Samuels, Franklin Survive Scare From Acton-Boxboro

Franklin boys basketball
Franklin sophomore Jalen Samuels goes up for a layup against Acton-Boxboro in the first half. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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FRANKLIN, Mass. – For a brief moment, it felt like top-seeded Franklin was the underdog in Thursday night’s D1 Central Quarterfinal against #9 Acton-Boxboro.

The Colonials, who had trailed for the entire game, rattled off an 8-0 run over a three minute span in the final quarter to take their first lead, 49-48, with 3:31 to play and set their large traveling fan base into a frenzy.

But order was restored over the next three minutes, with Franklin regaining control on the back of sophomore Jalen Samuels, who finished with a career-high 18 points.

After A-B took the lead on a layup from sophomore Austin Zhou (12 points), the Panthers’ offense ran through Samuels. He had two free throws chances but missed them both, only to grab the offensive board himself and earn two more opportunities from the charity stripe. He sank both of them to put Franklin ahead by one.

“We were down, they had a nice run and it got a little tense,” Samuels said. “They switched to man, I didn’t think they guy they had on me could guard me so I drove to the hoop.

“I was focused on the next two [shots]. My teammates were just telling me to take my time, take a deep breath and follow through and everything will be fine. ”

Junior Paul Mahon (12 points, three assists, three steals) hustled back to get a block on a shot from A-B’s Didier Matheier, with the loose ball hitting off his foot to give the Panthers the ball back. Samuels went right back to work, getting around his defender and finishing strong with his left at the rim to make it 52-49 with just over two minutes to play.

A-B pulled within two on a free from Zhou with just over a minute to play, setting up the play of the game from Samuels. With time ticking away on the shot clock, Samuels’ defender was a couple of steps back, almost baiting the sophomore to take the shot. The sophomore – was 1/1 from downtown so far in the game – obliged, pulling up and draining the three to make it 55-50 with 55 seconds to play.

“I think the shot clock was going down,” Samuels said. “The guy guarding me was telling me to take the shoot so I took it, made it. I surprised myself that it went in.”

A-B made it a one possession game with 30 seconds to go but was whistled for an intentional foul – giving Franklin two free throws (Mahon made one to make it 56-52) and the ball. A-B had to foul again, and Mahon hit another free throw to make it 57-52. Matt Elias and Chris Edgehill (10 points) each added a free throw late for Franklin.

“We absolutely expected a tough game,” said Franklin head coach CJ Neely. “We hadn’t seen anything like that all season, size wise. Mansfield is exceptional but they aren’t that size, our league is tough but we don’t have anyone that had that much size.

“It was toughness and tenacity, we won a lot of loose balls at the end of the game. We knew they were big, we knew they had the size advantage on us which isn’t usually something we see. They do a great job of executing, they are like a machine. If you slip up for one second, they get a layup. We tried a bunch of difference defenses on them.”

Franklin built as much as a 10-point lead in the first quarter with the help of strong defense and successful shooting from three point. Edgehill drained one from deep and Mahon hit a pair to help the Panthers to a 17-8 lead after one quarter.

The Panthers kept that lead until A-B was able to cut it down down to five with just a minute to play in the second quarter. James Hanlon responded with a free throw and Mahon added two more to give Franklin a 31-23 lead heading into halftime.

The teams combined for 23 fouls in the first half and nearly 50 in the entire game. Franklin shot 14/26 from the free throw line while the Colonials were 15/27.

“It was a consistent whistle, that’s all you can ask for,” Neely said. “You have to adjust. It’s hard to get a rhythm going.”

Samuels scored seven of his points in the final quarter.

“He hasn’t been a shooter most of the year, he’s been a little hesitant to shoot it,” Neely said of Samuels. “But at shooting drills in practice, he’s always making them. I told him one day you’ll have the confidence to let a big shot go in a game and tonight was the night. We were only up two, he hit some some big shots and he also had some great takes to the gym. When the game was on the line, he took it over. He put them under a lot of stress. It just seemed like one play after the other he was making.

“We knew Jalen had an advantage and he could get to the rim or find some shooters outside.”

Franklin boys basketball (19-4) advances to the D1 Central Semifinal for the fourth straight season. The Panthers will take on #4 St. Peter Marian on Sunday at WPI at 1:00. SPM has three common opponents with Franklin, having beat Acton-Boxboro in January, lost to Malden Catholic in February in an exclusion game and lost to Catholic Memorial in February. The Panthers had the same results against those opponents.

Second Half Rally Lifts Franklin to D1 East Title

Franklin girls lacrosse
Kendall Reardon (5) celebrates at the final whistle, as Franklin held off Acton-Boxboro to win the Div. 1 East title. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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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.