By Joe Clark, HockomockSports.com Student Reporter
WORCESTER, Mass. – When Franklin took on Springfield Central at the DCU Center in Worcester a year ago, Chris Edgehill scored eight points in 20 seconds to tie the game and lead the Panthers to an overtime win to clinch a berth in the state championship.
This year, when the two teams met again on Thursday night, no such heroics were needed.
Franklin played a near-perfect game en route to a 62-43 win over the Golden Eagles, handing Central its first loss of the season.
“This game was a little bit more comfortable than last year, we were watching guys cry as we put ourselves together to come back and win last year, so this game I thought we had a much more complete performance from start to finish, I was pretty confident in what we were doing out there,” said Franklin coach CJ Neely.
Franklin started out the game on a 15-4 run and finished the first quarter up 21-10 behind two threes from Matt Elias (14 points) and a strong start from senior Paul Mahon, who had eight of his ten points in the first frame. Elias hit another just under a minute into the third quarter, putting the Franklin crowd into a frenzy.
“The threes early were great, he’s been big for us all year, and he kind of hit a slump for a couple games and wasn’t spacing the floor the way he has been, and I think that’s what opens things up for Chris [Edgehill], and hitting those early gave him a lot of confidence,” Neely said on the early threes from Elias.
Springfield Central chipped away at the Franklin lead in the second quarter, behind Levi Grady-White (12 points, three rebounds), who came off the bench to give the Golden Eagles a spark with eight points in the second quarter.
With just over three minutes left in the second quarter, Elias, who had already hit three trifectas for Franklin, looked to take an elbow to the head and was removed from the game. He would miss the rest of the quarter, but returned to start the second half. Springfield Central would go on a 7-1 run with Elias out of the game, cutting Franklin’s lead to six at 29-23 heading into the locker room at halftime.
To start the third quarter, Grady-White and Jalen Samuels (13 points, eight rebounds) traded baskets, but after Grady-White cut the lead to four with 5:38 left in the third quarter, Edgehill buried a three from the corner to put Franklin up 34-27.
“The shot looked off honestly, shooter’s bounce is what they call that, but definitely whenever I’m hitting shots I’m always gaining confidence, and my team gains confidence in me,” Edgehill said.
That confidence was on full display, as after being called for a charge, Edgehill (18 points, four rebounds, six assists) had a beautiful spin in the lane and finished with a layup for two points that extended Franklin’s lead to 36-27. A putback by Samuels with just under a minute left in the third quarter put Franklin up 42-30, a lead they held until the fourth quarter.
Springfield Central opened the fourth with a 6-0 run that included a three from Josiah Green (nine points), and a bucket from Anthony Kelley (nine points), who spent most of the game battling foul trouble. With Franklin holding onto a six-point lead, Elias struck again from beyond the arc to put Franklin up 45-36.
The Panthers didn’t look back from there, closing the game on a 17-7 run to finish off a 62-43 win and to clinch a berth to the MIAA Division 1 State Final for the second year in a row.
When they arrive at the MassMutual Center on Saturday night for the state final, it will be a familiar face on the opposite bench, as the Panthers will take on the Mansfield Hornets for the third time this season to renew their rivalry on the biggest stage yet.
“It speaks to the strength of our league, both of us have gone back and forth over the past how many years, splitting games in the regular season, both guys kind of getting things done on some nights and looking much better than the other team, and then going back and having the same thing happen on the other side, so it speaks to the Hockomock and the strength of what we’re bringing to the table every night,” Neely said about playing the Hornets. “It’s kind of like Duke-North Carolina in the National Championship game, you see what you can do, and obviously, we both know each other like the back of our hands, so it will be interesting.”
“It’s a dream come true,” Edgehill said about the state final matchup. “There’s nothing better than in the regular season going then going to that Mansfield gym, and it’s going to be a different atmosphere obviously in that big facility we’re playing in, but it’s the rivalry between Franklin and Mansfield that as a kid you’re just like, ‘I want to be apart of that,’ and it shows how good the Hock is compared to other leagues.”
“That’s going to be a great game, knowing our fans are huge and their fans are huge, it’s going to be a great environment,” Samuels said about facing Mansfield for the third time this season.
Mansfield’s (26-2) road to the state final this year included wins over Newton South, BC High, Newton North, Brockton, and Everett.
Franklin boys basketball (23-3) beat Lincoln-Sudbury, Natick, Algonquin, and Springfield Central on their way to their second straight state final appearance.
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