LYNN, Mass – As she lined up the sixth minute free kick, the chant started raining down from the student section, “One Hundred, one hundred!” In the biggest moment of the biggest game so far, Kristi Kirshe delivered.
The Franklin senior forward curled 30-yard free kick off the bottom of the post and into the back of the net to give the Panthers the perfect start to the EMass Championship game against Beverly.
It also got Kirshe past the mental block of trying to reach an important career target.
“Going into the year, I knew that I needed a pretty high number of goals to get it so I just kind of took it one game at a time. Now, knowing that I got it, it’s incredible.”
More importantly for the team, Kirshe’s goal turned out to be the game-winner in a 2-0 victory that sends Franklin to its first ever state championship game.
While Kirshe (deservedly) draws most of the headlines, the state semifinal game would be decided by the Panthers defensive effort. Franklin man-marked Beverly’s junior forward Caitlin Harty with junior Julia Bireley and limited the striker, who had 50 goals on the season, to no significant chances in the game.
Franklin head coach Tom Geysen spoke after the game about how important it was to keep tabs on the Beverly attacker.
“Caitlin Harty is a great player and we marked her as tightly as possible. When she turned to the inside we tried to keep somebody coming as a second defender on her. We just kept working and working and working.”
An injury to defender and captain Stephanie Pisani forced a reshuffle for Franklin beginning with the Oliver Ames game. Kirshe was moved into a deeper role as a playmaker and to help break up attacks in the center of the park and fellow captain Grace Conley was given a freer role to snuff out dangerous situations.
The tactics paid off for the Panthers. Beverly was limited to long-range efforts and set piece opportunities. Kristen O’Connor drew several solid saves from freshman goalie Dani Lonati, including one corner kick that was just tipped over the bar.
Sophomore Taylor Cogliano had a series of chances in the 20th minute, including twice being one on one with the keeper, but each time sent the ball agonizingly wide. Ten minutes later, Colgliano finally doubled Franklin’s lead.
Rather than great offensive play by the Panthers, the goal came from a bad back pass by Beverly and Cogliano pounced. In the first few chances, Cogliano rushed but this time she rounded the keeper and dribbled the ball into the empty net.
The goal effectively ended any hope for Beverly and Franklin calmly closed out the game and ran out the clock.
Geysen marveled at his team’s willingness to keep fighting despite its youth and the pressure of playing this deep into the tournament.
“These are young kids. They believe in themselves. There’s no ‘I’ in team and they have given up everything for each other. So, they deserve to be where they are.”
Conley was thrilled at being part of the first Franklin team to make it to Foley Field for a state championship game.
“I mean, this is what we have been working for all season so we are really excited to make it this far.”
She added with an ear-to-ear grin, “We just want to go all the way, so we’re out for blood.”
Franklin will play on Friday night at 5 p.m. at Worcester State (Foley Field) in the Division 1 State Championship game against the Central champs, Nashoba.
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