FRANKLIN, Mass. – Attleboro (7-9-2) arrived at Pisini Stadium on Monday night needing a win in its season finale to clinch a postseason berth for the first time under head coach Steve Santos and first time since the Bombardiers joined the Hockomock League. Unfortunately for the visitors, they were facing a team that has made its mark this season by frustrating opposing attacks.
Franklin locked down defensively once again, recording its 11th shutout in its last 12 games (only league champion King Philip has managed to score against the Panthers in the last five weeks) and dashing Attleboro’s playoff hopes with a 2-0 victory.
The Panthers have allowed only eight goals all season, which is second best in the league, but six of those goals came in the opening five games. A lineup change, moving senior Anna Balkus to left back from her attacking midfield role, solidified that side of the field and allowed classmate Sabrina Addi to dominate in the middle. Freshman Norah Anderson and senior Sam Powderly have grown into their center and right back roles.
“We moved her to the back and she just took over and that allowed Sabrina not to have everything on her shoulders,” said Franklin coach Tom Geysen. “Being able to move Anna around and now put Sammy on the side where she feels more comfortable, on the right side because she’s right-footed, makes things a little easier. And Norah has come a long way, for a freshman she’s played very well.”
Addi did more than just limit the Bombardiers to shots from distance, she also showed off her own long-range prowess. She found the back of the net twice on free kicks from 30-plus yards, supplying the Panthers with all the scoring they would need for the night.
“She’s been doing it all season,” Geysen said of Addi’s ability on set pieces. He added, “We don’t score a lot of goals (28 in 17 games) and that’s one of the problems we have, so if we don’t play good defense then we’re in trouble.”
It was a frustrating night for Attleboro coach Steve Santos, who watched the Bombardiers claw their way into contention with a hard-fought win against North Attleboro on Sunday afternoon in the annual Blue-Red Cup match. A day later and a little banged up, especially after junior forward Isabella Salviati was forced to the bench with a rib injury, the Bombardiers couldn’t find a way past the Franklin back line.
“We played yesterday in the rain,” said Attleboro coach Steve Santos. “Everyone was coming in here a little ragged and that’s not the way you want to go into a playoff game. We battled hard. I’m proud of the team, they don’t quit. They give us everything they got left in the tank.”
Neither team was able to create many clear-cut chances through the first half. Sydney St. Marie had the first good look for the Panthers when she was played into the right channel, but Emily Antonik was able to put pressure on her and make it a comfortable save for Ashley Macia.
Franklin nearly grabbed the lead midway through the half when Carly Alston’s corner was met by Erin Quaile, but the junior midfielder’s header smack the bar and stayed out. Macia was able to scramble and cover the rebound.
Attleboro had a couple of chances late in the half, but both were shots from well outside the area. Jessica Gatesstepped past a couple of Franklin defenders to open up space, but her shot was held by Atwood. A minute later, Briley Harnois got shooting space from 20 yards and sent a shot narrowly wide of the post.
“Their defense is so stingy, so difficult,” said Santos. “No. 4 (Addi) is a rock back there. She’s hard to get through. She’s strong on the ball, she goes into tackles strong. They didn’t give us much. We knew it was going to be a close one, we knew it was going to be a battle, and we were hoping that we’d get the bounce we needed.”
The hosts came storming out of the break determined to grab the lead and not allow the Bombardiers to get the advantage that they were desperately seeking. Quaile played in Alston between the center backs but she shot early and hit it straight at the keeper. Chloe Barca whipped in a cross from the right a few minutes later that St. Marie hit first-time but again Macia was in the right position to hold on.
“Those two kids up front,” Geysen said of Harnois and Salviati, “if you make a mistake they can hurt you and that’s what I told the girls at halftime. I said that they need to stop dropping, one of you take the person who’s there and the other will be the second defender. You can’t keep dropping and giving them more space.”
Ten minutes after the break, Addi broke the deadlock with an unstoppable rocket from nearly 40 yards out. Her shot smacked the underside of the bar on its way through. Fourteen minutes after that and from the other side of the field, she went for goal from more than 30 yards and was able to slip it just past the outstretched arms of the keeper to make it 2-0.
That goal put Attleboro in the unenviable position of having to score three goals in just 16 minutes against a team that had allowed only two goals in a month and hadn’t allowed three goals in a game once this season.
The best chance for the Bombardiers came nine minutes from full time when Harnois curled a ball into the box from the near midfield. The clearance was indecisive and fell to the feet of Emily Dunlea, who drew a save out of Atwood.
Santos explained, “Today was our tournament test. It’s tough. We wanted more for this team and we’ll always look back at a couple of those games that we wish we had back, but to be playing and fighting at this time of the year, we’re playing great soccer.”
Franklin (12-4-1) will find out its tournament opponent when the draw comes out on Friday.