 10.8 points per game, which was third best on the team. Five games into his junior season, one in which Calixte had high expectations for what he could achieve, a foot injury in November cost him the year.
“Me missing that whole year, I felt like I was forgotten about,” Calixte reflected. “Preseason polls came out and there was a bunch of guys that made preseason teams that I thought I was much better than. It was just another chip on my shoulder.
“Me missing out on a whole year and not being able to do what I wanted to last year, there was a sense of urgency coming into this year. I kind of started off a little slow but I got better throughout the season.”
Calixte started all 32 games as a redshirt junior and was named America East Third Team All-Conference, averaging team-highs in points (16.9), assists (3.2), minutes (33.2), three-point percentage (38.0), and free throw percentage (89.0). Unfortunately, his personal success didn’t translate to wins, as the Black Bears finished 6-26.
While the team struggled, Calixte grew as a player, improving his decision-making, leadership, and his all-around game as a point guard. He credits Coach Walsh for making him a better player and a better person.
“The reason I went to Maine was that he told me I would have to work for my spot every year,” Calixte said. “If I wasn’t on my game, doing what I had to do, he would tell me right away.
“From the basketball lessons he taught me, they weren’t just about basketball they were life lessons – being able to be accountable, being able to take criticism, being a good teammate. Him being the coach he is, it just helped me a ton not only with basketball situations but life situations as well.”
Walsh recently tweeted his support for Calixte’s move to Oklahoma and in an article for the OU Daily, Walsh said, “I think he can be an elite scorer, he’s proven that. But if that’s not what the team needs on a given night and he needs to be a great defender, he needs to make his teammates better and get them open shots on the ball or off the ball, he can do that. I expect him to have a significant impact on whatever areas Coach Kruger needs him to impact to win.”
Stayed true to himself and his commitment when others around him did not. Stood by me for which I'll be forever grateful. Refused to take the easy way out. Made himself an elite player. Earned this opportunity and every ounce of success coming his way. Sooner fans will love him. https://t.co/hHUPpruSjw
Calixte went back to Stoughton the weekend before this interview, talking to friends and family and former teammates, and he was grateful for the support that he received from his hometown.
“It just kind of means more than just for me,” he remarked. “I’m doing a deed for the Town of Stoughton, my teammates here at Maine, you know, so it’s more than just an opportunity for me. I’m kind of a small town kid, I wasn’t nationally-known, so for me to have that chance to showcase myself against the best guys in the world is something I’m looking forward to. I want to play against the best and make a name for myself.”
It has been a whirlwind few years – from competing in the Hockomock League to the America East to now a chance to take on the likes of Kansas, Texas Tech, and other national powers and play on some of the biggest stages in college basketball.
Calixte reflected, “It’s been an extremely long ride from Stoughton to going to prep school for two years to being at Maine, especially the way things went at Maine with us not winning and me getting hurt…It’s been a roller coaster. It’s been a unique journey, but I’m happy with where I’m at.”
The roller coaster ride continues for Calixte in June when he joins up with the Sooners for the preseason and all of Stoughton, and the country, will be watching in November when he laces up for Oklahoma next winter.
Below are the official 2018 Hockomock League Boys Basketball All Stars, selected by the coaches in the league.
Hockomock League MVP
John McCoy, Mansfield
Hockomock League All Stars
Qualeem Charles, Attleboro
Bryant Ciccio, Attleboro
Devin Foster, Canton
Tony Harris, Canton
Brandon Borde, Foxboro
Joe Morrison, Foxboro
Chris Edgehill, Franklin
Paul Mahon, Franklin
Jalen Samuels, Franklin
Tyler Boulter, Mansfield
Sam Hyland, Mansfield
John McCoy, Mansfield
Kayden Kelley, Milford
Jack Spillane, Oliver Ames
Malik Lorquet, Sharon
Cam Andrews, Stoughton
Lens Esquil, Taunton
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Mansfield junior Damani Scott admits he was trying to find his role out in the Hornets’ loaded and balanced offense throughout the regular season.
During the postseason, that all changed.
Scott went from averaging under 10 points per game during the 23-game regular season to leading the Hornets in both scoring (18.5 points per game) and rebounds (6.7 per game), playing a monstrous role in helping Mansfield secure its first-ever state championship with a 67-54 win over rival Franklin at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield.
“I don’t I’ve seen [this type of progression] think in the same season,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan about Scott. “I’ve seen it over a career but I’ve never seen a progression like his from where he was to where he is now [in one season]. It was not an easy run. Every team we played had great coaches and a lot of history, so to be able to complete this run was special.”
In the state championship against the Panthers, Scott finished with a team-high 19 points. And what has been most impressive about his game during the playoffs is his ability to get it done in multiple ways on the offensive end.
His three-point shot has come a long way to the point he’s drawn extra attention on the perimeter. And when the defense does come out, he has shown that he has no problem taking a defender off the dribble to get to the basket for a layup, draw a foul, or both.
He shot 50% (5-for-10) from two-point range against the Panthers, drained a pair of three-pointers, and earned his way to the line for six free throw attempts. His steal and breakaway dunk tied the game at the end of the first quarter, capping a 7-0 run to give the Hornets a wave of momentum.
“He’s a stud, and we’ve known that from the beginning,” beamed teammate Sam Hyland. “He had a bumpy season, and that’s what happens, you go through spurts and you’re not always playing your best. But he turned it on for the playoffs. It was the right time to turn it on too. He was knocking down threes, he was attacking the basket and he was playing smart on both ends of the court.”
And for his play this postseason, there’s little doubt he should be considered the MVP of the Division 1 tournament.
Scott wasted little time asserting himself in the playoffs. In the opening round of the playoffs, he went a perfect 5-for-5 from three-point range on his way to a career-high 25 points.
From that point on, Scott was locked in.
“I knew in the first playoff game that Johnny [McCoy] was going to get a lot of attention, so I felt like someone needed to step up, so I stepped up,” Scott said. “And I have all my teammates to help me. You have [Ryan] Otto in the corner that I can dish it too, Tyler is probably the best shooter in the state, [Justin] Vine off the bench, Khristian [Conner] attacking the basket, Tommy [Dooling] is another good shooter. And Sam too. I knew that I had the support around me. If I didn’t have the play, I knew I had the support of my teammates.”
After Boulter put together an epic performance to shoot Mansfield past BC High in the second round, Scott was back at it against the Newton North Tigers.
Although he had scored just nine points in the first matchup back in December, Scott showed just how hard he has come this season with an MVP-like performance at inside the Rabouin Field House at Taunton High.
He connected on 8-of-12 shooting, dropping a team-best 23 points while hauling in 11 rebounds. The junior was a beast on the boards early on, getting some easy buckets that transitioned into a breakout game.
“He played as good as you could,” Vaughan said after the Newton North game.
“I wasn’t fitting into the offense as much in the first half of the season,” Scott said. “When I have confidence, and I can be the man, I turn it up a little bit. I kind of found my identity in the offense. When defenses focused on Johnny, I knew I had to be the next man up.”
When the Hornets had another rematch, this time against the Boxers of Brockton in the D1 South Final, Scott’s progression was on full display again.
In the first go around, Scott didn’t get into double figures for scoring. The second time, Scott played the role of finisher.
He scored 10 of his 21 points in the final quarter, helping the Hornets slam the door shut on the Boxers to clinch the program’s first South Sectional title since 2013.
“He’s really focused, he really wanted to win this state championship with us,” McCoy said of Scott. “I think his play throughout the tournament showed he can be one of the best players in the league and he’s going to have a good year next year.”
And under the bright lights of the TD Garden, where he had scored 13 points on over 85% shooting against Cardinal Spellman earlier this season, Scott dropped 17 points against North champion Everett. He was clutch from the free throw line (8-for-12), hauled in seven rebounds and dished out four assists.
“What drives me to coaching is kids’ progression,” Vaughan said. “People ask if I’d ever go to the college game, but when you watch a kid come into your program and progress… Damani, he played on the freshmen team as freshman. And now as a junior, he’s excelling at a high level.”
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Just when it looked like Mansfield would run away the state championship, Franklin. Stormed back with a big run and had a chance to make it a two-possession game.
And no one was surprised because that’s the never-give-up type of team that Franklin is.
But when Mansfield was able to weather the storm, keep its lead, and break the pressure to pull away in the final minutes, it didn’t come as a big surprise either, because that’s the team the Hornets have been this season.
And with that, Mansfield earned a hard-fought 67-54 win over Franklin to earn the D1 State Championship, the first in program history.
“We’d knew they would press and do whatever they needed to do to get back into the game, that’s who they are,” said Mansfield senior Sam Hyland (17 points, five rebounds, four assists). “We turned it over more than we should have and we didn’t take the best shots. But from there it was just about winning the final three minutes, then winning the final two minutes, and so on. It was just about focusing at the time at hand and outworking them. They hit some deep shots, I have to commend them for those, sometimes you have to live with it. But we did enough at the end.”
Mansfield led by as much as 18 points, up 59-41 with five minutes to play in the game after Ryan Otto (four points, four rebounds) hit a deep two just before the shot clock expired.
But true to form, Franklin turned things around. Jalen Samuels (seven points, seven rebounds, four assists) hit a free throw and then took a charge to get some momentum back. Sophomore Chris Edgehill (18 points) hit in the lane and Paul Mahon (14 points) splashed in a three to get the game back to ten, 59-49 with four minutes to play.
Out of a timeout he Panthers’ Matt Elias (eight points) picked off a pass at midcourt, leading to another three from Edgehill and suddenly the Panthers trailed 59-52 with three minutes to go.
Franklin had three chances to close the gap further but Mansfield’s defense wouldn’t allow it. Mansfield forced three straight empty trips, and then in transition, Mansfield junior Damani Scottt (19 points, four rebounds) drew the defense in and dropped a pass off right under the hoop for an easy two from Otto.
The Panthers came up short on the other end again, and Mansfield went on to sink six free throws over the final 90 seconds to secure the win the D1 State Championship.
“I can’t really put it into words,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. “I know the last time we were [in the state championship], the stage might have been too big. From the moment we got on the bus on Thursday, the kids were locked in. They’ve been locked in all season long. It’s been a great ride. We did great things in D1 South, we did great things in the EMass game, and we did great things tonight.”
While it looked like it may turn into a blowout in the fourth quarter, Vaughan knew that Franklin would go down swinging to the very end.
“That’s a very good team we just played,” Vaughan said of the Panthers. “We made some shots, we did some things we had to do but [Franklin] wasn’t underprepared, this wasn’t a lack of effort by Franklin. If we play this game 10 times, five go one way and five go the other. It comes down to the fact at some point in the second and third quarters, we made a few extra baskets.
“They weren’t going to go away, they weren’t going to roll over. They play hard, they compete, they do all the little things well. They were going to give us every last breath they have. Paul Mahon is one of the best players our league has seen in terms of his ability to change the game on both ends of the floor, especially defensively. He held Tyler [Boulter] (four points, seven rebounds) in check tonight plus scored points of his own. Edgehill is a special player, we still have to deal with him for two more years as a top player in the league. And Samuels is great too, and then they have great role players who step in a do a lot of things for them.”
Franklin coach CJ Neely had a similar outlook, noting that in the end, the Panthers knew it would come down to the small things. The Panthers finished 10-for-22 from the free throw line compared to 23-for-30 from the Hornets.
“As much as the hype went on all week, we talked about how at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to a couple of loose balls, rebounding and taking care of the ball, and making our free throws,” Neely said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to and they [made their free throws]. When you play in this rivalry, if you’re not making your free throws and they are, and they can go from four to an eight-point lead instead of keeping it close.
“When it starts to expand, you have to come out of what you want to do a little bit. And both teams have had to do that in all three games, we’ve gotten out of what we wanted to do because the lead extended. Then you’re doing something that you practice but it’s not your go-to or your identity. You’re trying to get back into it and you’re taking a lot of risks. Mansfield did a good job of extending their lead making their free throws, and we didn’t. At the end of the day, we didn’t do what we needed to do.”
While Mansfield had the key runs throughout the second and third quarters, they needed another one in the first quarter just to keep pace with the red-hot Panthers.
Holding a 10-9 advantage late in the first quarter behind a free throw from Samuels, the Panthers got hot from deep. Mahon took a feed from Edgehill and made a deep three, and then repeated the same sequence two plays later for a 16-9 lead with just over a minute to play.
Mansfield was able to answer over the final minute though. Hyland drove hard for two, Scott completed a traditional three-point play on a possession the Hornets had because of a steal from Khristian Conner, and then Scott came up with a late steal and went in alone for a thunderous one-handed slam to tie the game after eight minutes.
Franklin’s offense picked up where it left off as Elias drained a three to open the second quarter and junior Will Harvey joined in on the three-party with a corner trifecta for a 22-16 lead just over a minute into the second.
Hyland hit a three but Edgehill answered with a traditional three-point play to keep the Panther advantage at four. A free throw from Scott cut it to three, and two more from Justin Vine (five points) made it one after he went to the line after hauling in a defensive rebound because Mansfield was in the bonus.
With both Scott and Hockomock League MVP John McCoy (18 points, 11 rebounds) in foul trouble for the Hornets — and Samuels for the Panthers — Mansfield’s Hyland stepped up into the spotlight.
Hyland hit another trifecta, this one putting the Hornets up 27-25 with just under three minutes left in the half. Elias hit one free throw to make it a one-point game but Hyland got his layup to fall while fighting through a foul, completing the three-point play at the line. Two possessions later, Hyland once again attacked the basket, draw the foul, and got a kind bounce off the rim for another three-point play, plus a 33-26 lead.
Hyland finished with 12 of Mansfield’s 19 points in the second quarter and tied a career-high with 17 points overall on top of five rebounds and four assists.
“There wasn’t a specific game plan to get me going but we got into some foul trouble early so someone else had to step up and score points, it’s the Mansfield way,” Hyland said. “I had a couple open opportunities early that sometimes I’d pass up and wouldn’t take but fortunately I knocked them down. That gave me the confidence and then I started to get to the rim. I got a couple of bounces to go my way, a couple of calls and had a strong first half that kind of got the momentum back on our side. It ended up working out pretty nice.”
Franklin’s defense came out strong in the second half, holding Mansfield scoreless for nearly the first three minutes of the third. However, Mansfield’s defense was equal to the task and the Panthers only scored once, a layup from Mahon, during that stretch.
McCoy drained a three to give Franklin some life, pushing the lead to 38-28. Mansfield went up as much as 14 points in the frame (44-30) on a traditional three-point play from Scott. But Franklin closed with an 8-4 run with Samuels scoring the first four and Elias and Edgehill each contributing two.
Franklin nearly had a big stop to keep the deficit in single digits at the end of the quarter, but Hyland came flying in to steal an offensive board for an easy putback.
Mansfield opened the fourth with a set play to get two for McCoy, and then ran a set that resulted in a corner three for Vine. McCoy knocked down a pair of technical free throws to stretch it to 55-38.
Mahon answered for Franklin with a triple but two more from McCoy at the line, and a deep two from Otto gave Mansfield a commanding 59-41 lead, only for Franklin to charge back with its 11-0 run to make it a seven-point game.
“The resilience of this team….we’re never going to go away,” Neely said. “We’re not going to be the team that plays for the newspaper and loses by 10 or 11, we’re going to go out there and try and cut back into it as much and possible, and we’ll lose by 50 but we’ll do it trying to get back into it.
“We just couldn’t make a couple of those baskets there to get back into it. When Mansfield builds a lead like that, they do a great job of moving the ball and making you work, getting to the line and making their free throws.”
Vaughan agreed, stressing the importance of getting a big lead because he knew Franklin would continue to push back.
“This was a game we were fortunate to be up 18 so we could weather the storm and let the clock tick away,” Vaughan said. “But it comes down to what we’ve done all year. Otto steps up and has a huge basket, Vine hits the three in the corner. Different guys doing different things makes a huge difference for our team.”
While the Hornets secured their first state title win with a victory over rival Franklin, Vaughan noted his squad focused more on themselves and getting a win than about the rivalry.
“It wasn’t really about the opponent, it was just about winning this game,” Vaughan said. “If anything, there’s a part of me that knows how hard it is to get here, and I know what Franklin basketball is all about, and what CJ is all about and most of those kids I’ve coached at some point. They are great kids, great young men.
“There’s a part of me that has some sympathy. I wish there were times we weren’t in the same division and we didn’t face each other at some point. But we’ve also lost to Franklin back when they were in the South. It wasn’t about who we were playing, but it was about playing in this game and doing everything we can to win it.”
Franklin finishes the season 23-4 and had a second straight appearance in the D1 State Finals.
“The guys should be very proud of themselves,” Neely said of his team. “They are working hard year round, they are sacrificing a lot to put Franklin on the map and be one of the powers in the state. We’ve beaten a lot of good teams this season, we didn’t shy away from challenges. They should be very proud of themselves.
“These guys have brought Franklin to a place they had never been before and did it twice in a row. They have a lot to be proud of. Obviously, both teams wanted to win tonight, it’s two great teams that know a lot about each other. [Mansfield] was the better team tonight.”
Mansfield boys basketball picks up its 27th win of the season, finishing with just two losses.
“This win means a lot, I know a lot of players on [Franklin] and I’m pretty close friends with some of them,” McCoy said. “It’s definitely just amazing to beat Franklin in my last high school game.”
By Joe Clark, HockomockSports.com Student Reporter
WORCESTER, Mass. – When Franklin took on Springfield Central at the DCU Center in Worcester a year ago, Chris Edgehill scored eight points in 20 seconds to tie the game and lead the Panthers to an overtime win to clinch a berth in the state championship.
This year, when the two teams met again on Thursday night, no such heroics were needed.
Franklin played a near-perfect game en route to a 62-43 win over the Golden Eagles, handing Central its first loss of the season.
“This game was a little bit more comfortable than last year, we were watching guys cry as we put ourselves together to come back and win last year, so this game I thought we had a much more complete performance from start to finish, I was pretty confident in what we were doing out there,” said Franklin coach CJ Neely.
Franklin started out the game on a 15-4 run and finished the first quarter up 21-10 behind two threes from Matt Elias (14 points) and a strong start from senior Paul Mahon, who had eight of his ten points in the first frame. Elias hit another just under a minute into the third quarter, putting the Franklin crowd into a frenzy.
“The threes early were great, he’s been big for us all year, and he kind of hit a slump for a couple games and wasn’t spacing the floor the way he has been, and I think that’s what opens things up for Chris [Edgehill], and hitting those early gave him a lot of confidence,” Neely said on the early threes from Elias.
Springfield Central chipped away at the Franklin lead in the second quarter, behind Levi Grady-White (12 points, three rebounds), who came off the bench to give the Golden Eagles a spark with eight points in the second quarter.
With just over three minutes left in the second quarter, Elias, who had already hit three trifectas for Franklin, looked to take an elbow to the head and was removed from the game. He would miss the rest of the quarter, but returned to start the second half. Springfield Central would go on a 7-1 run with Elias out of the game, cutting Franklin’s lead to six at 29-23 heading into the locker room at halftime.
To start the third quarter, Grady-White and Jalen Samuels (13 points, eight rebounds) traded baskets, but after Grady-White cut the lead to four with 5:38 left in the third quarter, Edgehill buried a three from the corner to put Franklin up 34-27.
“The shot looked off honestly, shooter’s bounce is what they call that, but definitely whenever I’m hitting shots I’m always gaining confidence, and my team gains confidence in me,” Edgehill said.
That confidence was on full display, as after being called for a charge, Edgehill (18 points, four rebounds, six assists) had a beautiful spin in the lane and finished with a layup for two points that extended Franklin’s lead to 36-27. A putback by Samuels with just under a minute left in the third quarter put Franklin up 42-30, a lead they held until the fourth quarter.
Springfield Central opened the fourth with a 6-0 run that included a three from Josiah Green (nine points), and a bucket from Anthony Kelley (nine points), who spent most of the game battling foul trouble. With Franklin holding onto a six-point lead, Elias struck again from beyond the arc to put Franklin up 45-36.
The Panthers didn’t look back from there, closing the game on a 17-7 run to finish off a 62-43 win and to clinch a berth to the MIAA Division 1 State Final for the second year in a row.
When they arrive at the MassMutual Center on Saturday night for the state final, it will be a familiar face on the opposite bench, as the Panthers will take on the Mansfield Hornets for the third time this season to renew their rivalry on the biggest stage yet.
“It speaks to the strength of our league, both of us have gone back and forth over the past how many years, splitting games in the regular season, both guys kind of getting things done on some nights and looking much better than the other team, and then going back and having the same thing happen on the other side, so it speaks to the Hockomock and the strength of what we’re bringing to the table every night,” Neely said about playing the Hornets. “It’s kind of like Duke-North Carolina in the National Championship game, you see what you can do, and obviously, we both know each other like the back of our hands, so it will be interesting.”
“It’s a dream come true,” Edgehill said about the state final matchup. “There’s nothing better than in the regular season going then going to that Mansfield gym, and it’s going to be a different atmosphere obviously in that big facility we’re playing in, but it’s the rivalry between Franklin and Mansfield that as a kid you’re just like, ‘I want to be apart of that,’ and it shows how good the Hock is compared to other leagues.”
“That’s going to be a great game, knowing our fans are huge and their fans are huge, it’s going to be a great environment,” Samuels said about facing Mansfield for the third time this season.
Mansfield’s (26-2) road to the state final this year included wins over Newton South, BC High, Newton North, Brockton, and Everett.
Franklin boys basketball (23-3) beat Lincoln-Sudbury, Natick, Algonquin, and Springfield Central on their way to their second straight state final appearance.