Teams of the Decade #1: 2019 Canton Boys Hockey

Canton boys hockey

Team: Canton Boys Hockey
Year: 2018-2019
Record: 25-0-1
2019 Davenport Division Champions
2019 Division 2 State Champions


There has been a lot of talented teams in the Hockomock League over the past decade, and narrowing it down to a select few was a tedious and challenging task. With nearly 40 state championship teams, dozens of state finalists, and numerous sectional champions, there was no shortage of talent to select from.

When it came to selecting the top team for the list, there was one squad that stood out above the rest: the 2018-2019 Canton boys hockey team.

Like all of the teams at the top of the list, Canton was loaded with talent on the roster from the first player through the last, and the Bulldogs also checked every box when it came to championships, winning at the league, sectional and state level.

But what really separated this group from the rest was the manner in which they dominated the competition from day one up until the Division 2 State Championship at the TD Garden. Outscoring opponents 133-23, the Bulldogs picked up marquee wins throughout the regular season; they were great from the first game (7-2 over Plymouth South) all the way to their crowning achievement against Tewksbury (6-2).

Some of the great teams on this list have had slow starts while others came up just short late in the tournament or in the state championship. And of course, there were some teams that had a hiccup here or there in the middle of the season against top competition.

This Canton team rolled from the opening puck drop down in Bourne, a season-opening win over Plymouth South to avenge a heartbreaking loss that abruptly ended their season a year prior. In fact, you could circle that game — the 2018 D2 South Semifinal 5-3 loss to Plymouth South — as one of the biggest motivators for the 2018-2019 squad.

“I’m going to use a word that HockomockSports came up with for this team and that’s relentless,” said Canton head coach Brian Shuman. “I think that was the perfect word that sums up this team, they just did not stop. I think we scored the more goals in the opening couple of minutes of a game than I’ve ever been apart of as a coach.

“From the opening puck drop to the very end, just not stopping. Coming shift after shift, three or four lines, and six or seven defensemen playing consistently. Just non-stop and you don’t have to be a hockey aficionado to know that this team was a relentless group of driven and talented hockey players who were on a mission. Not even from day one, it was from the end of the season before from that heartbreaking loss to Plymouth South.”

And when the postseason rolled around, the Bulldogs were at their very best. Against the best competition in the area, Canton made it look easy by outscoring teams 29 goals in just five games, scoring six or more goals in four of those contests.

“We were just so close with each other,” said Ryan Nolte, a senior captain and forward that registered an impressive 71 points (32 goals, 39 assists) that season. “Most of us played together our whole lives growing up. We all had the common goal of playing for the varsity team, we were all together for one last ride my senior year so we wanted to make the most of it.

“We were just so competitive in practice, no one wanted to lose. I think that translated onto the ice in games. And off the ice, I think it was probably the closest group out of all four years I was there. We were always together, even after film and after practice, we’d hang out together. I think being such a close-knit group played a huge role in our season.”

Canton notched two impressive wins before the new year, knocking off a good Franklin team (that went on to the D1 South Finals that season) and dominating Westwood, 4-0. The Wolverines entered unbeaten and didn’t lose a game the rest of the regular season, eventually meeting with the Bulldogs in the South final.

When league play began in January, Canton continued to have its way with opponents. The Bulldogs won their first six league games by outscoring foes 36-5. A good non-league win over Newburyport preceded a two-game span that ended up being a big defining point in the season.

A Wednesday night trip to Franklin nearly derailed the perfect season as Zac Falvey and Scott Elliott each scored to put the Panthers up 2-0 through two periods. But in true fashion of a great team, the Bulldogs battled back. Nolte set up Jack Connolly less than a minute into the first period and Tommy Ghostlaw tied it 2-2 less than two minutes later. Despite playing with a 101-degree temperature, junior Johnny Hagan (21 goals, 31 assists) scored the game-winner with under two minutes to play.

“I’d say the moment when we kind of realized we were really good was that second Franklin game,” Nolte said. “Johnny Hagan was playing with the flu, we were down 2-0 and probably played two of our worst periods of the year, and we went out, in Franklin, and scored three in the third to come back and win 3-2. In the locker room after that game, it was like ‘Okay, we have a real shot at this.’”

Just days later, Canton was put to the test against a hungry North Attleboro squad. After letting a 2-0 lead slip away, Nolte notched his 100th career point by setting up Owen Lehane for the game-winner with just over two minutes to go.

“The two games back-to-back that really showed the grit and mettle was the game at Franklin which we were down 2-0 at their place and came back with three goals in the third period to win 3-2,” Shuman said. “And then to gut out a tough win against a really good North Attleboro team, who had us on the ropes, and we scored a late goal to get the win. That showed they had the mental toughness to do something special.”

Canton completed its unbeaten league schedule with a win over Taunton and then really beefed up its resume by knocking off top non-league foes: Bishop Feehan (6-0), Smithfield (8-1), Shrewsbury (5-0), Hanover (4-3), and Natick (3-0), garnering them attention for the Super 8 (Division 1A) Tournament.

“This team was unique and one way was because some of our best players had a confidence — not a cockiness — but a confidence that when they played well, we would win,” Shuman said. “Ryan Nolte, Johnny Hagan, Mike Staffiere…those guys in particular, the guys we were leaning on to score big goals and make big saves. They were definitely the most confident group I’ve coached. That mentality was contagious and infectious throughout our team. When they have that attitude, it really filters throughout the team.

The lone “blemish” of the season came in the opening round of the Quinn Tournament. Hagan scored a late equalizer for the Bulldogs against Boston Latin, with the game going down as a 2-2 in the MIAA record books. Since it was a tournament, it went into overtime and Hagan added another goal to give Canton the win. In the tournament finale, the Bulldogs put an exclamation mark on their resume with a 6-1 beating of Coyle & Cassidy.

The Super 8 committee met two days later and there Bulldogs got four votes in the first round of nominations to advance to the second stage, but didn’t get nominated again and were not selected despite boasting a 20-0-1 record.

“Honestly, I thought we had a shot at it,” Shuman said of the Super 8. “To go undefeated is incredibly difficult. If you’re involved in sports, you know how hard it is, day in and day out, game in and game out, get everybody’s best and respond like we did, it was pretty remarkable. We didn’t talk about (the Super 8), but I think it was on everyone’s mind, including myself.

“I felt the MIAA and the coaches association had opportunities to shake it up over the years and get teams into the Super 8 tournament that never had the chance before. Teams have those windows where they have a great group and they can hang with the best teams in the state. Like Wilmington had a good run, and Franklin had a good run in Division 2 that those teams should get a chance. I thought we made a great case…if they didn’t give it to us, they’ll never give it to a Division 2 team as far as I’m concerned. I think it would have been fun, it would have been special but everything works out for a reason.”

Longtime Franklin coach Chris Spillane, who guided the first Hockomock team to the Super 8 tournament in 2015, saw the Bulldogs a handful of times throughout the season and suffered a pair of setbacks to Canton as mentioned above.

“It’s heartbreaking that Canton didn’t get a look [in 2019] and didn’t get a sniff this year,” Spillane said. “The process is flawed tremendously because people get so caught up on Div. 1 and Div. 2 and there’s no doubt in my mind watching Canton play last year and this year there was no doubt in my mind that not only would they have held their own they probably would’ve had success.”

If the Bulldogs were disappointed by the snub, they certainly didn’t let it translate to their play on the ice. When the Division 2 South tournament started the following week, it was all business for Canton. And for the rest of the bracket, it was trouble.

“You always want to be playing your best hockey going into the playoffs and that’s what this team was doing,” Shuman said. “You look at that Boston Latin overtime win, it was like a playoff game so it showed we were ready for the postseason. As bummed out as a lot of kids were that we tied the game, it showed me we were ready for the playoffs that we went on to win in overtime.

“When you get to the playoffs, everyone is good. We looked at our side of the bracket, you could not have structured a more difficult road to the Garden from D2 South.”

It was like a revenge tour for the previous decade during the playoffs. After drubbing Norwood (6-0) to start the tournament, the Bulldogs welcomed league rival Oliver Ames to the Ice House. Despite holding a 5-2 win over the Tigers from earlier in the season, OA was a team with a successful track record against Canton in the tournament. Back in 2011, the Tigers stunned Canton in overtime, and two years later OA posted a 2-0 shutout in the semifinals.

True to form, the Tigers gave Canton their stiffest test of the tournament. Going stride for stride, up and down the ice, trading hits, it was one of the most competitive games of the year. A one-minute span in the second period changed the game as Nolte tipped in a shot from Connolly, and just 52 seconds later, Chris Lavoie redirected a shot from Matt Martin. Staffiere (17 saves) stood tall in net as the Tigers continued to pressure but Hagan recorded his 100th career point with an empty net goal to secure the win.

Up next was a trip to Gallo Arena, which had recently turned into a house of horrors for the Bulldogs in the month of March. Dating back to 2013, Canton reached at least the semifinals each season, which meant a trip down over the bridge to Gallo. And unfortunately, it also meant heartbreak. A 2-0 loss to OA in 2013, a 3-2 loss to Medfield in 2014, a 4-1 setback to Westwood in 2015, being upset 4-2 by Scituate in 2016, and back-to-back heartbreakers: a 3-2 loss to Medway in 2017 and the 5-3 defeat to Plymouth South a year prior.

“The word was that we couldn’t win at Bourne,” Nolte said. “We wanted to keep the haters in the rearview and prove them wrong.”

Not only did Canton go on to win at Bourne, they decimated the competition. Going against one of the best goalies in the region in Norwood senior Austin Reardon, the Bulldogs put together a terrific performance, scoring six goals against one of the stingiest defenses around.

To top that performance, Canton went on to light the lamp eight times in the South sectional final. Westwood, which hadn’t lost a game since its setback to the Bulldogs in December, entered with a 16-1-6 record but it took Canton less than a minute to score and the rout was on from there.

“You talk about being relentless? We scored early in that game and that set the tone for the entire game,” Shuman said. “We just didn’t stop at that point, we continued to put the pressure on. There aren’t many times you can look back and see an 8-0 win in the sectional final. It’s tough to beat a team twice and tough to beat a team with that much talent but it was truly a team effort. Our depth really carried us that game, that was the most complete game of the season.”

While nothing is given, and the Canton boys hockey program had certainly seen its share up ups and downs during the postseason over the past decade, it certainly felt like the state championship was just a formality; that’s how good this team was playing at the time.

If there was any doubt or nerves while playing under the bright lights at the TD Garden against Tewksbury for the D2 State Championship, it certainly didn’t show. In typical fashion, Canton needed just five minutes to find the back of the net. Lehane blasted a shot from the point and Timmy Kelleher buried the rebound. Just 90 seconds later, Ronan O’Mahony set up Connolly for a blast for a 2-0. And just 16 seconds later, Nolte joined in on the scoring party and suddenly Canton had a 3-0 lead just 7:49 into the game.

Tewksbury battled back in the second, cutting the deficit to 4-2, but Staffiere came up with some big saves to preserve the lead and Hagan added two more goals to complete the hat trick, earning a 6-2 win and the state championship.

“You dream of getting off to a good start like we did but it’s a 45-minute hockey game and you don’t win a game in 15 minutes,” Shuman said. “We knew Tewksbury didn’t play their best, they played much better in the second and scored a couple of goals but credit to our guys, we responded and fought back like we had all year long. We came out swinging early on, took a few blows in the second but then closed it out in the third.”






Listening Options:

                                        


Canton boys hockey
Canton boys hockey

Opponent
Result
Plymouth SouthW, 7-2
Plymouth NorthW, 5-0
FranklinW, 3-1 (Recap)
WestwoodW, 4-0
AttleboroW, 9-0
MansfieldW, 4-0 (Recap)
King PhilipW, 2-1
Oliver AmesW, 5-2 (Recap)
FoxboroW, 4-0
StoughtonW, 12-2
NewburyportW, 3-1
FranklinW, 3-2 (Recap)
North AttleboroW, 3-2 (Recap)
TauntonW, 5-0
Bishop FeehanW, 6-0
SmithfieldW, 8-1
ShrewsburyW, 5-0
HanoverW, 4-3
NatickW, 3-0
Boston LatinT, 2-2 (W, 3-2 in OT)
Coyle & CassidyW, 6-1 (Recap)
MedwayW, 6-0
Oliver AmesW, 3-0 (Recap)
NorwoodW, 6-1 (Recap)
WestwoodW, 8-0 (Recap)
TewksburyW, 6-2 (Recap)






Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey

Canton boys hockey


Teams of the Decade #2: 2012 Franklin Girls Soccer

Franklin girls soccer

Team: Franklin Girls Soccer
Year: 2012
Record: 22-0-1
2012 Kelley-Rex Division Champions
2012 Division 1 State Champions


With the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious just how talented the 2012 Franklin girls soccer team was, but heading into that season there were question marks about a roster featuring 15 freshmen and sophomores. Only two years removed from a trip to the state semifinal, could the Panthers incorporate so much youth and still compete with the top teams in the league, let alone the state?

They could and they did. The Panthers outscored opponents 98-15 over the course of an unbeaten season, winning the Kelley-Rex division title for the third straight year, just missing out on perfection with a tie in the regular season finale, and claiming the program’s first-ever state championship.

It was a remarkable finish, but one that was hardly guaranteed at the start.

“I had some kind of idea of how they would be,” Franklin coach Tom Geysen said of the incoming freshmen, “but especially in our league, because our league is very competitive, if you’re not a very physically aggressive person then you can be taken out of your game almost immediately.”

One of the players that needed to step into a critical role was freshman Dani Lonati, who became the team’s starting goalkeeper. Along with her fellow rookies, like midfielders Alexis and Victoria Stowell, Lonati needed to be ready to go right from the opening whistle and she credited the captains, Kristi Kirshe, Grace Conley, and Stephanie Pisani, for providing a welcoming environment for the younger players.

“It was probably one of the most welcoming teams that I’ve been on,” she said. “The upperclassmen knew entering that season that they were about to have a younger team. As soon as we entered the team and were on the roster, we were best friends. I think that was probably one of the most essential parts of our success was that we had some amazing team chemistry.”

 

It also didn’t hurt to have one of the state’s most prolific offenses giving the team a cushion almost every game. Spearheaded by Kirshe and sophomore Taylor Cogliano, the Panthers never scored fewer than two goals in a game.

“Because we were spending so much time at practice and on the field together that we got to a point where we knew how to anticipate each other, we knew how each other played,” said Kirshe. “We just started to become a dynamic duo, which was a lot of fun.”

In a roster loaded with talent, Kirshe was the star. She would score 36 goals that season, earning All-American honors and being named Gatorade Player of the Year. It was about more than just the number of times she found the back of the net, but also when she scored. She tallied the winner in both the state semifinal and final.

“She’s a rock,” Lonati said of Kirshe. “She’s probably one of the most athletic people I’ve ever met. She’s always there and she’s like that as a person too, you can rely on her no matter what. She’s competitive, she’s tenacious, and she’s the player you want because you know she’s going to get it done.”

Geysen said simply, “In all my years that I’ve been here at Franklin, she’s the best all-around female athlete we’ve ever had and we’ve had some good ones.”

He added, “The most unassuming, laid back, nice kid. Everything about her was what you wanted. She was aggressive as hell, she was physical as hell, and she was skilled.”

A dynamic partnership up top is nothing if the defense is leaking goals, but the Panthers proved to be just as solid at the back as they were up front. In front of Lonati, Pisani, junior Julia Bireley, and sophomores Nicole Ellin and Lexi Martin all played key roles making it tough for the opposition attack.

“The key to the back became Dani,” Geysen explained. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a goaltender over four years who had the stats that she had and that game against Nashoba [in the state final] she was lights out.”

Franklin cruised through the first half and talk started to grow about an undefeated season. Only Mansfield managed to stay within a goal of the Panthers over the first 13 games. Mansfield coach Kevin Smith noted, “They were so tough because they were loaded with talent in every position. They had multiple scoring threats, which made it near impossible to stop the team. You could stop one, maybe two, but not four-plus. Their midfield group was super athletic and super talented as well. There was not a weak link anywhere.”

It was the second meeting with North Attleboro, in the 14th game of the season, that Geysen highlighted as the moment when he realized his team had the extra mental fortitude it would take to go the distance. After jumping out to an early 3-0 lead, Franklin made changes to the lineup and North got one back, but the Panthers answered to make it 4-1. North got two in quick succession to make it 4-3 and Geysen thought the game was going to slip away.

“It was coaching changes that took the momentum away from them, but they came back and regained the composure and slowed the game down and kept it under control’” he said. “Even when the games were close, there was no panic on their part. If there was any panic, it was me. From that point on, I said, these kids understand.”

Kirshe said, “Coach Geysen was very, very clear about making sure we focused as a group on game at a time. There were moments when we felt like we were doing something special and we had a lot of potential but Geysen did a really good job of keeping us grounded so we weren’t thinking about the possibilities.”

The need to remain focused became clear in the final game of the regular season. On a dreary Sunday night, the Panthers fell behind against a Walpole team that barely qualified for the tournament and only salvaged a draw thanks to a late Kirshe goal. The perfect season was over, but dropping a point just before the tournament may have been a blessing in disguise.

“I think it lit the fire for us again and reminded us that this wasn’t something we were going to be able to walk through,” Kirshe said. “We had some easy games through the season, but we were getting into tournament now and tournament is a special part of the season where anything can happen. I’m incredibly grateful for that tie, to this day. Without that tie, I don’t think we win that state championship.”

Franklin rolled into the South final, but the 2-0 win against Marshfield in the semis proved to be costly. Pisani was injured in the game and would miss the remainder of the season. That left a big hole to fill in the defense with no obvious solution. Grace Conley, who had played sparingly that season after surgery related to stomach cancer, told Geysen that she was ready to step in and, after some debate, he agreed.

Conley was one of the team’s leaders from the sideline and she proved to be an inspiration on the field as well over the last three games.

Lonati said, “She truly cared about every person on that field. To be able to go into those last three games and to play such an important role and to earn that title after everything she went through was amazing.” Kirshe added, “Grace is one of the best people I know. It was incredibly special for me as a friend and a fellow captain to see her get that moment. She was the spirit of our team, so just getting her on the field was something that lifted all of us and made us want to play that much better.”

The Panthers faced league rival Oliver Ames, in a battle of the two previous South champs, and prevailed 3-2 to get back to the state semifinal for the second time in three seasons. Against Beverly at Manning Field, Kirshe made personal history when she scored on an early free kick, which was a rarity for her, to notch the 100th goal of her career. Thanks to a strong defensive performance, particularly Bireley’s man-marking, that shut down Beverly’s 50-goal scorer Caitlin Harty, Franklin advanced with a 2-0 win.

“We got to play every single possible game in our senior year, which is something that so few people get the opportunity to do,” said Kirshe. “You know it’s your last time to play high school soccer, it’s your last time with this group of people, and personally I find a lot of happiness in that.”

Kirshe found the back of the net twice to put the Panthers ahead in the title game but Nashoba battled back to cut the lead to one and ramped up the pressure looking for an equalizer while the Franklin defense held on, thanks to 10 saves from Lonati.

“I had the ball in my hands, actually, and I made eye contact with the ref and I knew there wasn’t much time left and he signaled for me to distribute it,” Lonati recalled. “So, I punted it and as soon as it left my foot that whistle blew and I was, oh my god, in utter shock.:

“I cried,” Kirshe admitted. “To be quite honest with you, I cried today when I was looking back trying to think about it. That’s a dream come true for any high school soccer player. Especially as a senior, just to cap off a career that way? It was just such an unforgettable moment and just a testament to years of hard work. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief.

When asked what it took to go unbeaten and win his first state title as a coach, Geysen said, “You have to have things go your way. We’ve had other years where we’ve been every bit as good overall but not with the kind of depth as this crew.

“The best part of that whole thing for me was after we beat Nashoba, when everything was going crazy on the field, I stood off to the side and just watched them. Nothing will ever take that picture away from me. To work that hard for that long, some of them for four years, and to accomplish that and to appreciate it the way they did was the most gratifying thing for me.”






Listening Options:

                                        


Franklin girls soccer
Franklin girls soccer

Opponent
Result
SharonW, 4-0
StoughtonW, 10-0
CantonW, 5-2
AttleboroW, 2-0
TauntonW, 7-0
North AttleboroW, 4-0
MansfieldW, 2-1
FoxboroW, 6-0
Oliver AmesW, 6-1 (Recap)
MilfordW, 3-1
AttleboroW, 7-0
King PhilipW, 4-1
TauntonW, 5-0
North AttleboroW, 4-3
King PhilipW, 7-0
MansfieldW, 4-0
WalpoleT, 2-2
New BedfordW, 4-0
DartmouthW, 3-1
MarshfieldW, 2-0
Oliver AmesW, 3-2
BeverlyW, 2-0 (Recap)
NashobaW, 2-1 (Recap)






Franklin girls soccer
Franklin girls soccer

Franklin girls soccer
Franklin girls soccer

Franklin girls soccer

Franklin girls soccer


Teams of the Decade #3: 2013 Mansfield Football

Mansfield football

Team: Mansfield Football
Year: 2013
Record: 13-0
2013 Kelley-Rex Division Champions
2013 Division 2 State Champions


One of the signatures of the Mansfield football team over the past decade has been its ventures out of Massachusetts to play against top competition in other states. Not only do the trips allow the Hornets to see how they stack up on the field, but the off-field activities can also boost team morale and camaraderie.

Mansfield’s lone loss of 2010 came in New York when they visited Aquinas, who went on to win a state championship as well that season. A year later, the Hornets picked up one of their more impressive out-of-state victories with a decision over Christian Brothers of Syracuse inside the Carrier Dome.

Mansfield ventured out of state again to start the 2013 season, heading south to Maryland to take on three-time defending D1A State Champions Dunbar. After coming up short in the state final a year before, the Hornets entered the season with high expectations and put the rest of the Hockomock League and the state of Massachusetts on notice with their performance in the Old Line State.

“After those two experiences (in 2010 and 2011), we really felt like doing it was such a great experience, to see football in another part of the country,” said longtime Mansfield head coach Mike Redding. “The Dunbar trip was really cool because we did a lot of touring in Washington D.C., we went to the U.S. Naval Academy so beyond football it was going to be a great trip. Our concern was, ‘Can we compete with them?. They were three-time defending state champs, they had kids back, their QB had committed to West Virginia…so we knew it would be a great challenge on the road.”

Mansfield built a 21-6 lead in the game but Dunbar quarterback William Crest, who went on to play at West Virginia, rallied the Owls to take the lead in the fourth, up 26-21. The Hornets didn’t panic, driving down the field and senior quarterback Kyle Wisnieski connected with classmate Michael Hershman on a 29-yard touchdown pass with 17 seconds left to secure a 29-26 victory.

“We went down there and played one of the best games I’ve seen as a coach and win it on the road against a great team, I think that was definitely a sign for us…let’s go back to Massachusetts and keep this rolling,” Redding said. “If we can beat Dunbar at Dunbar, we can compete with anybody when we get back home.”

 

And not only did the Hornets compete with everyone back home, they blew most of the competition out of the water. They beat both Milton (21-0) and North Attleboro (35-14) by three scores each, scored over 30 points in wins over Attleboro, Taunton, and Franklin.

“Expectations were high, we had played a lot of seniors the year before as juniors,” Redding said. “We had kind of an up and down year in 2012, I think we were 2-2 before we went on a little run to win the league title. I think the highlight of that year, we knocked off Duxbury who had something like a 40-game win streak so it was a big upset. But then we ran into Reading in the final, which was probably an All-Decade team in the Middlesex League. But I think beating Duxbury and getting to a Super Bowl gave the senior group a lot of experience and a lot of motivation to try and finish the deal.”

The Hornets installed a new offense at the beginning of the season, going with the spread as Wisnieski worked mostly out of shotgun compared to the normal Wing-T/I-Formation approach Mansfield fans had become accustomed too.

As you can see, the offense worked just fine. Wisnieski set a handful of program records this season, including passing yards (2,541) and touchdown passes (27). Not only was Hershman (who finished with a total of 85 career receptions, third in program history) one of the most talented receivers around, junior Brendan Hill was a matchup nightmare and hauled in a program-record 54 receptions that season. Tight end Kyle Hurley and back Miguel Villar-Perez were both threats in the passing game as well.

To complement the passing game, Villar-Perez was a handful to deal with out of the backfield, finishing with 1,500 all-purpose yards that includes returns and a total of 18 touchdowns. Chris Buchanan helped lead the way from the fullback spot.

The team averaged 382 yards per game, which is second-most in program history, and it resulted in 428 total points, which came out to an average of 32.9 points per game.

The toughest game back in Massachusetts came a week before the regular season finale as the Hornets, the top-ranked team in the state, traveled to Wrentham to take on #8 King Philip.

With yards incredibly hard to come by, Villar-Perez broke free for an 88-yard touchdown in the second quarter that tied the game. Redding still recalls the play being a jet to the left side and the senior back made the play himself, cutting back up field when the first option wasn’t there. Wisnieski connected with Hurley in the second half to put Mansfield football ahead and Villar-Perez sealed it with his second score.

Mansfield’s defense pitched a second-half shutout to help pick up the win.

“When we played KP on the road, it was a different type of game, a physical, low-scoring, defensive battle…that really challenged the toughness of our group. I think winning on the road there gave our players a lot of confidence they could play a different style of game, We could score points but when push came to shove, we could line up and play tough physical defense to win a game.”

The defense was led by a strong group of linebackers featuring Alex Ruddy, Joe Moreshead, and Q’Ra Guichard. On top of that, the Hornets had a strong secondary with the likes of Aurian Dawkins and Mike Barresi.

“Defense was a lot like most of the defenses we’ve had,” Redding said. “[Defensive coordinator] Mark DeGirolamo got guys on the field that ran around and made plays for us. A real physical and fast group led by a group of good linebackers like Ruddy, Moreshead, Guichard…not a lot of size, we didn’t impress people when we lined up for stretching but when the game started, the kids played hard, played physical and were a real aggressive group on defense.”

This season also marked the start of the new tournament format. In years prior, only the league champion advanced to the tournament and needed to win only one or two games to reach the final. In the new format, eight teams qualified based on a rating system.

Mansfield football opened in style, taking down a good Wellesley at home before hosting Needham for what turned into one of the more entertaining contests of the postseason. The Hornets were their dominant selves as they raced out to a 28-7 halftime lead, and took advantage of an early second half turnover to push the advantage to 35-7.

But the Rockets refused to go away, scoring three straight, including a kickoff return and one after an onside kick recovery. The Rockets even got the ball back down just 35-28 but Barresi forced a fumble and recovered the loose ball to get possession back. On the next play, Wisnieski connected with Hill for a 51-yard touchdown to push it back to a two-score lead.

Mansfield won the South sectional title with a convincing win over #2 Barnstable, and went on the road up to Cawley Stadium in Lowell and destroyed Waltham, 41-0. The Hornets scored at will in the first half with Wisnieski connecting with Hill twice for scores. Villar-Perez also had a receiving score and Ruddy rushed one in as Mansfield held a 35-0 lead by halftime.

Mansfield took care of business against rival Foxboro on Thanksgiving but suffered a loss in the form of Hill, who went out with an injury and had to miss the state championship.

In the first-ever true state championship, the Hornets took on Central champion St. John’s of Shrewsbury. The Pioneers boasted a highly touted offense, scoring over 50 points in all three of their sectional wins, and ousting Springfield Central, 37-32, to reach Gillette Stadium.

As good as Mansfield had played all season long on the offensive side of the ball, the Hornets had one of their worst halves of the entire season. Not only were they limited to just one score, they had five turnovers in just the first two quarters alone. Those turnovers led to extra possessions for a St John’s team averaging nearly 50 points per game in the postseason.

But similar to the King Philip win, Mansfield’s defense was back in the spotlight, this time under the bright lights in Foxboro at Gillette Stadium. Despite plenty of chances, the Hornets held St. John’s to just a pair of touchdowns, both after a fumble from Mansfield. The other three turnovers, Mansfield got a turnover on downs, another a three-and-out, and Hershman came up with an interception to end the first half to keep the deficit at 14-7.

“I don’t know if it was nerves, being at Gillette for the first time, or guys trying to do too much but the first half was just a disaster. The key there was the defense. They were really talented on offense and we were handing them too many possessions. The defense played unbelievable…we gave up 14 but other teams, it could have been over.

“We couldn’t have played worse in terms of turnovers, and we were only down seven. If we just hold onto the ball, I don’t think they can stop us and we can score points. The second half was exactly what we hoped for.”

Barresi came up with another big postseason play, intercepting a pass three plays into the second half. Mansfield’s offense quickly capitalized with a touchdown run fro Ruddy but a rare missed extra point kept the Hornets down.

Nonetheless, Mansfield seemed to seize the momentum it needed. They didn’t turn the ball over at all in the second half and the offense orchestrated two real impressive drives to take the lead and add onto it. First came a 10-play, 59-yard series capped by an 8-yard rush from Hershman (six catches, eight carries, 138 total yards), and a two-point play from Villar-Perez gave Mansfield football a 21-14 advantage with just over three minutes to play in the third.

After another stop from the Hornet defense, Mansfield’s offense went back to work and made sure to take all the time it needed. The Hornets marched 80 yards on 14 plays, taking off nearly eight minutes of time off the clock before Villar-Perez (18 carries, 118 yards) punched it in from in close for a 28-14 lead with 2:38 to play.

“We played probably our best half of the year after playing probably our sloppiest half,” Redding said.

With the win, Mansfield football capped the perfect season at 13-0 and claimed the first-ever true D2 State Championship.






Listening Options:

                                        


Mansfield football
Mansfield football

Opponent
Result
Dunbar (MD)W, 29-26 (Preview)
MiltonW, 21-0
North AttleboroW, 35-14
AttleboroW, 49-42 (Recap)
TauntonW, 42-8
King PhilipW, 20-7 (Recap)
FranklinW, 35-13 (Recap)
WellesleyW, 31-14 (Recap)
NeedhamW, 42-35 (Recap)
BarnstableW, 41-16
WalthamW, 41-0 (Recap)
FoxboroW, 14-7
St. John's ShrewsburyW, 28-14 (Recap)






Mansfield football
Mansfield football

Mansfield football
Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football


2013 Mansfield (MA) Hornets Football Highlights from Ryan Lanigan on Vimeo.

Teams of the Decade #4: 2013 Mansfield Boys Hoops

Mansfield boys basketball

Team: Mansfield Boys Basketball
Year: 2012-2013
Record: 25-3
2013 Kelley-Rex Division Champions
2013 Division 1 State Finalists


There are few teams that have had as much success as the Mansfield boys basketball program over the past decade. Not only have the Hornets been the class of the Hockomock League, but they’ve also won multiple sectional championships and a pair of trips to the state championship.

So there’s certainly a long list of impressive wins, but one that remains near the top of the Hornets’ resume is the 55-50 win over Central Catholic on the parquet floor inside the TD Garden in a state semifinal matchup. Timely shots, impressive defense, and a dramatic finish highlighted what head coach Mike Vaughan calls one of his most proud wins in his tenure at the helm.

The 2012-2013 Mansfield boys basketball team, which earned its first-ever appearance in the state championship game with that win over Central Catholic, was loaded with talent from top to bottom. A very talented sophomore group complemented a strong junior class and a handful of seniors that led the way.

“It was a team that had a little bit of everything,” Vaughan said of the 2013 squad that posted a 25-3 record. “We just really had no weaknesses with the exception of our youth. We had three sophomores playing a lot, three juniors that played a lot…as the season went on, we started to realize this team could win in a number of different ways and were super talented.

“And the other that really goes unmarked about this particular team, we had some guys at the end of this roster that didn’t necessarily play a whole lot who probably on other teams in the league or in the state probably would have played a lot of minutes. Guys like Cole Cummings and Zach Wisnieski, guys that were just great practice kids and great teammates. When they had the opportunity to play, they went in and played really hard and did everything we asked them to do. In any other varsity program, they would have played their fair share but this particular year we had some dynamite underclassman. But they were great teammates, great leaders, great in practice and they were unsung heroes for us.”

Greg Romanko was the lone senior in the starting lineup, a 6’3 forward that gave the Hornets leadership on the court, could stretch the floor with his shooting, and provided interior defense. Rocky DeAndrade, Kevin Conner, and Kyle Wisnieski played the most minutes among the junior class. DeAndrade took a huge step forward from his sophomore campaign and ran the show from the point, Wisnieski was one of the best defensive players in the area, and Conner provided a lot of flexibility, giving the Hornets size but his athleticism made him a tough matchup for opponents. Michael Hershman, who was selected as a league all star as a sophomore, played very limited minutes throughout the season due to injury.

 

And the sophomore class featured Brendan Hill, who went on to win the Hockomock League MVP that season, along with Ryan Boulter and Michael Boen. Hill was a true star on the court, with the size of a forward but could play any position on the court. Boulter emerged as an offensive boost off the bench as a sharpshooter while Boen was another defensive option as the season started.

But the importance of depth was a theme among the players too. DeAndrade stressed how important practice was and how the competition among one another helped improve the entire squad.

“Everyone had a role and everyone played it perfectly, and that’s from one through 15,” DeAndrade said. “A lot of our success we had that season comes from practice. It was the battles we had in practice, the guys getting the minutes on the court had to play better. The competitiveness…every drill was a battle. It didn’t matter if you were a starter or on the bench, it was all about winning. Everybody stepped at some point when we needed it. That’s what made it so tough to beat us, we always had an answer.

“Everyone had the same mission on the team, everyone was there to win. It sounds cliche but no one was there with a personal agenda, it was all about what can we do to help the team win that game. I think it was our chemistry, just how well we all played together and how it translated off the court. We all hung out even outside of basketball so we were around each other all the time. And we had all played together since middle school. We were so used to playing with each other.”

The Hornets started the season 4-0, sweeping its first three Hockomock League games by an average of over 25 points per game, as well as an impressive double-digit win over BC High. At the Shooting Touch tournament at Emmanuel College, Mansfield knocked off Amityville out of New York before suffering their first setback, a six-point loss to D2 power New Mission.

Mansfield got back on track in the new year, picking up 12-straight wins. The Hornets picked up a key 68-62 win over Taunton early in January and followed it up with one of their most impressive results of the year, a 65-42 win over rival Franklin. Mansfield clinched the Kelley-Rex title with their second close win over Taunton but just six days later, their winning streak came to a screeching halt at the hands of their rival Franklin.

The Panthers edged out the Hornets with a three-point win in overtime, splitting the regular season series. Despite suffering that loss, Mansfield was quick to correct things and five days later picked up a marquee win. In the RoundBall tournament, Mansfield hosted Wakefield, who was one of the favorites in D2 North. Mansfield notched a 69-46 win.

“At the end of the season, we played in the RoundBall tournament against Wakefield and Bruce Brown Jr., who went on to play in the NBA, and we dominated that game,” Vaughan said. “They were ranked higher in the city papers, they were one of the favorites for the North, and we dominated that team from start to end. It was one of my more proud games we played that year. At that point, it felt like the sophomores were playing like juniors, the juniors were playing like seniors, and the seniors were just great, playing with a veteran mentality. That’s when I thought we could do something special in the South section…but I never thought we would get beyond that or play in a state championship because it’s so hard to do, it’s not necessarily part of the thought process.

“So how did we get there? We had length, we were athletic, smart, we could do things game-to-game, adding things or taking things out, we had toughness, and we had basketball junkies. So you look back now and say, that was a pretty special team and that’s why.”

After knocking off Newton South in the opening round of the tournament, Mansfield ran into rival Franklin to settle the season series. The Hornets survived regulation, going into overtime after the Panthers had a chance to win it late, and eventually came away with a 57-48 win. DeAndrade was the star late, scoring 11 of his game-high 21 points between the fourth and overtime.

“We watched the film recently, it was an absolutely crazy game,” Vaughan said. “There’s a play that happened late, where if that ball goes in, we lose and Franklin wins. There was a time I asked Paul Connolly over at Newton North, who had won back-to-back state titles, I asked what’s the secret. He said you have to be good, you have to be disciplined, you have to be a well-oiled machine but you have to get lucky somewhere. For us, that definitely happened there. There were no secrets between us and Franklin, we already went into overtime before. If that game is different, then we’re not even talking about playing in the state championship.”

While the next two games were far from easy, the Hornets took care of business with a 68-50 win over Brookline behind some hot shooting from Boulter, and then a 57-45 win over North Quincy, sparked by its bench, to win the D1 South Sectional title.

Defense was the key to the game at the TD Garden as both Wisnieski and Boen took turns limiting Central Catholic star Tyler Nelson. Nelson, who was named to the Boston Herald’s All-Decade EMass starting lineup, was one of the most lethal scorers in Massachusetts this decade. In the end, it was Conner who came up with key baskets late to elevate Mansfield to the win.

“One thing I remember is the defense Kyle and Boen played on Nelson in the first half,” DeAndrade said. “I don’t know why it’s stuck with me, but after the game we all were on about the defense those two played. We made some big plays when we needed to, when they counted most and that’s why we were able to come out with the win.

“We just played great from the start,” Vaughan said. “Kevin Conner hit some big baskets for us, Michael Boen and Kyle Wisnieski did a tremendous job on Tyler Nelson. We played a near-perfect game for what you’d consider a perfect game for a high school game. We got contributions from almost everyone in that group. That was probably one of the best victories we’ve had in our program history.”

While the win over Central Catholic remains as one of the best in program history, the game that followed is one the Hornets wish they had a chance to play over. A team that averaged over 66 points per game throughout the course of the season had its worst shooting performance of the season, falling to Putnam in overtime, 50-47.

Mansfield’s defense did its part, holding the Beavers to just 17 points in the first half. But the Hornets couldn’t get things going in the second half and saw its halftime lead evaporate by the start of the fourth. And then things went from bad to worse as Mansfield trailed by seven late in the fourth as its offense sputtered (only nine second half points, 4-for-26 three point for the game).

A three-point play from Boen sparked the comeback, and the sophomore followed it up with another triple. After Putnam sank two free throws, Romanko battled to keep possession off of a miss and, on the ensuing inbounds play, Boulter was fouled while shooting the tying three with 7.5 seconds to go.

Despite all the pressure on the shoulders of a sophomore, Boulter delivered and sank all three free throws to force the extra period. Boulter connected on a pair of three’s in the overtime period as well, the second tying the game at 48-48. In the end, it was a pair of free throws from Ty Nichols with under 10 seconds to go that put Putnam ahead for good as Mansfield’s last second shot was off the mark.

“It was one of those nights, and that happens in sports,” Vaughan said. “It’s why you play the games, you can’t just walk in and win the game. I don’t think that particular game takes away from the level of talent this team had and what they were able to accomplish all year.”






Listening Options:

                                        


Mansfield boys basketball
Mansfield boys basketball

Opponent
Result
SharonW, 70-51
AttleboroW, 73-40
King PhilipW, 69-45
BC HighW, 69-57
Amityville (NY)W, 65-58 (OT) (Recap)
New MissionL, 60-54
Oliver AmesW, 82-54 (Recap)
TauntonW, 68-62 (Recap)
FranklinW, 65-42
StoughtonW, 72-57 (Recap)
North AttleboroW, 69-30
CantonW, 81-46
AttleboroW, 69-36
BrocktonW, 66-41
King PhilipW, 58-26
FoxboroW, 90-43
MilfordW, 76-52 (Recap)
TauntonW, 45-41 (Recap)
FranklinL, 59-56 (OT)
North AttleboroW, 68-32
WakefieldW, 69-46
Dighton-RehobothW, 65-44
#17 Newton SouthW, 72-56
#9 FranklinW, 57-48 (OT) (Recap)
#12 BrooklineW, 68-50 (Recap)
#6 North QuincyW, 57-45 (Recap)
Central Catholic (State Semifinals)W, 55-50 (Recap)
Putnam (State Final)L, 50-48 (OT) (Recap)






Mansfield boys basketball


Teams of the Decade #5: 2020 Franklin Girls Basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Team: Franklin girls basketball
Year: 2019-2020
Record: 25-0
2020 Kelley-Rex Division Champions
2020 Division 1 State Champions


It may still have been the regular season and there was a lot of basketball standing between the teams and a trophy, but there was a distinct sense of anticipation when Franklin and Bridgewater-Raynham met up in the first round of the Comcast Classic at Woburn High. A lot of people in the stands were wondering if the Panthers, who had been widely-considered the top team in the state since preseason, were as good as advertised.

Franklin made a statement, leading from the opening tip and pulling out a comfortable 58-41 victory over the eventual Div. 1 South champion. It was a turning point, where the 2020 Franklin girls basketball team recognized that it could play at another level, one that even the top teams in the state would struggle against. It was a confidence boost that carried the Panthers to a second straight D1 Central crown, a perfect season, and the program’s first state championship.

“That’s when we started to realize, and that was in February, that maybe it’s even beyond what we originally thought,” said Franklin coach John Leighton. “Some of the kids said they wanted to go undefeated from day one, and that’s a great goal, but seeing it become a reality is a different thing.”

Senior center Ali Brigham, who was named league MVP and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year for the second season in a row, added, “We didn’t want the rankings to do the talking. We actually wanted to go out and do it ourselves. I think every single person, when we stepped on that court, and even days before when we knew we were playing B-R, it was time to lock in and play how Franklin basketball played. We did the talking in our play.”

While there was plenty of attention on Franklin coming into the season, after reaching the state semifinal the year before and with Brigham, a George Washington-commit, returning in the middle, the Panthers had some questions. Two starters from 2018-19, Shannon Gray and Bea Bondhus, graduated and it wasn’t obvious who would emerge as an offensive threat to take the pressure off Brigham.

Those questions were answered in the first week of play. Juniors Kaleigh Houlihan and Elizabeth Wilson added outside shooting, senior Megan O’Connell and sophomore Emma Sousa added athleticism and versatility at forward, and junior point guard Erin Quaile continued to be a rock on both ends of the court. Meanwhile sophomore Olivia Quinn scored 20-plus points in two of the first three games and became one of the league’s top players this season.

 

“It made me and Ali’s lives super easy,” said O’Connell. “Instead of trying to find people to step up and take those roles, people were gunning for them. Olivia Quinn is tremendous. No one worked harder than her in the offseason and that was clearly visible by all of her accomplishments.”

The Panthers dominated from game one. The only team that managed to keep it close against Franklin was Holy Name, which lost by four and by nine in the two regular season meetings. It seemed that Franklin could flip a switch and take over games on both ends of the court.

Against King Philip, the Panthers jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. On the road at title rival Oliver Ames, Brigham and Quinn combined for 37 points in the second half and they won by 30. Davenport (and D2) champion Foxboro was down by single digits in the fourth quarter until a 17-0 run broke the game wide open.

“To go undefeated, and any team that gets to do it will say the same thing, you just need that consistency that the players are able to bring,” Leighton explained. “You need to bring that every day and if you have kids who aren’t feeling well or working on an injury, it doesn’t matter. You need to bring that same level day.”

O’Connell said the team was aware of the rankings and the hype surrounding the team but added, “The coaches did a great job of keeping us level-headed and not letting that go to our heads. They said that means absolutely nothing unless you go out and show everyone that is true.”

The Comcast Tournament, which also included a 17-point win against D4 state champion Cathedral, came at the perfect time. Along with a one-point win against New Hampshire power Bishop Guertin, the Panthers closed out the regular season by overcoming tough challenges, a good warm-up for the state tournament and additional confidence for a team that was already riding high.

“There is a fake confidence, fake bravado,” said Leighton, “but then you have that real confidence when you look at each other in the huddle and you just know that we can come back and do what we need to do. You know you can get that look, you know you can make that stop, and you can count on the kid next to you to make that play.”

In the playoff opener, Brigham achieved an important personal milestone, solidifying her place in program history. With a free throw late in a big win against Framingham, she passed Kelly Meredith to become the school’s all-time leading scorer (male or female). She finished her career with 1,692 points (and also with a school record 1,276 rebounds).

“I wrote a letter to myself when I was in eighth grade to my 2020 self,” Brigham recalled. “My main goal was to make the varsity basketball team.”

“I’m just really glad that I was able to do it,” she continued. “I put in a lot of work, and especially having it be my last home game, which was pretty cool. It was almost like I wasn’t even the most excited in that video.”

Leighton said, “At no point was Ali worried about Ali this year and that tells you so much about her. She’s a program-changing player. The young kids at Franklin playing at halftime to high-five Ali Brigham, those kids are going to remember that. Her legacy will last a very long time here.”

King Philip coach Dan Nagle said, “Ali is a real issue (obviously) because she not only is bigger than any kid in our league, but she is incredibly skilled and unselfish. If you double her, she finds a wide open shooter. If you don’t double her, she scores easily with a wide variety of moves/finishes. She even hit a three against us this year and I know we weren’t alone. She is a ridiculous talent.”

In the Central semifinal, Franklin faced Holy Name for the third time and the first quarter did not go as planned. The Panthers were held to just six points in the first and looked out of sorts. “They knew everything you wanted to do,” said O’Connell. “They knew I was going to pump fake and go to the left and whatever. It was super frustrating for all of us and we just had to turn it around.”

Franklin closed the gap to one at halftime and then dominated the second half to win by 17. That momentum carried into the Central final, as the Panthers jumped out to a 9-0 lead and never looked back. Even when the offense was struggling, as it did in the third quarter against Natick, the defense locked opponents down and different players stepped up each night with key plays to get the win.

“I honestly think they were far and away the best team in the state this year,” Nagle said. “Even the very best teams could hang with them for a quarter or two, but eventually their size/talent, coupled with extremely organized and effective coaching, really separated them from the rest of the pack. It was a group of kids that from an opposing coach/onlooker’s perspective really understood and embraced their roles, and simply executed them to perfection night-in and night-out all season long.”

When the final horn sounded in the state semifinal win against Minnechaug, the celebrations were muted. It was clear from the players and coaches that reaching the final wasn’t the ultimate goal and there was still work to be done. Unfortunately, the following night it was announced that the final would be canceled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m so sad that it ended that way,” said O’Connell. “I was in my driveway and I was tagged in a Twitter post. I was like, holy crap, I would’ve stayed [at practice] all night if I had known they were going to cancel it.”

Brigham said, “The last practice we had we all got into a circle and were just talking about it. It was like an, ‘okay, we’ll see you tomorrow,’ thing. Driving home, I pulled into my garage and got the text that we’re not playing. We weren’t able to have that final goodbye together as a team, we still haven’t. It’s definitely unfortunate because we didn’t get to end it the way a team should.”

Weeks after that final practice, both players were able to reflect on the achievements of the season and the history that the team made this winter even if there is still disappointment about not having that moment in the spotlight. Brigham joked, “I’m really competitive so the fact that another team thinks they’re state champions too, that doesn’t go over very well with me.”

Leighton also took time to reflect on the perfect season and the first title in program history.

He said, “That banner will always be there and that’s a piece of history and they really bought into that. I don’t think it diminishes anything in the kids’ eyes. In the moment it did, it stunk, but now that you have a moment to step back and reflect and look at everything that happened, I’m so proud of them.

“Fairly quickly, the team attitude was obvious, how we were getting at it in practice, the maturity, our work approach. We saw that early, but seeing that you could be really good is different from winning every game or winning a state championship. It’s a whole different level.”






Click here to listen to the HockomockSports.com Franklin Girls Basketball Podcast on Spotify


Franklin girls basketball
Franklin girls basketball

Opponent
Result
MilfordW, 81-25
King PhilipW, 80-50
CantonW, 61-34
Holy NameW, 44-40
MansfieldW, 67-39
StoughtonW, 77-31
TauntonW, 66-18
North AttleboroW, 53-33
Oliver AmesW, 71-41 (Recap)
FoxboroW, 61-40 (Recap)
AttleboroW, 73-41
SharonW, 53-20
King PhilipW, 65-39
MansfieldW, 67-41
TauntonW, 79-36
Holy NameW, 52-43
Oliver AmesW, 76-30
AttleboroW, 64-26
Bridgewater-RaynhamW, 58-41 (Recap)
CathedralW, 73-56
Bishop Guertin (NH)W, 47-46
FraminghamW, 85-37
Holy NameW, 59-42 (Recap)
NatickW, 53-38 (Recap)
MinnechaugW, 55-43 (Recap)






Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball


Teams of the Decade #6: 2018 Foxboro Girls Basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Team: Foxboro girls basketball
Year: 2017-2018
Record: 26-2
2018 Davenport Division Champions
2018 Division 2 State Champions


Over the course of the 2017-18 season, the Foxboro girls basketball team had its first-ever perfect run through Hockomock League play. The Warriors twice won by more than 50 points, seven times by more than 40, four times by more than 30, and three other games were decided by more than 20. Only six games all season were decided by single digits.

However, the season wouldn’t be remembered for the blowouts, but rather for the comebacks. Foxboro rallied from 20 points down in the second half of the state semifinal and from 14 down in the final to reach the team’s lofty preseason expectations and secure the program’s first state title since 1995.

“The scrutiny was on us every game,” said head coach Lisa Downs, who earned her 100th career win that season. “The Hockomock League doesn’t always have easy games and we were expected to win all of them. The expectations were so high that it felt like there was a magnifying glass on you at all times.”

Expectations were sky high because the team was coming off a Div. 2 South title and brought back a core of four talented seniors, who had played together long before they got to high school. Guards Lily Sykes and Ashley Sampson, forward Grace Tamulionis, and center Shannon Smally had helped the Warriors get to a South final as freshmen and their final season together was supposed to be the culmination of it all.

It was also a motivated group, as the 2017 season ended with a disappointing loss at the TD Garden. Sykes said, “My whole senior year I remembered that game and it was just a sour taste in my mouth and we needed to get past the Garden.”

An overtime loss to eventual Div. 4 state champion Coyle-Cassidy opened the season, followed by a win against Mansfield, which reached the D1 South semifinal. Wins over Hopkinton and Coyle around Christmas gave the Warriors a boost of confidence and started to confirm the preseason hype.

 

In addition to the seniors, the rotation started to take shape with sophomore forward Abby Hassman giving the team energy and rebounding and freshman Katelyn Mollica making an instant impact on the program as the first player off the bench. Mollica averaged more than 10 points per game as a rookie and gave the team a spark in some of its biggest games.

“It was pretty cool because as much as we were the fearless leaders, I guess, Katelyn and Abby came into every game and gave as much as they could and they never seemed scared,” Sykes explained.

Downs added, “We had a lot of different pieces. We didn’t have a deep bench but the five or six that we put out there could go against anyone.”

Foxboro suffered a one-point loss at Hopkinton at the end of January. It turned out to be the final loss of the season.

The playoffs started in comfortable fashion, as the Warriors beat Milton and Stoughton by a combined 71 points, but Smally suffered an injury in the second round that would cost her the rest of the season. It forced a change to the rotation, thrusting Mollica into the starting lineup, and also added a new dynamic to the bench, as Smally became a vocal presence on the sidelines.

“I feel like we didn’t have that leader on the bench,” said Sykes. “Katelyn came off the bench but there wasn’t always someone there yelling and giving support and I think Shannon definitely amped it up.”

Silver Lake was beaten by 26 in the South semifinal and then the Warriors clinched a second straight sectional title by holding Nauset to just 24 points (on six made field goals) in the final. Experience at that stage and experience playing together was proving too much for opponents to handle.

“We’ve been playing together since we were in what, third or fourth grade?” Sykes remarked.
“So, like me and Ashley, whether it was me or her bringing the ball down, we knew that if we gave it up that we were going to go backdoor. That was our play, just give each other the head nod and it was game over.”

Weather had played its part during the playoff run, as the state semifinal was forced from the TD Garden to Woburn High. Snow storms and power outages made for an interesting lead into the game against North champ Pentucket.

“We ended up practicing at King Philip one of the days because our school didn’t have power,” said Hassman. “Obviously Lisa was focused on getting the practice time and staying in the routine because we couldn’t afford to take a day off right before a huge game.”

The semifinal was the most memorable game of that season. Pentucket jumped out to an early lead and led 29-14 at halftime. The lead stretched to as many as 20 points in the second half, but the Warriors never panicked. Changing to a 2-3 zone took away some of Pentucket’s driving lanes and Foxboro started to chip away at the lead.

“As much as man is our bread-and-butter at the time, the 2-3 with me and Katelyn up top really rattled them and once we could see the panic in their eyes, it was like oh my god this is definitely our game,” Sykes recalled.

“At halftime, we had a real heart-to-heart, and maybe a little yelling, and then the seniors definitely took it upon themselves to rally the troops,” said Downs. Each timeout I was saying just two or three points at time, get a stop and turn around and get a basket, and then we’ll just chip away. Our confidence started to grow and maybe Pentucket got a little tight with their game and then everything started to go our way.”

Sykes knocked down a pair of huge threes in the fourth quarter and her diving scramble to force a jump ball saved a final possession for Foxboro. Meanwhile, Sampson was showing why she was league MVP as a junior and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year that season. She scored 20 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including 19 of the team’s final 20 points and the tying layup in the final seconds to force OT.

“She was a coach’s dream,” Downs said of Sampson. “She’s a 5-foot-10 point guard who has the strength to post up. She was a really tough matchup for teams, so they wouldn’t know whether to put a guard on her that might be small or a forward on her that wouldn’t be quick enough.”

Sampson added 14 points in the extra frame and the Warriors walked away with an improbable 58-54 win. Downs said, “I’ll even watch every once in a while now and I still get goosebumps because it was just such an incredible game.”

Of course, getting to the final was only part of the goal. The Warriors needed to complete the job in their third meeting of the season with Hopkinton, this time at Springfield’s MassMutual Center. Like the semifinal, Foxboro needed to turn things around in the second half.

Hassman, who would go on to win a second state title as a senior this past winter, credited the seniors for providing the underclassmen with the confidence to perform even while trailing in a final. She explained, “ I was looking at them and seeing how they were going to deal with it and I just remember them not being affected by it all. In the locker room, they were just like, ‘We’ll change these things in the next half,’ and stayed focused and we weren’t flustered at all.

“Their focus and poise just really helped me not get flustered. Without them I would’ve crumbled a little bit.”

Behind a 32-14 second half run, sparked by the three seniors, the Warriors overcame a 10-point halftime deficit and secured the title with a 49-41 win.

“That was probably the most special moment I had in high school,” said Sykes. “Each year we just built more and more and more and it was finally our year and we finally got the job done. It was the most amazing experience ever.”

Downs added, “There’s pictures of me and I’m crying in every one because it’s just such an emotional thing. You’re holding your breath all season long, can we do it, can we do it, and then you can finally just breathe. That exhale as all of the emotions come through and you’re just so happy that these girls can remember this because they deserved it.”






Foxboro girls basketball
Foxboro girls basketball

Opponent
Result
Coyle & CassidyL, 50-40 (OT)
MansfieldW, 43-37
King PhilipW, 65-21
FranklinW, 64-33 (Recap)
HopkintonW, 52-38
Coyle & CassidyW, 42-41
SharonW, 69-28
StoughtonW, 74-46
MilfordW, 67-47
CantonW, 79-34
North AttleboroW, 75-26
HopkintonL, 55-54
TauntonW, 85-27 (Recap)
Oliver AmesW, 61-39 (Recap)
AttleboroW, 67-37
SharonW, 72-30
StoughtonW, 74-19
MilfordW, 80-26
CantonW, 81-32
North AttleboroW, 66-41
HanoverW, 66-59 (Recap)
NatickW, 58-45
MiltonW, 64-30
StoughtonW, 75-38
Silver LakeW, 63-37 (Recap)
NausetW, 40-23 (Recap)
PentucketW, 58-54 (OT) (Recap)
HopkintonW, 49-41 (Recap)






Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball


Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball


Teams of the Decade #7: 2011 King Philip Softball

King Philip softball

Team: King Philip softball
Year: 2011
Record: 26-0
2011 Kelley-Rex Division Champions
2011 Division 1 State Champions


King Philip softball has dominated the Hockomock League for the past 10-plus years, having won the league title in 11 of the past 13 seasons. Amidst all of that success, one KP team stands out above the rest and it was the one that kicked off the new decade.

In the spring of 2011, the Warriors were coming off a state title and the return of junior pitcher Meg Rico, who had come off the bench to win the final four games of the previous season, made them one of the favorites to repeat. Not only did the Warriors win back-to-back titles, but they went one better than 2010, completing a perfect, 26-0 season.

“We kind of had no doubt in our minds that we were going to take it as far as we could go and there was nobody that was going to stand in our way,” said former Canton coach Jennifer Robillard, who was a senior shortstop and leadoff hitter on the 2011 team. “We knew that as much as we were going to miss the talent that we had lost, we had people that could come in and step up.”

Former KP coach Jim Leonard said of coming off a state title, “It’s always hard to repeat. You come through and you have a championship season and you’re through and the table has shifted and sometimes it’s harder to live up to those expectations that are raised from the year before.”

The Warriors certainly appeared to be comfortable with the target on their backs. Led by Rico and fellow pitcher Megan Carnase, KP outscored its opponents 146-0 during the regular season. It took until the sixth inning of the Div. 1 South final before Norwood scored the first runs of the season by a KP opponent. The pitching staff combined for 264 strikeouts.

Rico became the standout player of the season. After stepping into the circle in the South semifinal the year before, following an injury to star pitcher Maggie Quealy, Rico struck out three of the five hitters she faced against Dighton-Rehoboth, including two with the tying run on third, and then allowed only two runs over the final three games.

 

In 2011, Rico’s dominance gave the Warriors extra confidence that they were the team to beat.

“It gives a team a huge confidence,” said Robillard. “Mistakes are going to happen and we knew that in the field, as much as we wanted to be strong for her, you can make a mistake and it doesn’t feel like the end of the world because your pitcher is going to come in and shut it down.”

Even a dominant pitcher can’t win every game on her own and the Warriors developed a fearsome lineup as well. Senior third baseman Anna Kelley was a big bat in the middle of the order, senior right fielder Kelsey Gray could always be counted on to get on base, juniors Olivia Godin and Carnase both emerged as tough outs.

The stats make it seem like an easy run through the season, but the Warriors had their share of challenges, including a pair of tough games with North Attleboro and Mansfield and two non-league encounters with a strong Coyle-Cassidy team (which KP beat 3-0 and 9-0). The highlight of the regular season was a state final rematch with Milford, which was the only team to beat KP in 2010. KP won that 1-0 to confirm its status as title favorite.

“We never said we’re going to run the schedule and that gets harder the deeper you get into the season, it’s always about the next game,” said Leonard. “It was a great group of kids. They were dedicated, they came every day to practice and worked hard, and put in all those extra hours. Any time a girl was at the plate or in the field, everyone had everyone else’s back.”

While KP rarely lacks for talent on the field, Robillard also credited Leonard’s approach in the dugout for keeping things light and not allowing the pressure of expectations to overwhelm the team. Our practices were fun and I absolutely love having him as a coach,” she said. “He was an awesome guy.”

Leonard explained, “These girls have all played enough softball with enough pressure already on them. I just wanted them to play loose, be relaxed. They’d been part of that culture for a number of years, so from that perspective we knew how hard we worked and trained and the game will take care of itself.”

Things got no easier in the tournament, as KP started its playoff run wins against perennial powers Taunton and D-R before easily dispatching with Weymouth in the South semifinal. Senior captain Alyssa Siegmann drove in one and scored twice and junior first baseman Cayleigh McCarthy drilled a clutch sixth inning homer, as KP made it two straight South titles with a 4-2 win against previously unbeaten Norwood.

“There is that little bit of pressure there that you’re supposed to do this, you’re supposed to win the South,” Robillard reflected. “I think that gave us more confidence than it did nervousness. When you’re able to take that anxiety and flip it into excitement, that’s the fine line. I think our team had a lot of maturity and there really wasn’t a panic mode.”

After taking a 3-0 lead against Acton-Boxboro in the state semifinal, the Colonials broke up Rico’s no-hitter and struck for a pair of runs to make it a nervy finish. KP finished off a 3-2 win and continued its run with another title game appearance, this time against Amherst.

For the second year in a row, Rico out-dueled the Gatorade Player of the Year (Milford’s Shannon Smith in 2010 and Amherst’s Emma Mendoker) to win the championship. Leonard joked, “I think that Rico’s season and what she brought to the game in the circle, she would have been the obvious choice but if you ask her would you rather have Gatorade Player of the Year or a state championship [laughs]…”

It was a game dominated by the two stars in the circle. Mendoker held KP hitless until the sixth inning when Rico got the first hit for the Warriors. Robillard reached on a bunt and courtesy runner Hailey Mullen went from first-to-third. The bases were loaded when Siegmann was hit by a pitch. Carnase had the big hit with a fly ball that dropped in deep left center, allowing all three runs to come across. After an appeal by the Amherst coach, Robillard was deemed to have missed third, so only one run counted.

It proved to be enough. Amherst had its chances to score, putting runners on base several times, but Rico always managed to find another gear and get out of the jam. She finished with a career-high 19 strikeouts.

“Rico remained really calm during that and just knew it was about the next pitch and she and Olivia Godin were kind of a perfectly matched tandem where they trusted each other, worked it all out together, and they worked as one unit,” said Leonard. Robillard added, “Bottom line is we put runners in scoring position and we executed when we needed to execute, whether it was one or three runs didn’t really matter to us. It was all about the final outcome.”

When asked to put into perspective the 2011 season, Leonard replied, “Those girls deserve an awful lot of credit for committing themselves and working hard and staying with each other. The best part of that year is the time you spent in practice laughing and these girls knew how to keep it light. That helped us when things would’ve gotten tight for many other teams, they were cool as could be.”

Robillard had more state championships than losses over the final two seasons of her high school career. The former Sacred Heart University player and current Bentley assistant said, “The only thing we could possibly do to improve on [2010] was to not have any losses and the fact that we could kind of come in and not just win the states but also have a perfect season, you couldn’t ask for a better way to cap off your high school career.

“We didn’t expect to go in and dominate every game, but it was sort of the cherry on the cake.”






King Philip softball
King Philip softball

Playoff Games

Opponent
Result
#17 TauntonW, 2-0
#8 Dighton-RehobothW, 5-0
#21 WeymouthW, 15-0
#2 NorwoodW, 4-2
Acton-Boxborough (State Semifinal)W, 3-2
Amherst (State Final)W, 1-0






Teams of the Decade #8: 2015 Franklin Boys Hockey

Franklin boys hockey

Team: Franklin Boys Hockey
Year: 2014-2015
Record: 17-4-3
2015 Kelley-Rex Division Champions
First Ever Hockomock Super 8 Selection


Following three straight appearances in the Div. 2 state title game at the TD Garden, Franklin hockey found itself bumped up to Div. 1. It was a new challenge for the program, but one that it met head on. After reaching the South quarterfinal in year one, the Panthers brought back a team loaded with experience and that group not only made Franklin history but broke new ground for the league as well.

In just its second season as a Div. 1 team, the 2014-15 Franklin hockey team became the first Hock team to get an invite to the prestigious Super 8 tournament.

“At that time, it was our second year in Div. 1, so we had a lot of doubters,” said Ryan Spillane, a senior forward on the 2014-15 team. “It felt great to put Franklin hockey on the map and to prove people wrong. I remember the entire school was behind us, so it was definitely a special time to be wearing a Franklin hockey jersey.”

Even for a program accustomed to success, there were high expectations for that year’s team, largely because the Panthers were returning 21 seniors who had grown up through the town’s youth hockey program and had been playing together for the better part of a decade.

“They had tremendous coaching in youth hockey that gave them the basics and when they got to me it was basically just fine-tuning some lines and stuff like that,” said head coach Chris Spillane. “We didn’t know how special it would be but we knew we had a team that if it all came together right could have a great season.”

The Panthers opened with a tie against perennial power Springfield Cathedral, sending an early message about their potential, and followed it with a win against rival Canton. Franklin went 1-1-1 in the annual Mount St. Charles tournament, finishing with a win against LaSalle Academy (Pa.). That win, and the start of league play, seemed to spark Franklin into life, as the Panthers would lose only once more in the regular season.

 

“We played as a team,” Ryan said. “We didn’t really have any big individuals. There were no egos on the team, nothing like that. We moved the puck around and the camaraderie we had playing as a group for so long together and having that many seniors we had a whole lot of leaders.”

A lot of that attitude came from the coaching staff. Ryan explained, “He’s definitely that type of coach that he wants the game to revolve around the team and not a player. He wants a full team effort. If you played selfish, then you were getting sat. He’d bench anyone.”

Chris added, “I knew they were a tight locker room. Everyone knew their role on that team and no matter who we played we were going to rally and we were going to be competitive.”

Franklin went 10-0 in the league, including a second one-goal win against Canton, to secure the Kelley-Rex division title. In the middle of that run, the Panthers added non-league wins against St. John’s Shrewsbury and Newburyport, and the conversation around possibly getting a Super 8 bid started to pick up momentum.

When the Panthers played at Maden Catholic in the second week of February, they twice grabbed a lead in the first period and were hanging tough with the defending Super 8 champions. Following the game, Chris spoke with one of the tournament committee members who was on hand scouting and was told that the Panthers had been impressive.

“At that point, the coaches started to get together and say we need to get in front of this with the kids and have a discussion,” he said. “They all sort of bought into my philosophy that if you’re an athlete then you want to be challenged at the highest level. So, if we get an offer and we do get through the whole process, then you can’t say no to that. That’s something you’ve got to buy into.”

Nothing was set in stone, as the tournament watch lists indicated, but the team felt that a good showing at the end of season tournament in Barnstable could decide it. A pair of 5-1 wins against Marshfield and Westfield put the Panthers at 16-2-3 on the season and 15-1-1 over their final 17 games.

“We were definitely just focused on what was in our control,” Ryan said. “If we didn’t get that bid for the Super 8, then we would have been focused on playing for a state championship going into D1 South. It didn’t really matter to us.”

Being new to the Super 8 process, Chris almost missed out on the coaches association meeting and a chance to talk up his team. A timely tweet by the Boston Herald’s Bruce Lerch got him away from chipping ice off his roof just in time. While Franklin wasn’t included on the recommendation from the coaches association, the main committee had a different outlook.

The Panthers beat out perennial contenders Hingham and Arlington Catholic to earn the 10th and final spot in the tournament and got a play-in game with Xaverian.

“I think we were down a goal with like two minutes left and looking back I don’t even remember that we were down with that little time to go,” said Ryan about the Xaverian game. “We were playing stress-free. We were just trying to put the puck in the net in the last two minutes but it wasn’t as stressful as other playoff games I’ve been in because we knew we had nothing to lose.”

DJ Shea tied the game at 1-1 with less than 10 minutes to play. It was just his fifth goal of the season. After Xaverian regained the lead, Ryan Shea made a huge stop on a point-blank chance to keep the Panthers in it and then, with the goalie pulled and just 31.7 left on the clock, defenseman Nick Morris crashed the net and tipped in a pass from Alex Campbell to send it to overtime.

Two minutes into the OT period, Spillane sprung Alec Borkowski for a rush into the Xaverian zone. After a scrum in front, the puck popped out to Spillane, the league MVP and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year, at the far post and he buried it, securing the Panthers a dramatic win and a chance to play in the Super 8 proper.

“Just to be part of the process was really special and the kids really enjoyed it,” Chris reflected. “People say you could’ve won a state title in Div. 1, but nah this is where we had to play and this is where we belonged.”

Franklin got a rematch with Malden Catholic in a best-of-three series and the Panthers more than held their own, especially in game one. Campbell scored to put Franklin ahead 1-0 in the second and Borkowski had a series of three breakaway chances to try and tie it but the Lancers pulled out the 2-1 win. Ryan Shea stopped 39 shots in the loss.

“Offensively, it was different guys scoring every night,” Chris explained. “Defensively, you could run six defensemen out there and every one of them was skilled, and then you had Ryan Shea in net and he was phenomenal. He was an extremely quiet kid but at practice you could see him come out of his shell and start talking smack to the players for not being able to score on him and it added to that practice environment where it got really competitive.”

Although the season came to a close in the second game against the eventual Super 8 champions, Franklin had put itself on the map and proved it belonged in the conversation of top teams in the state. It opened up the program to more non-league opponents, building its strength of schedule, and helped keep kids who might have otherwise chosen to play somewhere else.

It may not have been a state title, but it was a unique experience for the players and the program. Ryan said, “We were all-in on what we were doing that year and definitely no regrets for having that experience of the Super 8.

“It was fun to go through that with all those seniors on the team. We were all best friends and being able to enjoy that together was definitely a special time.”






Franklin boys hockey
Franklin boys hockey

Opponent
Result
Springfield CathedralT, 3-3
CantonW, 1-0 (Recap)
Bridgewater-RaynhamT, 1-1
Bishop HendrickenL, 5-1
LaSalle Academy (RI)T, 1-1
LaSalle Academy (PA)W, 6-2
MilfordW, 8-1
Oliver AmesW, 3-1
FoxboroW, 10-1
MansfieldW, 6-1 (Recap)
King PhilipW, 10-0
North AttleboroW, 7-2
CantonW, 2-1 (Recap)
StoughtonW, 11-1
St. John's ShrewsburyW, 3-1
NewburyportW, 1-0
Malden CatholicL, 6-2
AttleboroW, 10-0
TauntonW, 8-0
MarshfieldW, 5-1
WestfieldW, 5-1
#10 Xaverian (Super 8 Play-in)W, 3-2 (OT) (Recap)
#2 Malden Catholic (Super 8)L, 2-1 (Recap)
#2 Malden Catholic (Super 8)L, 5-1






Franklin boys hockey


Teams of the Decade #9: 2019 Mansfield Football

Mansfield football

Team: Mansfield Football
Year: 2019
Record: 11-1
2019 Kelley-Rex Division Champions
2019 Division 2 State Champions


Even though the Mansfield football team walked off the field at Lancer Stadium in Ohio with a loss to La Salle in Week 2, longtime head coach Mike Redding still had a good feeling about his Hornets.

“I was talking to some of our coaches after that game and I said ‘this team can win a state championship,'” Redding said. “Here we are, just lost by 22, but the way we competed out there against a high-level team. It was probably one of the more talented teams we’ve played in 32 years and we came up short on the scoreboard, but if you look at the film play by play, we stood up pretty equally to them.

“The feeling walking off that field…when we go back home and get everybody back on board, we could have a pretty special group that can play against anyone in Massachusetts.”

And that’s exactly what happened. The Hornets bulldozed through their league schedule, grinding out a tough win at KP while outscoring the other four Kelley-Rex opponents 152-28. The playoffs were more of the same as the Hornets limited tournament foes to a total of 15 points through four games played, including a 41-0 rout in the D2 State Championship over Lincoln-Sudbury.

The Mansfield football team opened the season with a convincing win over BC High before hitting the road for a trip to Ohio against La Salle. The Lancers featured at least a dozen Division I commits at the time of the game, including Northwestern bound running back Cameron Porter. While the scoreboard favored the hosts, Mansfield walked away with plenty of positives, including an edge in yardage on offense, and its swarming defense limited Porter to 30 yards on the ground.

The dominance back in Massachusetts wasn’t a gigantic shock as the Hornets entered the season as one of the favorites in both the Hockomock League and in the state. It felt like three years in the making as Mansfield football returned a boatload of returning players with either one or two years experience. Two seasons prior, the Hornets were swept by rival King Philip, who went on to win the state championship. A year prior, Mansfield won the regular season matchup and took home the division title but the Warriors got the last laugh in the playoffs. This season, Mansfield won both meetings, the latter earning a spot in the south final.

 

“I think it was back in January before the season, we were pretty honest with them and told them they had a chance to compete for the league title, which is challenging enough, but when you get in the playoffs, this is a team that can make a run towards a state title,” Redding said. “The last couple of years, we’ve lost a couple of high-level kids due to injuries.

“I think it was a big motivation for a lot of guys in this group because they had come so close before but couldn’t finish on the field because of injuries so they were a pretty hungry group. As coaches, we just hold our breath hoping they stay healthy because they have worked so hard and they deserve a chance to compete, win or lose, and you just don’t want them sitting on the sidelines watching.”

The offense started with senior quarterback Jack Moussette, who was like a coach on the field for the Hornets with his ability to manage the game. It was a pick-your-poison backfield that featured seniors Vinnie Holmes (895 yards, 8 TD), Michael DeBolt (402 yards, 6 TD), and Nick Marciano (334 yards, 6 TD) along with star junior Cincere Gill (979 yards, 10 TD). With the help of a strong, talented offensive line featuring Andrew Cowles, TJ Guy, Jake McCoy, Noah Jellenik, and Jason Comeau, the Hornets could break out a big run on any given play. Moussette (914 yards, 11 TD) connected with receiver Danny Rapoza (4 TD) for a team-high 20 receptions. On top of that, DeBolt was one of the best kickers in the area with nine field goals and 38 successful PATs.

“From the first practice we all knew we had the opportunity to be a special team,” Holmes said. “I think that the first two games prepared us for how we need to play for the rest of the season, fast and physical. We all knew we were going to be faster and more physical than whoever lined up across from us, and the La Salle game sparked that intensity. Bringing that intensity into the league paid off as we were able to get another league title.

“Going into the playoffs we knew we had a great shot at winning a state title if we can keep up our level of play. I think we soared over our original expectations by a long shot outscoring our opponents 121-15 in a four-game span on our way to a state championship season. One thing that stood out to me that I think clicked in the playoff run is that everyone knew their roles and did exactly what they were supposed to and we executed extremely well.”

As dominant as the Hornets were on offense (29.8 points per game), Mansfield’s defense was equally as powerful as they allowed under 10 points per game against some of the best competition in the state. Massachusetts foes averaged just over seven points per game with Mansfield holding opponents to seven points or less in seven contests. Similar to the offense, it all started up front with the line play, including Guy, Chris Graham, Mark DeGirolamo, and Nico Holmes. To complement that group, Mansfield football had a loaded group of linebackers (Holmes, Joe Plath, Paden Palanza) and a very talented secondary (Makhi Baskin, Nick Bertolino).

“I think it was definitely one of the more talented teams I’ve had in the three decades plus that I’ve coached,” Redding said. “It was one of those teams that had the rare combination of being really good up front on the o-line and the d-line, which is usually enough to be competitive, but then you throw in a very, very talented group of skill players on both sides. We had the running backs and receivers, and the linebackers and secondary on defense.

“Top to bottom, it was really hard to find a weakness. So many of them had contributed the previous year or two so they came in with a pretty high level of experience. In high school, if you can put that package of skill, physical and tough kids up front, and a group that’s battle tested and confident, that’s usually a recipe for a championship run.”






Mansfield football
Mansfield football

Opponent
Result
BC HighW, 31-10 (Recap)
La Salle (OH)L, 38-16
TauntonW, 31-6
King PhilipW, 15-13 (Recap)
FranklinW, 39-9 (Recap)
Oliver AmesW, 36-6
AttleboroW, 46-7
MarshfieldW, 24-6
King PhilipW, 34-6 (Recap)
NatickW, 22-3 (Recap)
FoxboroW, 22-12
Lincoln-SudburyW, 41-0 (Recap)






Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football


Mansfield football
Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football


Teams of the Decade #10: 2017 King Philip Football

King Philip football

Team: King Philip football
Year: 2017
Record: 12-0
2017 Kelley-Rex Division Champions
2017 Division 2 State Champions


Following an undefeated season and the program’s first state title, the 2017 King Philip football team entered the new year with some question marks. Only two starters were back on offense and just three on the other side of the ball. While those outside the program were understandably wondering how so many new faces would be able to cope with the pressure of being defending champions, the players knew that they had what it took to go back-to-back.

It turned out that the players were absolutely right.

“It wasn’t going undefeated again and going back to the Super Bowl,” KP coach Brian Lee admitted when asked about his expectation heading into the 2017 season. “I think these guys just wanted to show that they could do it too. Once they knew how to get there, that it’s possible, those guys fully expected to go back. They knew their potential better than I did.”

The foundation for the second straight state title was built in the offseason with lifting in the spring and then summer workout programs that saw players get to the field at 6 a.m. every morning. In the preseason, the team spent a week of three-a-days in Maine. The hard work and the shared commitment permeated the roster.

“It just built us all into the team we were that season,” said Shane Frommer, the team’s star running back and linebacker. Being there at 6 in the morning, tired, grinding together, just built so much character in us and bonds that carried into the season to just keep working, to never stop, because you’re fighting for your brothers.”

Frommer was one of the key returning players, along with quarterback Brendan Lydon, defensive back Andrew Dittrich, defensive end Evan Rice, and receiver Dylan Leonard. Over the course of the season, players like linebackers Jack Webster and Max Armour, receiver Tom Madden, lineman Anthony Vahue, and tight end Jack Piller were some of the players that emerged as standouts, most of them on both sides of the ball.

 

King Philip football is a defense-first program and on that side of the ball, under the guidance of Lee and defensive coordinator Matt Wassell, the Warriors put up numbers that were even better than the 2016 team. The defense allowed only five teams to score in the second half that season, no team scored more than once after halftime, and only two opponents in the final nine weeks avoided a second half shutout.

“That’s our emphasis,” said Lee. “Let’s put our best dudes on defense, let’s spend more time in practice on defense, let’s do all the things that make other people spend time on offense.” He continued, “The defense just got better every week. We really relied on them a ton in 2017.”

Frommer credited the coaches for getting the team in the right spots. He added, “If we all know our assignments every play then we can all fly around and tackle the ball. If we’re doing our own jobs, then it’s just going to happen.”

The undefeated season may have come to an abrupt end in week four if not for a big play on defense by Frommer. Mansfield was dominating, already up 10-0, and with the ball in the red zone with a chance to break the game open before halftime. Dittrich got his hand to a pass that Frommer picked off and took 96 yards for a score that cut the lead to three. KP would score 21 points in the fourth quarter, including a Frommer touchdown and rolled to a 28-10 win.

“We were up against the ropes right there,” Lee said. “Now, we’re only down three and we can play and we’re only going to get better. Getting that win really launched us into, maybe we’ve got something special here.”

Over the course of its three straight trips to the Super Bowl, KP became known for its ability to come back in games and make the plays it needed down the stretch to secure a win. Lee said, “We really got good at playing under pressure. We were comfortable in tough situations. It was great to see, the tighter the game got the more confident they felt.”

That resilience showed again the week after coming back against the Hornets when Cole Baker’s field goal pulled out a 17-14 win against Franklin. It was on display again in the Div. 2 South quarterfinal when a rematch against Mansfield went down to the wire and the Warriors pulled out a 13-11 victory at Macktaz Field with all the points coming in the first half.

After beating Bridgewater-Raynham to win the South title, KP was back at Gillette Stadium to take on Lincoln-Sudbury and its high-flying offense. This time, the coaches were prepared for the unique challenges of playing in a Super Bowl and tried to take advantage of the rule changes, such as the shorter quarters, to slow down the L-S offense.

On KP’s first possession of the second half, trailing 7-0, Lydon stretched a play out to get a first down and in the process suffered an injury that sent him to the bench. Sophomore Robert Jarest was forced to step in under center. Not surprisingly, there were some jitters and the first snap was fumbled. Two plays later, Jarest made the play that may have turned the game around when he hit Madden for 38 yards down to the L-S 23.

Three Frommer carries later, KP had tied the game.

“We didn’t really know what, at that time, Robbie was going to be,” said Lee. “What he had was the same skill set as Brendan, in that he expected to have success and the moments weren’t too big for him. Once we scored, everything changed in that game in terms of our ability to totally believe that we’re going to win.”

Frommer rushed for more than 100 yards in the Super Bowl, despite playing with a painful hip pointer. He was named the HockomockSports.com Player of the Year and Kelley-Rex division MVP.

“He just had such a will about him to win and to compete and making himself better,” said Lee about Frommer. “It was one of those rare combinations where your best player is also your hardest working player. He really carried us there.”

A strip sack by Webster put the Warriors in position to grab the lead late in the fourth quarter. Baker set aside an earlier miss and split the uprights from 31 yards to put KP ahead to stay. Lee said of his sophomore kicker, “I don’t think it was a coincidence that in KP history that the one time we have a dude who can kick field goals are the three years we were in the Super Bowl.”

Fittingly, the defense completed another second half shutout to close out the state title and extend KP’s win streak to 25 games.

Lee tried to put into perspective how difficult it was to go unbeaten for two years. He said, “Everybody lifts now, everybody watches film, it’s so hard to gain an advantage on an opponent because everybody is working so hard. You’ve got to have a few breaks obviously and the way the playoffs are it’s about staying healthy.”

For Frommer and the rest of the King Philip football seniors, the championship was the culmination of the work that started in the weight room in the spring.

“Just thinking back, it was the best time of my life,” said Frommer, voice cracking as he reflected on the final moments of his high school football career. “Going back to Gillette with my buddies that I played Pop Warner with and just seeing it all pay off that senior year and all the work we put in. It was an unbelievable feeling. The bonds we built between all the people, you’re going to have those forever.”






King Philip football
King Philip football

Teams of the Decade
Teams of the Decade

Opponent
Result
North AttleboroW, 24-14 (Recap)
FoxboroW, 16-7 (Recap)
AttleboroW, 42-14
MansfieldW, 28-10 (Recap)
FranklinW, 17-14
Oliver AmesW, 42-0
TauntonW, 35-7
BarnstableW, 35-20
MansfieldW, 13-11 (Recap)
Bridgewater-RaynhamW, 29-19
FranklinW, 28-0
Lincoln-SudburyW, 10-7 (Recap)






Teams of the Decade
Teams of the Decade
King Philip football

King Philip football

King Philip football

King Philip football


King Philip football
King Philip football

King Philip football

King Philip football

King Philip football

King Philip football


Teams of the Decade
Teams of the Decade


Videos via Tim Crowley