Not this year.
The Panthers clawed back from an early deficit, took their first lead in the fourth quarter and came up with a big defensive stop in overtime to get the 67-64 win to claim the program’s first ever D1 Central Sectional title.
“It feels great,” said Franklin head coach CJ Neely. “A lot of people were saying we can’t beat St. John’s, we hear it everywhere. I down play it as much as possible, we didn’t want to focus on one team too much. We waited until we had them on the schedule then we focused on them. I think every year it’s been a pretty good battle, I don’t think we were ever dominated but it’s nice to be on the right side of things for once.”
Franklin will play Springfield Central (West sectional champion) on Tuesday, March 14th at the DCU Center at 7:30.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said senior Josh Macchi, who was apart of the team’s last two losses to the Pioneers. “Coming off those two losses, they stung a lot. We felt like in both games we didn’t play our best and we thought they were both games we could have won. Tonight, to have to come in and grind it out and get it done, even having to go into overtime and play to the last second. It was unbelievable.”
After missing on a chance at the end of regulation, the Panthers headed to overtime with the Pioneers tied at 60-60.
SJS took the early 62-60 lead before Macchi (18 points, 11 rebounds) hauled in an offensive rebound and converted the put back halfway through the overtime period.
Franklin grabbed a defensive rebound after a missed three from the Pioneers, setting up Panther freshman Chris Edgehill (16 points) for a big moment. The rookie took a pass from Macchi, pulled up and drained a three late in the shot clock, giving Franklin 65-62 edge with just over a minute to play.
Sophomore Jalen Samuels (15 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) came away with a steal but Edgehill’s transition three came up empty with 40 seconds to play.
SJS answered with a pair of free throws to get within one and then fouled the Panthers. However, Franklin missed the front end of a one-and-one to give the Pioneers possession, down 65-64, with 13.8 left.
“I told them this game is about stops and defensive rebounding,” Neely said of the timeout before the next play. “I told them I was wicked excited that we’re in a one point game and all we needed to do was get a stop and a rebound and this game was ours. We talked about it all week, we talked about that being the game plan so let’s see if we can do it. The kids got it done.”
Samuels came up with a big block at the rim when St. John’s drove to the basket to try to take the lead. On the ensuing play, with 5.9 seconds to play, the inbounds pass went over the head of its intended target, with Edgehill tracking down the loose ball. He was fouled with 1.4 to play.
The freshman then hit both free throws and SJS’s last second chance – a heave to just over half court and a turnaround three – came up short, giving the Panthers the win.
“The moment just came to me,” Edgehill said. “On the three, teammates found me the ball. I think I got lucky on the turnover. I was in the right spot, someone just tipped it and read it and went and grabbed it. Those are the moments I like to be in. I like to be at the free throw line, up one, with just over a second to play.”
— Ryan Lanigan (@R_Lanigan) March 11, 2017
— Ryan Lanigan (@R_Lanigan) March 11, 2017
— Ryan Lanigan (@R_Lanigan) March 11, 2017
While the finish was want Franklin wanted, the start of the game was far from ideal for the Panthers.
St. John’s Shrewsbury raced out to a 9-0 lead just over two and a half minutes into the contest. Franklin was able to cut the deficit to five — 16-11 — by the end of the first quarter.
“We knew it was obviously a letdown to go down 9-0 but we just stuck with it,” Macchi said. “We knew that both teams would have their runs, that was theirs. We just had to play together, get tougher on the defensive end and we just came out and grinded. This team’s unity is unlike any other teams and that’s not a jab at the past teams, it’s just this year is on another level.”
The Pioneers quickly stretched the lead back to nine early in the second quarter (20-11) but a 10-3 run from Franklin brought Franklin right back into the contest (23-21) midway through the second quarter.
However, SJS rattled off a 7-0 run to get back up 30-21. Franklin hit back with a 6-0 run to make it a one possession game but an errant pass was picked off and SJS converted a layup at the halftime buzzer to take a 32-27 lead.
“Our team motto focuses a lot on hard work,” Neely said. “I think the resiliency of the guys showed, going down 9-0 early. But the kids don’t go away. They care about each other deeply, beyond the basketball court. It’s more than just coming in and playing basketball for a couple of hours, they’re friends with each other, they care about each other. When they went down, they talked to each other and they figured it out. We knew it’d be loud and I wouldn’t be able to call plays every time so the five guys on the court had to figure it out. They stayed true to each other and I’m proud of them.”
The Panthers trailed by either three or five points for the majority of the third quarter. Finally, with two minutes to play a drive from Samuels tied the game at 40. Hunter Gorgas put SJS back ahead but Connor Peterson (eight points) responded with a basket of his own. Robert Duquette drained a three to put the Pioneers back ahead but Franklin senior James Hanlon came off the bench to score off a nice post move, cutting the deficit to one (45-44) heading into the fourth.
Gorgas hit two free throws but Edgehill responded with a triple to tie the game early in the final period. The Panthers’ first lead came with 6:35 to play in regulation on a three point play from Macchi, who went up and under and converted while being fouled. He hit the free throw to make it 50-47.
SJS’s Alex Bradley cut it to one but Peterson got one right back. After a miss from Franklin, Steven Bucciaglia drained a three to tie the game with four minutes to play.
Two free throws from Edgehill preceded a missed three from SJS and then two points from Peterson to make it 56-52.
Tyler Mola (22 points) responded with traditional three point play for the Pioneers, who got the ball back after taking a charge. Mola then drained a three with just over two minutes to play to put SJS back up 58-56.
Franklin missed on the other end but Macchi was there for the offensive rebound and hit the put back to tie the game at 58.
Mola once again came up big for the Pioneers, hitting a tough layup to make it 60-58. Franklin had a turnover but forced a double dribble by the Pioneers to get the ball back.
Samuels used a strong take to the left to tie the game with just under a minute to play.
“If you didn’t see it in the book before the game, you probably wouldn’t think Chris is a freshman and Jalen is a sophomore,” Macchi said. “They’re playing at an upperclassman level right now and they’re helping us a lot right now. We trust them with the ball at any time and that’s how this team is, we have a lot of trust in each other.”
The duo of Edgehill and Samuels combined for 28 points in Franklin’s playoff opening win over Acton-Boxboro, 20 points against St. Peter Marian and then 31 points in the section final against the Pioneers.
“Those two guys have been huge all playoffs,” Neely said. “All three games that we’ve played, it’s really been those two guys taking the lead. Both games before this they hit the big shots. You can see Chris isn’t afraid of the big shot, which is what we talked about in the locker room. We told them if they wanted to win the game, they had to take it…no one is going to give it to you. You can’t wait for missed shots, you have to go find it.”
Edgehill, who started the season on the bench, was quick to credit a teammate for how far he’s come this season.
“The team definitely helped me through the season, going from the bench to the lineup,” Edgehill said. “I want to thank Jack Rodgers, he works me every day in practice and makes me a better player. Props all to him, he makes me better every single day and that’s what teammates do.”
Franklin boys basketball (21-4 overall, 21-2 tournament record) will tip off against Springfield Central on Tuesday at 7:30 at the DCU Center.
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