Franklin and Foxboro Girls Earn Respective State Titles

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Both the Franklin and Foxboro girls basketball team were practicing on Thursday evening when the news filtered through that both of their seasons had ended with a victory, although neither got the opportunity to complete their impressive seasons by taking the floor in a state championship game.

The MIAA announced early Thursday evening that it was canceling the state championship basketball games originally slated to be played on Saturday in Worcester out of concern for the COVID-19 pandemic. The six hockey state championship games scheduled for Sunday at the TD Garden were also canceled and the beginning of the spring season has been postponed for at least two weeks.

With the decision to cancel the finals, the teams that had reached this stage were declared co-champions. Foxboro will share the Div. 2 title with West champion Taconic, earning the Warriors a second state title in three seasons. Franklin finishes its season at 25-0 and will share the Div. 1 crown with North champion Andover, claiming the first state title in program history and widely regarded as the top team in the state.

For both teams, it is hard not feel the season’s end and the state titles were anti-climactic after the excitement of winning four or five tournament games.

“I got up at 3:30 this morning to start watching film because I didn’t know if we were going to be able to practice on Friday or if they were doing team stuff, there were just no details,” said Foxboro coach Lisa Downs. “So, I went from watching film in the middle of the night to my day job to practice and then I got the call. It was like, ‘what just happened?’ It just feels like a bad dream.”

Franklin coach John Leighton said, “They wanted to be able to get some closure and finish what they started and that will never come. They were frustrated, but they knew it might be coming. We practiced today more hopeful than optimistic.”

The players were understandably disappointed with the decision, although, as Leighton explained, there had been discussion about not having the finals for several days.

“One of the things we always talk about is ‘control what you can control’ and that’s usually fouls and effort but we talked about this all week too,” he said. “On Tuesday, the tournament director even came up to me and said, ‘Hope you get to play on Saturday.’ So we kind of had a hint that it might happen.”

Downs was grateful that her team was at least able to experience playing at the TD Garden, after being denied that chance because of a snowstorm during the 2018 state title season.

“I think it would’ve been so much worse if we hadn’t gotten to play at the Garden,” she said. “Yesterday I thought, okay we’re probably going to be playing in an empty gym, which sucks but at least they get to play the game. The girls don’t understand, you know, they’re 17-year-old kids. They’re just like, ‘They can take everyone’s temperature.’”

Franklin was start-to-finish the top-ranked team in the state. The Panthers made history last year by reaching the state semifinal, but came out this winter with renewed focus and raced through an unbeaten season, which included wins over D2 champion Foxboro, D1 South champion, Bridgewater-Raynham, and D4 champion Cathedral.

“We became really hard to beat,” said Leighton. “They were always hungry to get better Even last game, when we walked off the court they weren’t super happy. They knew it wasn’t their best game and they couldn’t wait to go play another.”

The state championship run was also the coronation of senior center Ali Brigham’s career with the Panthers. She finished as the top scorer in not only the program’s history, but the school’s history as well. Leighton credits the George Washington-commit with raising the profile of the program and making them into a perennial state power.

Leighton said, “She’s changed the program. The expectation of the kids who are going to come play basketball at Franklin has changed. She chose to stay all four years. That was selfless of her and her play this season was selfless. It says a lot about who she is as a kid.”

Foxboro finished the season 24-2 and on a 15-game win streak, which included a difficult run through the South sectional, knocking off Pembroke (which beat the Warriors in last year’s semifinal), Old Rochester, and Hingham. Defense was the key, as Foxboro allowed the second-fewest points per game in the league this season (37.6) and bettered that average in the playoffs (36.8).

“I don’t want everything ending so abruptly to overshadow that these girls were able to go 24-2,” said Downs. “From last year getting pummeled in the semifinal and having basically the same group of girls and getting progressively better throughout the course of the season. In postseason, you could see they were where you’d want a team to be. We had just so many pieces to the puzzle that we haven’t had in other years.”

Due to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, neither Foxboro’s or Franklin’s season ended with the trophy and celebration at center court that typically follows winning a state championship, but both teams will be able to add another state title banner to their programs’ legacies.

Foxboro Wins Battle in Paint to Secure Spot in Final

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Foxboro senior Yara Fawaz dribbles past a North Reading defender in the second half at the TD Garden. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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BOSTON, Mass. – In 2018, on its way to a state title, a snowstorm kept Foxboro from playing the state semifinal at TD Garden. Instead, a dramatic comeback against Pentucket took place at Woburn High. On Wednesday night, the Warriors had another opportunity to reach the final and this time got to play under the Garden’s bright lights.

This time, there was none of the drama from 2018. Foxboro allowed only two points in the first quarter, led by double digits at halftime, and rolled to a 52-35 victory over North champion North Reading to reach the state championship game for the second time in three years.

“Honestly, for the most part, I was like these lights are really bright,” senior Shakirah Ketant joked about the experience of playing at the Garden. “There were a couple times where I went up for a rebound and was like, I can’t see anything, but overall it was a really good experience. The court was amazing and all our fans coming out, just a great feeling.”

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While the lighting may have been different, it didn’t slow down Ketant, who recorded another double-double and dominated the paint on both ends of the floor. She finished with a game-high 16 points and 17 rebounds and added a pair of blocks, two assists, and two steals.

When asked about her strong play this postseason, Ketant replied with a smile, “How hard we work in practice and Coach [Brian] Brown just constantly being on us to be big, be big and us giving it our all going up strong for a board and going to the basket. We work on it every single day in practice, clearly it’s paying off.”

Foxboro got off to a perfect start, as Yara Fawaz (six points, three assists, and three steals), Katelyn Mollica (nine points) knocked down a jumper, and Ketant got two from an offensive rebound for a 6-0 lead. On the other end, the Warriors held North Reading scoreless for nearly six minutes.

“They have some quick guards, but we were able to keep some different girls, different legs on [Alexandria Grasso],” Foxboro coach Lisa Downs explained. “So many turnovers in that first quarter. I think it was just so much anxiety, get the kinks out a little bit on the Boston Garden floor. It all came back to defense because our shots were not going in tonight.”

After the Hornets finally got on the board, Lizzy Davis (five points, seven rebounds, and five assists) got to the rim for a pair and Ketant added two more with a basket off a Davis pass.

Leading 10-2, Foxboro got its offense going in the second quarter to build the lead to 12 by halftime. Mollica answered a North Reading three with one of her own and then found Fawaz for a bucket off an inbounds play. Ketant scored four points in the second and also assisted on a couple of mid-range jumpers for Abby Hassman (10 points and 12 rebounds).

“If it’s not falling on the outside, then we have to work inside then out and as we started working it inside they started doubling us down, packing the middle, and then we started kicking it out and started getting some open looks,” said Ketant.

It really felt like the Warriors could score at will in the post. “That was the plan,” said Downs. “Their guards were very aggressive, scrappy, so if we were able to get it in then we would try to use our size and our athleticism in the paint.”

The lead grew to as many as 21 points in the third quarter, as Foxboro continued to find holes in the North Reading defense. Hassman scored the first six points of the third for the Warriors, including a jumper after Fawaz grabbed an offensive rebound to keep a possession alive.

“That’s what she is so good at and I think she was just questioning herself in the first quarter,” Downs said of Hassman. “She wasn’t quite as smooth as she usually is. Once she got one in, I knew she’d find her rhythm.”

Davis buried a straightaway three, Jordyn Collins (six points) knocked down a short jumper, and Ketant added four more points (both baskets coming off Fawaz assists) to close out the quarter.

Foxboro led 44-24 heading into the fourth, but the Hornets wouldn’t go away easily. Lauren Sullivan (team-high 14 points) went on a personal 8-2 run, burying a pair of deep threes, and pulled North Reading within 14.

That would be as close as the North champs could get. Collins scored with a drive to the basket, Ketant grabbed yet another offensive rebound for two more, and Mollica capped the win with a layup in transition.

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“I think it was such a team effort,” Mollica said. “Everyone contributed on defense and offense and that’s huge. It helped us win the game.”

She added, “This whole season we’ve been saying make it to the Garden and let’s see what happens. We finally got here. It feels amazing to be back to have another shot at a state championship.”

Foxboro (24-2) will face Taconic, the West champion, in the state championship game on Saturday in Worcester at a time and location yet to be announced.

Foxboro Wins South Title With Second Half Comeback

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Foxboro’s bench celebrates after a fourth quarter basket against Hingham in the D2 South Final. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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TAUNTON, Mass. – It looked like the game was about to get away. Hingham went on a 12-5 run to start the third quarter and pushed its lead to double digits in Saturday morning’s Div. 2 South final at Taunton’s Rabouin Field House. Foxboro’s season was on the brink.

Experience took over. Foxboro has been in this position before, having reached the South final three out of the last four years, and a lineup filled with upperclassman turned around the 11-point deficit by locking down on the defensive end and grinding out possessions on offense.

After scoring 29 points through 19 minutes, Foxboro rallied with 28 points over the final 11 and held Hingham to only 10 points in that stretch. The Warriors turned a 40-29 Hingham lead into a 57-50 victory and claimed another South title.

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“We faced something like this before two years ago when we won the championship,” said senior forward Yara Fawaz, referencing a 20-point second half comeback against Pentucket in the 2018 state semifinal. “I think we just had to keep our composure both on defense and offense. We played as a team and it turned into a great win.”

Junior guard Katelyn Mollica added, “It’s really important in these kind of games to never stop fighting. It’s just so important to keep hitting those shots, keep fighting on defense. I know most of my team is older, so we’ve all kind of been there in this position and it’s really helpful having that past experience.”

Hingham only made two shots from the field over the final 11-plus minutes, but in the first half the Harborwomen showed the shot-making that got them to the final. Caroline Connelly was controlling the glass, grabbing 12 of her 16 rebounds in the first half, and had four points in the first quarter. Perry Blasetti had eight points in the first, including a pull-up three that put Hingham up 14-11 after one.

The Warriors were struggling to find a rhythm offensively in the early going. Mollica hit her first three and Fawaz had four points in the first, including a steal and layup and then basket off a Lizzy Davis assist to tie the game at 9-9. Hingham pushed the lead to as many as five twice in the second quarter, but each time Foxboro battled back.

Shakirah Ketant got her first four points in the second and also assisted on a Jordyn Collins jumper that cut the Hingham lead to 25-22. After Fawaz got two at the line, Foxboro was back within one, but then Grace Bennis got free for a deep three at the buzzer (her only made field goal in the game) to make it 28-24 heading to the locker room.

“Fortunately I have a whole bunch of seniors who a year ago would have absolutely crumbled and they just knew that they’re resilient and they just focused on the next basket,” said Foxboro coach Lisa Downs. “I knew that if we went into halftime within a basket or two that we were going to win the game because we’re a second half team.”

The momentum from that shot seemed to carry over into the second half.

Ryley Blasetti (13 points) got to the basket for an and-one and Connelly (nine points) grabbed an offensive board for a three-point play that pushed the lead to 11. Mollica (17 points) answered with a drive for two, but a pair of free throws by Perry Blasetti (14 points) made it 40-29.

Fawaz (11 points) gave the Warriors a little life by snagging an offensive rebound in traffic and kicking it out to Mollica for a three. It was the start of a 13-1 run to close out the third quarter. With Foxboro back within four, Fawaz got a steal at one end and then finished off a nice pass from Morgan Sylvestre to make it 40-38.

The Warriors had been dominated on the glass for the better part of three quarters but another offensive rebound, this time from Mollica, led to an open jumper from Sylvestre to tie the game. Hingham got one at the line to regain the lead, but Ketant (13 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks) got on the glass for two of her seven third quarter points and a 42-41 lead heading to the fourth.

Foxboro was in serious foul trouble in the second half. Abby Hassman picked up her fourth with 5:24 left in the third and just 20 seconds later Davis got her fourth as well. Ketant and Collins both got their fourth fouls in the fourth quarter.

But, the Warriors kept making plays on both ends and Hingham shot just 5-of-10 at the line in the final quarter. Ketant buried a jumper off a Collins feed to make it 44-43. After Hingham came back to lead 48-46 on a Ryley Blasetti floater, Collins got an open look off a Hassman rebound and dish to tie the game again.

“Every shot they had had to be a contested one and they had to really earn it,” said Downs about the defensive effort. “They’re a fantastic team and if they got into a shooting rhythm we’d be in trouble, so we just had to have a hand up on every shot.”

Mollica put the Warriors in front to stay with a runner on the baseline and Foxboro went 9-of-10 at the line in the final stretch to seal the win. Mollica and Davis were both a perfect 4-for-4 in the fourth quarter. Davis also drew an important charge with 18.6 on the clock and the Warriors up by five.

“I’m just so proud of them,” said Downs. “Any given day it’s going to be somebody else’s game. We have the capabilities on any given night to make sure that whoever is having a good night gets the ball. Defensively, that’s what won the game for us.”

Fawaz, who was on the bench but didn’t play the last time that Foxboro won the South, credited that experience for helping win this year’s title.

She said, “I think we just had the opportunity to play with those five seniors who were there two years ago and I think a lot of people doubted Foxboro girls basketball after that but we proved to them that we can still do it and still come back.

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“It feels awesome. We knew what we wanted to do and we did it.”

Foxboro (23-2) advances to play at the TD Garden for the first time in four years (snow moved the 2018 state semifinal from the Garden to Woburn High) and will face North champion North Reading on Wednesday at 5:30.

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Foxboro Falls To Hanover In South Semifinals

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Foxboro junior Kirk Leach skates his way through the Hanover defense in the first period. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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BOURNE, Mass. – In less than a minute late in the third period, the Foxboro boys hockey team scored the tying goal and had an opportunity to find the winner with a power play.

All of the momentum seemed to be with the Warriors.

Then the Indians used their patented quick breakout, and with four Warriors caught up in the offensive zone, Hanover had a 2-on-1 shorthanded breakaway.

Senior Ethan Davis drew the defenseman before delivering a perfectly weighted pass, finding Manning Morris all alone in front and the Hanover junior buried his bid with less than five minutes to go and the third-seeded Indians skated to a 2-1 win over #7 Foxboro in D3 South Semifinal action.

“We were right there though, we were so close getting to the next level,” said Foxboro head coach Mark Cedorchuk. “I told the guys coming back to use this as motivation. I wouldn’t be surprised if [Hanover] goes all the way which shows how close we were.”

Hanover took the lead with a goal late in the second period but the Warriors spent the third period working hard, creating chances in search of an equalizer.

As the clock ticked past the midway point of the third, it looked like Foxboro’s best chance had come and gone as senior Ronnie MacLellan drew the attention of a pair of defensemen, allowing junior Kirk Leach to latch onto the puck and fire a shot from in close only for Hanover goalie Matt Rowe to make his best stop of the game.

But Foxboro, who was making its first appearance in a sectional semifinal, didn’t dwell and the pressure continued. Another rush was knocked aside but only as far as sophomore defenseman Eoin Reager, who had pinched down into the play. He took his time gaining possession before sniping a shot into the top corner from the left circle, knotting the score at 1-1 with 5:48 to play.

“Eoin’s vision and hands are phenomenal, he just sees the ice so well and knows how to anticipate,” Cedorchuk said. “He ripped off a great shot.”

Less than a minute later, sophomore Matt Grace was brought down as he entered the offensive zone and just like that, Foxboro was staring at a 5-on-4 opportunity for the next two minutes. But it was the Indians, using the shorthanded breakaway, that found the back of the goal next.

“They transition pretty quick, our defense caught got in too low and it created an odd-man rush and that was the difference.

“But I’m just really proud of these guys, this is the most successful season we’ve had. This senior class, the character they have is fantastic, they helped lay down the foundation of where we are at today. We’ve never gone this far, and we know we can go further but it didn’t work out today. They’ve given everything we’ve asked. Espen Reager is a big reason we’re here too, he’s going to be missed.”

Espen Reager and the Foxboro defense was a big reason that the team had an opportunity to tie the game in the third period. He turned away 11 shots in the opening frame and had 13 more saves in the second period.

And in the third, Reager did his best to make sure it stayed a one-goal deficit. Just two minutes into the frame, Morris intercepted a pass and was wide open in the slot in front of goalie but was denied by Reager’s pad stop.

And the Warriors defense did its part too. The Indians had a 2-on-1 chance with 11 minutes to go but freshman Alex Coviello made a decisive sweep of his stick and prevented a shot on goal.

Foxboro still had 1:45 of its power play left after going down 2-1 and came close to tying the game again. Eoin Reager connected with classmate Jack Watts but the redirection was just wide. Senior defenseman Kyle McGinnis rifled a shot from the blue line that Rowe turned aside.

And on a one-timer off the stick of Leach clanked off the post and stayed out.

“They did a good job on the blue line,” Cedorchuk said. “We wanted to get the pucks in deeper. We were creating offense once we got it in and we got some pucks to the net but that bounce or the shot we needed didn’t happen for us.”

After an even scoreless first period, Hanover cashed in with 3:27 to go in the second period. After being denied by Reager and the Foxboro defense on a handful of bids before, the Warriors had some bad luck as a clearance attempt up the boards appeared to hit the ref and stay in.

Hanover was first to the puck and whipped it across ice to Morris, who was all alone in the left circle. He centered the puck back to Nate Delprete, who was streaking towards goal, and his redirect found the back of the net.

Foxboro had a couple of good looks through the first two periods but couldn’t get the puck across the line. Sebastian Ricketts won a battle down low and found Brady Daky in front for a one-timer that was saved early in the first period. And Watts had a pair of chances during a late power play chance but Rowe was up to the task.

And to start the second, Foxboro broke into the attacking zone with a 2-on-1 as Watts found the stick of Leach, but his bid on net was just wide.

Foxboro boys hockey finishes its best season in program history at 12-5-5.

Foxboro Rides Defense to Third Final in Four Years

Foxboro girls basketball
Senior center Shakirah Ketant (23) led the way with 13 points and nine rebounds, as Foxboro rolled to a win against Old Rochester in the D2 South semifinal. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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TAUNTON, Mass. – Offense can come and go, as every team is bound to have an off shooting night even in the playoffs, but the one common denominator for Foxboro’s run of four straight trips to the Div. 2 South semifinals has been defense.

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The Warriors put their defensive capabilities on full display again on Monday night at Taunton’s Rabouin Field House, as they held Old Rochester to just 11 points and three made baskets in the first half and held the Bulldogs under 30 points for the second time in two weeks.

Foxboro made it three South finals in four years with a 46-29 victory.

“We always say defense wins championships and we really focus on playing hard ‘D’ and trying to shut the other team down,” said senior forward Abby Hassman. “Our defense will make up for any bad shooting night we have. We’ve always had a strong defensive team [for the past four years] and I really think that’s carried us through.”

Old Rochester is a feisty defensive team as well and the Bulldogs continued to play Foxboro leading scorer Katelyn Mollica tough, limiting the junior to four points through the first three quarters and forcing an uncharacteristic amount of turnovers.

The difference between this year’s Foxboro team and the one that lost at the same stage last season is that there are other players that can produce on the offensive end. Hassman (six points, nine rebounds, and four steals) scored the game’s first four points and then dished it off for a layup from Shakirah Ketant.

After a couple of Ketant free throws, Lizzy Davis (nine points) knocked down a straightaway three and Mollica scooped in her first points of the night to make it 13-3 after one.

Logan Fernandes (eight points) hit a three to open the second quarter, but Davis answered right back with her second three of the night. Ketant then added a basket on an offensive rebound and knocked down a jumper off a Davis assist. She finished with 13 points and nine rebounds and continued to give the Warriors a different dimension in the paint.

“We just didn’t have that last year and Abby, as good as she is, isn’t a Shakirah,” said Foxboro coach Lisa Downs. “Abby is going to do her thing out there, but Shak is able to convert on a lot of those points out there.”

The Warriors only managed 10 points in the second but picked up two more points on the overall lead because they held the Bulldogs to only two made baskets in the quarter. It was 23-11 at the break.

“In the first half, I was thrilled with their defense and I thought Yara [Fawaz] and Abby worked their butts off inside the paint,” said Downs. “They were trying to get the ball inside and we made it very difficult and our help defense was there just in case they were able to lob it in.”

In the third quarter, the two teams combined to only make five shots from the floor, as defense continued to be the theme of the night. Foxboro did make 5-of-6 at the line and responded to Old Rochester’s 5-0 start to the quarter with a 5-1 run coming out of a timeout that restored a double digit lead. Jordyn Collins had one of her three steals and her only basket to cap the run.

“Last year, we would’ve just crumbled but now it’s seniors on the team, they’re able compose themselves a little better than a year ago, and able to look at the next play,” said Downs.

Hassman added, “We definitely knew that we could win it and we just had to bring it today. We just wanted to play lockdown defense the whole time and going into the second half we just needed a few more points to boost our confidence and carry it to the end.”

Any comeback hopes for Old Rochester were squashed early in the fourth, as the Warriors went on an 8-1 run to put the game away.

Fawaz started the quarter with a drive to the basket and then an offensive foul call against the Warriors was negated by a technical foul against the Bulldogs. Mollica made both at the line to make it 36-20. After the teams traded a free throw apiece, Mollica finally connected from the outside, spotting up in the corner off a Davis pass. She answered an Old Rochester bucket with a second three, scoring eight of her 12 points in the fourth.

Downs said, “The offense is going to come in ebbs and flows and everyone was a little tight I think. We can do better. You just have to win by one, so it doesn’t matter how pretty or not pretty it is, it’s just a matter of getting to the next game.

Defense continued to be the story, as Foxboro limited the Bulldogs to only three made field goals and nine points in the fourth to put the game to rest and seal a spot back in the finals.

Hassman couldn’t help but smile when it was mentioned that she has gone to the sectional final in three of her four years. “We’ve always had a really good team and it’s exciting to be a part of it. We worked really hard throughout the season and…I don’t know, it is really weird that this is normal now.”

Foxboro (22-2) will face No. 4 seed Hingham in the South final at Taunton High. The date and time of the game have yet to be determined.

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