By Joe Clark, HockomockSports.com Student Reporter
WORCESTER, Mass. – All season long, the Franklin boys basketball team has relied on their defense and a balanced scoring attack on their way to the top seed in the D1 Central tournament. On Sunday afternoon at WPI, Franklin stuck to that formula in a 68-54 win over #5 Natick in the D1 Central Semifinals.
The Panther’s defensive effort was in full force throughout the first quarter, as they limited the Red Hawks to just ten points to take an 18-10 lead. Franklin sophomore Chris Edgehill score seven of his team-high 19 points for Franklin, including a three that beat the buzzer to give Franklin an eight-point advantage heading into the second quarter.
After Natick’s Will Bodnitzki (nine points, three rebounds) scored with just over four minutes to go in the first half to cut the Franklin lead to 26-17, the Panthers went on a 10-2 run and didn’t give up a field goal to close out the half. Threes from Paul Mahon (13 points, two steals) and Matt Elias (eleven points) highlighted the run that also included two free throws from Jack Rodgers (six points, eight rebounds, three assists) and a basket from Will Harvey (two steals).
Jalen Samuels (13 points, ten rebounds, four assists), who sat most of the second quarter with foul trouble, scored Franklin’s first five points of the second half as he converted a layup before hitting a three on a nice assist from Rodgers.
“Jalen’s a special player when he’s going,” said Franklin coach CJ Neely about Samuels. “Not having him in the first half, luckily we were able to keep our lead for a while there, and then getting him back obviously, being a guy that can get off you on the dribble and having big guys guarding him, I think it’s hard for them to deal with a guy like Jalen.”
Late in the third quarter after two free throws from Mahon put Franklin up 51-30, Natick came storming back, going on a 9-2 run to close the quarter behind seven points from Jahden Erold (22 points, ten rebounds).
“Not our best performance in the second half, I thought our first half was Franklin basketball, the ball was moving, defense was there, rebounding was there for us, but in the second half we started to get a little careless with the ball and started getting a little whiny about the calls and soft on the glass and on defensive end of the floor,” Neely said about his team’s second half performance. “Fortunately enough for us, we were able to make enough shots to kind of survive there in the second half and get out here with a ‘W.’”
After Alexander Cohen (three points, two rebounds) made a three with 2:15 to play to cut Franklin’s lead to just eight at 60-52, Edgehill erupted for the Panthers, scoring eight points in the last two minutes of the game, including a game-clinching three with 28 seconds to play in what would be the last basket of the game.
“I think he’s certainly never been afraid of a big moment, he’s someone that wants the ball in his hands in crunch time,” Neely said about Edgehill. “He’s a great player, and I think we’re relying on him as a team a lot to get our points.”
Franklin (21-3) will face Algonquin (17-7) Friday night at 6:00 PM at WPI for the D1 Central title. The Tomahawks beat St. John’s Shrewsbury 82-70 on Sunday for the chance to play for their first sectional title since 2001.
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