FRANKLIN, Mass. – The Panthers recently clinched another outright Kelley-Rex division title, Franklin’s third straight outright league title and fifth in a row overall, but there was still a feeling that the team needed a marquee win to add confidence ahead of the state tournament.
On Saturday afternoon at Pisini Field, Franklin was determined to make a statement about its potential for another tournament run against Newton North. Behind six goals from junior attacker Eric Civetti, eight saves by junior Connor O’Rourke, and a strong performance at the face-off ‘X’ by sophomore Jacob Alexander, the Panthers jumped all over the Tigers and earned a 9-6 win.
“It was a good team we played and our kids responded real well,” said Franklin coach Lou Verrochi. “That’s a good quality team and a good, quality win for us.”
Despite being the focal point of the Newton North defense, Civetti showed the range of his skills, scoring from long range and using his strength around the crease. The Rutgers University-commit scored three goals in the opening quarter and left Tigers coaches scrambling for a solution.
Verrochi said, “Civetti’s a stud. He’s just a goal scoring machine. He’s so hard to control. He’s just so talented, he’s got strong hands, and he’s very difficult to strip of the ball. He definitely deserves All-American this year.”
The Panthers stormed out of the gates to take a 3-0 lead in the first quarter. Alexander won the opening face-off and the Panthers held the ball for two minutes before Packie Watson fed Civetti for a close range score.
The Tigers struggled to get any possession in the first and Franklin nearly doubled its lead when Nitin Chaudhury smacked the crossbar with a shot on the run. A minute later, Civetti muscled his marker to score on the edge of the crease.
With 2:22 left in the first, Civetti got his hat trick with a move from behind the cage. He pump faked a pass out in front that forced both Newton North defenders to take a step back and Civetti took advantage of the space to step in and finish with a backhand shot under the bar.
Verrochi was pleased with the great start that his team made. He said, “They were really excited to play this game today and part of the thought process was, from Packie Watson, ‘we haven’t beaten a real good team in a long time boys; we’re going to make sure this is a good game.’ They were very dedicated and very purposeful in what they did out here today.”
The Tigers got one before the end of the quarter (a highlight reel quality, behind-the-back shot by Bryce Adam) and then cut the lead to one early in the second. Civetti responded for Franklin. After smashing a shot off the bar that looked like it may have crossed the line, he collected a loose ball and went with a low angle shot into the corner.
Newton North had an opportunity to make it a very different game with eight minutes left in the half when it had a two-man advantage for 30 seconds, but O’Rourke denied the Tigers a crucial goal. O’Rourke made three saves during the man-down situation and Watson made the visitors pay when he scored in transition to turn a potential 4-3 game into a 5-2 lead.
“I can’t say enough about him,” said Verrochi about O’Rourke. “He’s our MVP. He plays lights out in big games and we’re very fortunate that he switched from attack to goalie. That was a huge transition for him and he’s been outstanding.”
That proved to be the turning point, as Franklin took control and put the Tigers on their heels. Sam Arsenault picked out Chaudhury on the edge of the crease to make it 6-2 and finish off a great move by the Panthers that saw everyone in attack touch the ball.
Civetti got his hands free and time for a rip into the top corner for a man-up goal early in the third and Arsenault added a goal off an assist by Kyle McEniry for a six-goal lead. The Tigers scored right before the end of the third, but Civetti restored the lead early in the fourth when he finished a transition sparked by a long run from sophomore pole Patrick Morrison.
The Tigers tried to make it close at the end, scoring the final three goals of the game to get back within three with 1:24 remaining. It was hard to get a run going though because Alexander continued to win every face-off for the Panthers. He won 17-of-20 for the game, including all five in the fourth quarter to help slow down the Tigers momentum.
“I think he’s the best in the state,” said Verrochi of Alexander, “even better than the [Lincoln-Sudbury] kid. I think he’s dominated every player he’s gone against this year and that’s huge. You’re almost guaranteed a possession every time there’s a face-off.”
Franklin (16-3) will finish off the regular season with Div. 3 power Dover-Sherborn on Wednesday and is expecting to be one of the top three or four seeds in the upcoming state tournament.