WORCESTER, Mass. – At the end of the first quarter in Tuesday night’s Div. 1 Central semifinal at WPI’s Harrington Auditorium, Franklin coach John Leighton brought his undefeated team together and explained that even though the Panthers had just played one of their worst quarters of the season they only trailed by six and had plenty of time to rebound.
“Holy Name is a tremendous team,” Leighton said after the game. “They came to play. I thought they got the jump on us in the first quarter, but at the end of the quarter we said okay that’s probably the worst quarter we’ve played in a very long time and we’re in the game.”
Things improved markedly in the second quarter to pull Franklin within one of Holy Name at the half and then the Panthers found their stride in the third quarter. After scoring 21 points in 16 minutes in the first half, Franklin poured in 21 points in the third quarter alone to turn a one-point deficit into a 13-point lead.
Thanks to that big third quarter, Franklin pulled out a 59-42 win over the Naps. It was the third win of the season for the Panthers against Holy Name and sends them back to the Central final for the second year in a row, this time to face Natick.
“I thought our kids calmed down and got over it and that says a lot about who they are, not panicking,” Leighton explained. “We got better looks, we moved the ball way better and got wide open shots.”
Everything started fine for the Panthers, as Erin Quaile (10 points and three steals) set up Olivia Quinn (nine points, six rebounds, and three blocks) for a jumper in the corner for the game’s first points. But, the 1-3-1 trapping zone that Holy Name threw at Franklin was causing problems. The ball almost never got into Ali Brigham in the post and the Panthers were turning it over on the perimeter.
The Naps scored six straight before Megan O’Connell (eight points and five rebounds) got Franklin’s second basket on a drive. Quinn added a basket off an Emma Sousa feed to make it 10-6, but Grace O’Gara got two more after a Tamia Nunes steal to put the Naps up six after one.
Franklin trailed by as many as eight and needed a spark on offense. Brigham got her first basket 50 seconds into the second quarter and then Quaile buried a three off a Kaleigh Houlihan inbounds pass to make it 14-11.
Nunes answered with a three on the other end but then Franklin went on an 8-0 run to grab the lead. Quinn found Brigham for a jumper, O’Connell hit two at the line, and Brigham grabbed an offensive rebound to tie it before Quinn hit a baseline jumper to make it 19-17. She answered a Holy Name basket with a put-back but the Naps scored three straight and went into halftime up 22-21.
In the second half, Franklin made sure that Brigham got touches on almost every possession. She scored plus a foul on an offensive rebound, posted up her defender on an inbound, and then added another three-point play on the glass. Brigham (nine rebounds and four blocks) scored eight of her game-high 20 points in the third.
Leighton said, “We actually tried to move the ball more and start skipping it. Once you skip it the zone has to widen out. In the first quarter they had 10 shoes inside the red paint on every possession. Once we knocked down a couple threes, at least moved the ball, they spread out and Ali was able to dive to the rim and it’s hard to stop her when she gets the ball there.”
The Panthers also used Brigham as a passer. As the Holy Name defense sank in to protect the paint, she was able to look over the top and her skip passes led to several open looks. Quaile drilled one and then on the next possession, so did Elizabeth Wilson (10 points).
“Ali did a really good job of reversing it to the open girl because they were collapsing in on her,” said Quaile. “If we can all score they can’t really just stop Ali. If they double in on Ali, everyone else around her can score too.”
Even when things broke down, Franklin found a way to score. Quaile was able to beat the shot clock buzzer with a jumper after getting stuck in possession on the wing with no open players around her. Quaile’s impact was felt even more acutely on the other end of the floor, where she showed off her tenacity, quick hands, and reading of the game to hold Holy Name star Jaini Edmonds to nine points.
“Shutting her down stops their whole offense,” Quaile explained. When asked about her strategy for trying to stop Edmonds, Quaile replied, “Just stay in front of her. If she can’t get the ball then obviously she can’t do anything but if she does get it just stay as close as I can and if she does blow by me then it helps having Ali, Liv, and Meg behind me to block it.”
Leighton was full of praise for his point guard. He said, “She’s such a unique kid. Jaini Edmonds is a legit DI stud and she ran her all over this gym. She made her work for everything and then she ran our offense. She’s not just a defensive stopper. She drove tonight, knocked down shots when we needed it, I thought she was the star of the game.”
The Naps only scored seven in the third, as Franklin dominated on both ends to build a 42-29 lead heading into the fourth. The teams traded baskets at the start of the quarter, with Brigham showing off her ability to score off the dribble and with a drop step move on the block and O’Connell finding a seam to the rim. Edmonds scored six of her nine in the fourth to try and keep it close.
As Franklin tried to use the clock and work the ball for good looks, Quinn set up Wilson for a jumper and Quaile continued to call her own number as she drove to the rim for two and a 16-point edge to sealed the win.
Franklin (23-0) will be back in the Central final on Friday night at Worcester State to face No. 8 seed Natick, which upset No. 2 seed Wachusett in overtime
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