NORTH EASTON, Mass. – Beginning the season with a relatively young and inexperienced lineup, Franklin opened with six straight losses. Given time to figure out the varsity level, the kids have turned out to be alright after all.
All 11 of the players on the Franklin roster saw time on Friday night in the first game of a doubleheader at the William F. Nixon Gym and nine of those players got on the scoresheet, as the Panthers showed off their depth to beat Oliver Ames 59-48. It was the fifth straight win and sixth in the last eight games for Franklin, which is now .500 in the league and four wins from booking a playoff spot.
“It’s a tremendous difference,” said Franklin coach John Leighton about the team’s confidence over the past few weeks compared to the start of the season. “You start 0-6 with a young team then they’re going to doubt themselves. They’re going to question things. I’m so impressed by every member of the team picking each other up and that’s lifted the confidence.”
In the first meeting with the Tigers, Franklin allowed Oliver Ames to pull away late for a double digit win. On Friday, it was the Panthers that put together a strong final quarter to turn a five-point lead into an 11-point win.
Franklin scored 17 points in the fourth, 12 of those coming at the free throw line. The Panthers shot 12-of-16 from the charity stripe and all but three of its final 14 points came from the line.
Shannon Gray, who had only three points entering the final quarter, led the way by making 5-of-6 free throws, while freshman Ali Brigham (10 points, 10 rebounds) scored on a putback and senior Carli Koffinke (team-high 13 points) knocked down one of her four three-pointers to help seal the victory.
“In the fourth quarter, Shannon Gray, who had barely scored, was attacking the rim and drawing fouls and that’s what we needed,” said Leighton. “Early it was Ali dominating and Carli scoring…I love to have that balance.”
OA was shorthanded on Friday with sophomore guard Sadie Homer sidelined with a knee injury, but the Tigers came out strong and led 14-13 after one. Senior Hannah Carroll got off to a strong start with five of her 12 points in the quarter, both baskets off assists by Kayla Raymond, who added four of her team-high 15 in the first.
Koffinke kept the Panthers in it early, burying a pair of threes off assists from Bea Bondhus and Grace McDermott. Leighton said of Koffinke, “She’s worked so hard at her shot and her game. You can see that she’s worked and if she gets a couple inches then she’s going to take it and really it’s a weapon for us.”
The defense picked up in the second for Franklin, which held OA to just eight points and grabbed a six-point halftime edge. Gray (eight points) started the second with a three off the first of Izzy Faught’s three assists in the quarter. Grace Sameski knocked one down to extend the lead and then Kate Morse (10 points, five rebounds, four assists) hit another. Carroll hit a pair from beyond the arc to keep OA hanging around.
The Panthers extended the lead to as many as 10 points in the third with Morse again providing big plays. She buried an elbow jumper and then a big three that made it 40-30.
“Cool as a cucumber,” said Leighton about Morse. “Kate’s a great three-sport athlete, but she’s really come on as a basketball player this year and I’m thrilled to have her another season.”
Brigham chipped in with four in the quarter and Koffinke knocked down another three, but Franklin could not put away the Tigers. OA battled back behind senior point guard Abby Reardon, who scored seven of her nine points in the third and assisted on a Katie Flynn transition layup.
“We’ve lost several games in this scenario where we couldn’t close out,” said Leighton. “We talked about playing more of a full game. Good possessions, hold them to one shot, make your free throws, then you can play with the lead and it’s hard to beat.”
The Panthers followed that formula down the stretch and pulled out the win. It was a total team effort, which is what Leighton thinks defines this year’s team.
He explained, “One way we’ve improved over the course of the year is exactly that. We have 11 girls, they all play and the idea is to get the open girl to take the shot and really work to make sure it’s a good shot. We really worked to move the ball a lot better the last few games.”
Franklin (6-8, 6-6) will try to keep its win streak alive on Monday with a trip to Taunton. Oliver Ames (9-5, 8-4) will look to get back on track, and clinch a tournament spot, when the Tigers travel to King Philip.
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