FRANKLIN, Mass. – Franklin senior Kevin Gill can add another team to his list.
Oliver Ames, check.
Westford Academy, check.
For the third time this season, Gill was to go-to guy in crunch time and on Thursday night, his strong take to the basket with 15 seconds to play gave the Panthers a 62-60 win over Westford Academy.
“I get the ball and it just feels right,” Gill said about late game situations. “I heard coach yelling for one shot but I just saw the lane and I just took it.”
While the layup broke a tie game, it was nearly a basket that brought Franklin back from a deficit. With just over a minute to play with the game tied a 60, Franklin had an inbounds play in the offensive half, right in the corner.
The play went awry and senior Tim Prunier’s inbounds pass went straight into the hands of Westford Academy’s Nicholas Fiorillo. Fiorillo took off, racing out into a breakaway all alone on his way for a layup. What looked like a certain basket for the Grey Ghosts quickly turned into one of the best hustle plays you’ll see.
Prunier got on his horse and sprinted back on defense, getting back in time to knock the ball free from the dribble just before Fiorillo went up with it. As the ball bounced towards the baseline, Prunier lounged and dove, getting a hand to the ball and whipping it back in bounds. Gill was able to get a hand to it, deflecting it on and the Panthers were able to keep possession.
Westford Academy did not score again.
“Talk about big plays by the seniors,” a relieved Franklin coach CJ Neely said. “Tim Prunier probably saved our season by sprinting back and make that defensive play. That’s one of the best individual plays and defensive plays that I’ve ever seen. Your season, your career is on the line and that’s why he was the MVP of the league. Kevin Gill has done it time and again this year. He’s had multiple games where he’s been our guy down the stretch. We’ve been begging him to go more for his offensive and he finds the best moments to do it it seems like.”
Gill scored six of Franklin’s nine points in the fourth quarter while Prunier had a layup of his own.
“I knew it was an awful pass so it was just my instinct to get back on defense,” Prunier said. “I knew the time and the score so I knew I had to get my butt back there and do what I could do. I saw him dribble to the right and I knew I could get it. I just busted by butt and got it and then luckily I was able to stay inbounds and throw it back in and my teammates were able to recover it. I didn’t think there was anything else I could do so I went for the ball.”
“We thought the ball was going to be side out but it was in the corner, so our play was off,” Gill added. ”I don’t know what happened but his play just saved the game right there. That was incredible hustle by Tim and then he saved the ball from going out of bounds too which is insane, I don’t know how he did that.”
— Ryan Lanigan (@R_Lanigan) March 4, 2016
Franklin dominated the first half and took a 15 point lead into the locker room but a furious rally from the Grey Ghosts brought the teams level at the conclusion of the third quarter, tied 53-53.
Neither side was able to score for over three minutes of the final frame but freshman Jay Dieterle’s free throw with 4:47 put Franklin ahead again. Gill drove for two to increase the lead to three. On Franklin’s next possession, Prunier was able to get the defense to switch after a handoff from Gill and easily drove to the hoop to make it 58-53 with 3:43 to go.
But like they did in the third quarter, Westford Academy rallied back again. Jon Glidden brought WA within three but a pair of free throws from Gill pushed it back to five. Scotty Callahan floated one in the lane and Fiorillo drained a three out of an inbounds play to tie the game at 60-60 with two minutes to play.
The teams traded turnovers over a 45 second stretch in a game of giveaways before Prunier’s hustle play set up Franklin at the end.
A contested three from Dieterle with 30 seconds to go bounced off the iron but a strong effort from sophomore Connor Peterson helped the ball roll out to Gill. Gill eventually took a pass back from sophomore Paul Mahon and immediately raced around his defender and to the basket for a layup with 17 seconds to play.
Westford called a timeout with 12.3 left and ran a play to get a look at a three, but the shot bounced off the back of the rim and Peterson was able to track the high rebound as the buzzer sounded.
“We knew from experience, we’re a battle tested team,” Prunier said. “We’ve been in both sides of that situation, the team coming back and the team giving up the lead so we knew how to respond. We said we had been there before so we knew if we just kept it together we’d be fine.”
After giving up 25 points in the third quarter, Franklin clamped down defensively and surrendered just seven points in the final frame.
“We pressed a lot in the first half,” Neely said. “We backed it off a little bit in the fourth quarter and just said we’re going back to our normal defense and we’re going to rely on our shell concept and get stops. They hit some tough shots and get some offensive boards. We wanted to take away the easy baskets and make them earn everything. We did a great job of that in the first half and the fourth quarter.”
Dieterle tied his career-high with 24 points (18 in the first half) in his postseason debut to lead the Panthers while Prunier added 12 points, five steals, four rebounds and four assists. Gill had nine points and six points and four steals and Peterson added nine points and seven points.
“The younger guys are phenomenal, they have such high standards,” Prunier said. “They’re all great players. But being a senior, we knew it was coming down to the line and we didn’t want it to be our last game so we gave it all that we had.”
“We knew we had to fight for every possession, on offense and on defense,” Gill said. “We just had to grind out the game.”
Franklin boys basketball (16-5) advances to the D1 Central Semifinals for the second straight year. The Panthers are scheduled to play #7 Framingham on Saturday at WPI at 5:00.
Ryan Lanigan can be contacted at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.