FRANKLIN, Mass. – Prior to taking on Acton-Boxboro, Franklin gathered together to watch footage of the program’s only sectional title win. The players were inspired by the film of the dramatic victory over Concord-Carlisle, but those positive memories did not translate into a great start to Thursday’s Div. 1 East final at Pisini Field.
The Panthers struggled to find the cage in the first half against the Colonials and went into halftime trailing 5-2. Franklin did not panic. The players huddled together, reminded of the tough games that they have played this season, and made a couple of small changes.
“We’ve been down 12-0 before at halftime, to Westwood, and I said that to them, so 5-2 was nothing,” said Franklin coach Kristin Igoe. “And it wasn’t anything dramatic going on, it was little things that we could fix. So, we didn’t get down on ourselves.”
The Panthers turned the game on its head with five straight goals after halftime and then held on to possession for the final four minutes of the game to pull out a 7-6 victory to claim the program’s second sectional title.
“It feels amazing, my senior year, our home turf…there’s no better feeling,” said senior midfielder Kenzie Pleshaw. The recently-named Hockomock League MVP scored three goals to lead the Panthers.
Pleshaw opened the scoring after six minutes of possession by the Panthers. A-B answered right back off the ensuing draw and then, five minutes of Franklin possession later, forced a turnover and scored in transition to take the lead.
After A-B scored its third, freshman Annie Walsh scooped a ground ball in the defensive zone and started a quick break that flowed through Julia Jette up to Emily Spath, who finished to make it 3-2. The momentum did not stick with the home team, as A-B closed the half with a pair of goals, while Franklin went 10 minutes without finding the back of the net.
“I think shooting, a little bit,” said Igoe about the problems of the first half. “I think once we pushed the fast break, which we wanted to do, and we got momentum we felt more confident.”
Pleshaw was asked what the team talked about at the break. She responded, “Just come out and play like it’s 0-0. This is our field and we don’t want to go home with a loss on our own turf. We just told the girls to come out and play with heart.”
The Panthers answered the call and it was Pleshaw that gave them the spark with a goal five minutes after the break. It was a patient possession and she took multiple opportunities to probe the A-B defense before dodging past her marker and finishing on the run.
Two minutes later, Franklin burst forward in transition and Kendall Reardon caught the A-B goalie out of position to feed Spath all alone in front of the cage to make it 5-4. Walsh won the ensuing draw control and then bounced in the game-tying goal from a free position.
A-B smacked the bar with a shot in transition, but that was a rare chance for the Colonials in the second half. Dani Lonati made four saves for the Panthers and the defense, led as always by Olivia Truenow, Sam Jones, and Dana Lewandowski, stymied A-B time and time again.
“We changed up the game plan a little bit; [Julia Neyland] was doing great for them and we marked her up a little tighter and…when the other team went to goal we just crashed, no swinging,” said Igoe.
Julia Jette gave the Panthers their first lead since it was 1-0 when she finished off a pass by Caroline Lounsbury from a free position. Pleshaw raced down straight off the draw and drove to the net to give Franklin a two-goal lead with her third of the game.
Caroline Maxwell scored off an eight-meter opportunity to cut the lead back to one with 9:02 remaining, but it would be the last goal of the game.
With 3:59 remaining, the Panthers grabbed possession in front of their bench and Igoe immediately called timeout. Franklin set up a plan for the final minutes that included attempting to score another goal but A-B goalie Brenna Keefe made two big saves.
Franklin kept possession both times and Igoe called another timeout with 1:30 to go and this time it was all about the stall. She explained, “I didn’t want to completely stall with four minutes left…but we took a couple shots and their goalie made excellent saves, so after that I’m just like she’s awesome why don’t we hold the ball?”
Pleshaw admitted there were “flashbacks” to last year and the semifinal against Lincoln-Sudbury where the Panthers turned the ball over in the final minute and the Warriors scored to tie the game and then eventually won in OT.
This time, Franklin held on, swinging the ball from side to side, and pulled out the victory to set off a celebration made even sweeter by the fact it was taking place on home turf.
“We just ran our hearts out and even though we were tired it didn’t matter,” said Pleshaw. “If you had the ball, you were going to run like you were in a marathon.
“We have eight seniors who want to go far and we didn’t want this to be our last game.”
Igoe added, “I think the girls really deserve it. You’ve really got to keep pushing through in the postseason and they really did that today. No matter what the situation was…it’s just an accumulation of the season.”
Franklin (19-4) will face North champion North Andover in the state semifinal at Babson College on Monday. The teams squared off in April with the Scarlet Knights pulling out a 9-8 win.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.