Patriots Deal Franklin Second Straight Semis Heartbreak

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Franklin senior Annie Walsh was held to two goals in the Div. 1 East semifinal against Concord-Carlisle, which beat the Panthers at the same stage for the second straight season. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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WALPOLE, Mass. – It was a game that could have gone either way. Neither team led by more than two goals at any point in the game. There were four lead changes (all in the second half) and eight ties. In games that are that close, every play gets magnified and the smallest margins can be decisive.

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Concord-Carlisle took its largest lead of the game, 11-9, with 4:39 remaining in Tuesday night’s Div. 1 East semifinal at Walpole High’s Turco Field, but with 1:15 to play a turnover gave the Panthers a chance to get back within one. Stella Regan scored her second goal of the game to give Franklin (20-3) hope.

Despite losing the ensuing draw, an issue all night, and being down a player after a yellow card to senior Annie Walsh, the Panthers managed to force another turnover and regain possession inside the final minute. A foul stopped play right in front of the Franklin bench. As the players prepared to restart, one of the officials ran up and brandished a yellow card to the bench, which not only forced Franklin to remove another player, but also give up the ball.

The Patriots managed to keep the ball moving for the final 30 seconds, as the Panthers continued to chase, eventually running out the clock on an 11-10 victory and their second straight semifinal win against Franklin.

“Emotions were running high, intense game and I told them some things you can’t control and unfortunately we lost the ball again,” said Franklin coach Kristin Igoe Guarino. “They battled to the end and we all on the sidelines thought that we were going to tie this and win the draw and win the game.”

Franklin got off to the perfect start, as Walsh cut in from the right and scored with a low, lefty shot just 44 seconds into the game. That started the back-and-forth battle, as Concord-Carlisle answered two minutes later only for Kelsey MacCallum to fake out her marker, spinning back through the middle where she was found by Jackie O’Neil to make it 2-1.

Concord-Carlisle was consistently winning back and maintaining possession and putting the Franklin defense under pressure. After the Patriots scored to tie it again, they held the ball for several minutes with the Panthers holding on but failing to secure any of the ground balls that the defense was forcing.

“Its hard to win a game when you don’t have the ball,” Igoe Guarino said. “Draw controls definitely hurt us and when we did make stops or got it on the ground we couldn’t clear or made unforced errors. I think we hurt ourselves a little too much.”

While Franklin was under pressure, it held out and then took its largest lead of the night. First Erin Walsh dodged from the left side and her overhand shot had enough backspin that it bounced back over the line even after being saved. Then MacCallum went right down the middle for a lefty finish to make it 4-2.

After the Patriots got one back, Walsh smacked the bar with a free position chance and Ali Socci put in a timely stick check to deny a free position on the other end. MacCallum set up a cutting Regan in front but Natalie Slade stuck with it and made the save.

The Patriots tied the game with 3:56 left in the half but Erin Walsh was given a free position opportunity two minutes later. The junior went nearly underhand to fire an unstoppable shot just under the bar to put Franklin in front. Gianna Cameron made the lead last to halftime with a big stop in the final 30 seconds.

Concord-Carlisle came right back after the break, winning the opening two draws and scoring on both. Fallon Vaughn scored the first and assisted on the second. Vaughn nearly made it three in row but Cameron made a huge stop, getting a piece of a free position shot.

MacCallum completed her hat trick seven minutes into the half to tie the game at 6-6 and Franklin got the lead back when Regan showed great patience cutting across the front of the crease finally getting Slade to commit before firing her shot just under the bar.

A minute later and the game was tied again, but Franklin answered back with Kate O’Rourke using an Annie Walsh screen to get space down the middle and went high-to-low on her shot. The Panthers got the ball back to try and extend the lead to two, but an unforced error gave the ball back to the Patriots, who promptly scored.

“We didn’t have the ball a lot, so we couldn’t establish a rhythm on offense and our dodgers could never get going and couldn’t find space,” igoe Guarino explained. “They played excellent man-to-man, seven-on-seven ‘D’ and were very packed in and we just couldn’t find our space and finish our opportunities.”

That was the start of a run for Concord-Carlisle, which scored three times in a row to build the lead out to 11-9. Franklin had chances to cut into the deficit but Slade (six saves) came through with a series of stops, once each from Walsh and O’Rourke and twice from MacCallum.

“We felt like we didn’t have the ball a lot so when we did get it it was like, let’s go,” Igoe Guarino said about the uncharacteristic issues finishing. “We didn’t take all our best shots or we had an unforced error and that makes you feel like I have the ball so I have to shoot again as soon as you get it. I don’t think we were fully ourselves on the offensive end.”

Franklin continued to push, never giving in until the final whistle, but for the second straight season it will be the Patriots that advance to take on top seed Walpole in the sectional final.

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Panthers Power Past Wellesley In Tournament Opener

Franklin softball Kate Fallon-Comeau Anna Balkus
Franklin head coach Kate Fallon-Comeau waves Anna Balkus home in a game against Wellesley. (Peter Raider/HockomockSports.com)

By Joe Clark, HockomockSports.com Contributor

FRANKLIN, Mass. — In a preliminary round matchup in MIAA Division One South tournament the 11th-seeded Franklin softball team played a near-flawless game, shutting out #22 Wellesley with a convincing 11-0 win.

After allowing a one-out single in the top of the first inning, Panther starter Jackie Cherry (4.1 IP, 1H, 5K) was lights out and didn’t allow another Raider hit while she was in the game.

Meanwhile, Franklin wasted little time to get its offense in gear. In the bottom of the first, Anna Balkus reached on a bunt single and came home two batters later on an RBI triple by Sarah Jackson.

Franklin struck again in the bottom of the third, this time for five runs as it sent nine batters to the plate. Ally Shea led off with a single and Balkus followed with a base hit. Maddy White grounded into a fielder’s choice, but with runners on first and first, Gabby Colace came through with an RBI single and Tara Hartnett did the same in Franklin’s next at-bat.

Cherry helped her own cause with a two-run single to center to put the Panthers up 5-0. Kylie Bouzan reached on an infield single, but the late throw to first was high, which allowed Cherry, who advanced to third on the single, to score.

“Attack…if you see a good pitch, hit it,” said Franklin manager Kate Fallon-Comeau on her team’s strategy at the plate.

In the bottom of the fourth, Franklin once again sent nine batters to the plate and scored another five runs. The script was similar to the prior inning, as both Shea and Balkus reached on singles, and White came through with a single. A throwing error scored Shea, and Jackson got her second RBI of the night as she singled to score Balkus. Colace brought home White with another single, and Cherry picked up her third and fourth RBI with another base hit.

Franklin wasn’t done hitting yet, however, as in the bottom of the fifth, Shea singled for Franklin, her third hit of the game, and also the 100th of her illustrious career at Franklin.

Cherry was replaced in the top of the fifth for Emily Valentino, who retired eight of the nine batters she faced in relief, with the lone hit being a single by MacKenzie O’Neil in the top of the sixth. Cherry and Valentino combined to allow just two hits while striking out eight.

“Both Jackie and Emily had a good day on the mound, Jackie kind of settled in after the first inning, really shut them down and Emily came right in and picked up where Jackie left off so it was nice to see,” Fallon-Comeau said about Franklin’s pitching performance.

With the win, Franklin moves on to face #6 Braintree. That game will be played at 3:30 in Braintree on Saturday.

“We just have to do what we’ve been doing all season long, one at-bat at a time, one inning at a time, and hopefully at the end of seven, we come out on top,” Fallon-Comeau said about Franklin’s approach against the Wamps.

North Andover Knocks Off Franklin In Super 8 Opener

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Franklin’s Joe Lizotte (3-for-4) connects for a hit in the fifth inning against North Andover. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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FRANKLIN, Mass. – After getting three straight outs to leave the bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning, Franklin came to bat in the bottom half with the momentum on its side.

Trailing 5-3 to eighth-seeded North Andover, the top-seeded Panthers found themselves with a chance to potentially tie or win the game in their last at-bats. Dan Markowski led off with a double and Joe Lizotte singled. After a strikeout and a fielder’s choice put runners at the corners, Franklin had senior captain Alex Haba, the Hockomock League’s batting champion and MVP, at the plate.

On a 1-1 count, Haba swung and missed for strike two and senior Scott Elliott, who reached on the fielder’s choice, sprinted and slid into second safely for a stolen base to put the tying run on second base. But before the Elliott could dust off the dirt, the home plate ump signaled for interference at the plate and called the third out, leaving the Panthers at a loss in an opening round matchup of the MIAA Super 8 tournament.

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“There’s never one pitch, one swing, one call, one play that defines a game,” said Franklin coach Zach Brown. “The Super 8 is nine innings, 27 outs, and there’s a million opportunities in that game for us to execute better and change the outcome. Yes, I would have liked to have seen that sequence play out with runners at second and third and the league MVP at the plate. I definitely would have liked to have see that play out but that’s not the reality of the situation.

“We’re going to continue to just keep grinding and I certainly feel like we have the ability to dig back in, play good baseball, get back on winning track, and make a run at it.”

While the questionable final call got the majority of the attention, Franklin’s miscues defensively hurt equally as much. The Panthers made two errors in the fifth inning and the Scarlet Knights scored three runs to take a lead that it never relinquished. The visitors tacked on an earned run in the sixth inning and took advantage of walks, steals, and a wild pitch in the seventh to score again.

Both starters had to work around trouble in the first. Franklin junior Brennan Rivera (6IP, 5R 2ER, 5H 3BB, 6K) worked around a two-out walk after striking out the first two batters of the game. North Andover’s Sebastian Keane (7.1IP, 3ER, 8H, 2BB, 1HBP), who was drafted earlier in the day by the Boston Red Sox, allowed hits to Elliott and Haba but got back-to-back outs to prevent any harm.

“Brennan has done a great job for us all year and we’re really proud of his effort today,” Brown said. “He certainly set a great tone and gave us a chance. When he’s on the hill, we’re a confident baseball team. I thought he did a great job getting us to that point in the game. If we make a play here or there for him, maybe the score is a little bit different but we need to move forward and can’t look back. We can learn from it and move forward.”

While Rivera settled into a groove — retiring 11 straight between the first and fifth innings — the Panthers’ offense got to Keane again in the third inning. Joe Lizotte singled from the nine-hole, Jack Nally walked, and Elliott reached on a bunt single up the third base line. Haba drove in the opening run but grounded into a double play and Keane got a strikeout to strand a runner at third.

“We tried to do a lot of things, like shortening the distance with everything and using Major League equivalencies to try and simulate the type of velocity,” Brown said of preparing for Keane. The Panthers had eight hits against him. “Sebastian is a special talent and he’s a great competitor. I’m really proud of our guys, that fought hard and scraped and clawed, and certainly didn’t make it easy on him.”

North Andover got its first hit of the day with one out in the fifth off the bat of Brett Dunham, a single into left. Rivera got a strikeout for the second out but an infield throwing error allowed Justin Connolly to reach and extend the inning. A walk loaded the bases and John McElroy roped a single into left field. The ball eluded the Panther fielder, allowing all three runs to come in and McElroy took third. Rivera stranded the runner there with a fly ball to right.

“We extended a couple of innings where they scored some runs but we never get upset about physical mistakes because our guys are playing hard and aggressive,” Brown said. “I’ll never be upset about a physical mistake, that’s part of the game, those will happen. As long as the mentality is aggressive and guys are playing the game the right way, I have no problems with it. A couple of balls found us in some weird spots but we’ve been pretty sound all year. But there were some times we shot ourselves in the foot.”

Keane reached with a one-out single in the top of the sixth and moved to third on a single from Trevor Crosby. Franklin got the second out with a shallow fly ball caught by Nally in center but Erik Whitehead delivered a two-out grounder up the middle to bring another run to make it 4-1.

A leadoff walk in the top of the seventh forced Brown to go to the bullpen. Tom Finn earned a walk against the bullpen and both runners advanced with stolen bases. A wild pitch allowed John McElroy to scamper home to push the lead to 5-1.

Franklin junior Will Pacheco (2IP, 0R, 0H, 0BB) entered the game in relief with runners on the corners and kept the Panthers’ chances to come back alive with a strong outing. Pacheco induced a fly ball to third, senior catcher Jake Macchi gunned a runner down at second trying to steal, and a grounder to Haba at short ended the threat.

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A perfect top half from Pacheco set Franklin up for success in the bottom half. Nally was hit by a pitch to lead off and Elliott followed with a single. Macchi smacked a one-out single to right to bring both runners in to make it 5-3 and give Franklin some life, knocking Keane from the game. A two-out single from JB Floris put runners at first and second but a fly ball to left was caught for the third out.

Liam Dailey (1IP, 0R, 2H, 1BB, 2K) took over the mound for the Panthers and a pair of singles sandwiched around a walk loaded the bases with no outs for the Scarlet Hawks. But Dailey buckled down, getting back-to-back strikeouts before a fly ball to right field ended the threat.

Franklin baseball (21-2) drops in the Losers (1-Loss) Bracket of the Super 8 tournament and will play the loser of the BC High/Lowell game (Friday) on Saturday at Campanelli Stadium in Brockton with a time to be announced.

Franklin Powers Past Mansfield in Playoff Opener

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Matt Lazzaro (4) goes behind his back to score one of his seven goals on Tuesday night in a big win over league rival Mansfield in the tournament opener. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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FRANKLIN, Mass. – Franklin entered the postseason with just two losses (both in double overtime) and with its highest-ever seed (No. 2). The Panthers rolled through a perfect league campaign, going 10-0 in the Hockomock, while compiling both the league’s best attack and its stingiest defense.

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So, all the pressure was definitely on the Panthers when they opened up the state tournament at Pisini Stadium on Tuesday night against division rival Mansfield. The Hornets were playing with house money, having won the final three games of the regular season to qualify for the playoffs and having lost to Franklin by 20 goals a month ago.

When Jake DiSangro scored with just under six minutes left to go in the opening quarter, cutting the Franklin lead to 2-1, the Hornets bench exploded and there was a fleeting moment where an upset seemed possible.

But, the Panthers responded with two goals in 29 seconds and rattled off seven straight goals to close out the quarter with a 9-1 lead. Franklin never looked back, going up by 14 at halftime, and, despite Mansfield scoring the game’s final five goals, comfortably advancing to the second round with a 19-8 victory.

The combination of junior attackers Jake Davis and Ben Greco and sophomore Matt Lazzaro proved especially potent again for the Panthers on Tuesday. Greco and Lazzaro are cousins and Verrochi said they refer to Davis as “the third cousin.” That familiarity was on display as they combined for 16 of the team’s 19 goals and added 11 assists as well.

“They’ve been playing together since they were young kids,” Verrochi said of his attacking trio. “They just really respect one another and they just do a real nice job moving the ball. It’s just fun to watch when they’re on.”

Davis got things going just about a minute into the game with a rip from the left side under the bar. Ninety seconds later, Greco found Lazzaro cutting through the middle and he went behind-the-back to double the early lead. DiSangro answered four minutes later with Mansfield’s first, managing to beat Franklin goalie Will Davis with a shot while being knocked to the ground.

That goal seemed to spring Franklin to life.

Jacob Alexander, the newly-selected league MVP, won the ensuing face-off and quickly got the ball to Greco, who fed Lazzaro for a goal. Mansfield’s momentum lasted all of eight seconds. Twenty-one seconds after that Greco to Lazzaro made it 4-1.

Lazzaro (seven goals and three assists) hit a cutting Davis (seven goals and two assists) not once, but twice to add to the advantage. Greco (two goals and six assists) took one himself, squeezing past the Mansfield defense and beating goalie Joe Plath (11 saves) from a tight angle. Owen Kielty took a hit but still got a lot on a shot from distance to make it 8-1 and then Nitin Chaudhury wound up in traffic for a ninth just before the end of the quarter.

“We tried to slow them down,” said Mansfield coach Tim Frias. “We implemented a zone a little bit to slow down the high-powered offense but they’re good. They’re No. 2 for a reason.”

Despite Mansfield’s switch to a zone defense, Franklin figured out ways to manufacture space and the ball movement continued to open up scoring chances.

“The kids solved the zone pretty well,” said Verrochi. “They were ball watching and we were fortunate to get some good, open looks. Ben Greco, he’s been doing it all year, our fast breaks, our unsettled situations, the kids just move the ball. This is probably the best ball movement from any team we’ve had.”

The Hornets started the second man-down, but managed to end the Panthers scoring run. Connor Quirk beat two Panthers on the far side trying to clear after a timeout and then he raced all the way on goal before tucking it away.

Chaudhury found Davis with his hands free for a rocket into the corner to get the hosts going again. Davis added a side-arm effort off a turnover and then assisted on Lazzaro’s fourth. With just under five minutes left in the half, Patrick Morrison scooped a ground ball in his defensive third and raced forward on the break to find Greco alone in front for his second. Eleven seconds later, Greco to Lazzaro worked again to make it 14-2.

Lazzaro scored his sixth and Tim Kolb got his first to put the Panthers up by 14 heading into the break. Nico Holmes won the face-off to start the third and powered towards goal, flicking a pass to Brady Kessler for the goal to make it 16-3. Davis added two more and Lazzaro one to push the lead to 19-3, Franklin’s largest of the game.

The Hornets didn’t stop at that point and they pushed to win the final 16 minutes of the game. Aidan Sacco got it started with a goal with 3:57 left in the third and, after a Holmes face-off win, Mansfield got a goal from Brian Rockwell.

Mansfield (8-9) would shut out Franklin in the fourth. Holmes got a goal straight from the face-off to start the quarter, Sacco assisted on a goal by Thomas Norton, and Holmes (two goals and two assists) completed his four-point night with a rocket from long-range.

“That’s all you can ask out of a team is play with pride,” said Frias. “In the second half it was the little things that you hope you take away and can build on that. Hopefully we will.”

Franklin (17-2) advances to take on No. 7 seed Natick on Thursday night.

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Franklin Runs Past Rocketeers In Playoff Opener

Franklin girls lacrosse
Franklin continued its dominance against Hockomock League teams, rolling to a 20-1 victory over North Attleboro in the first round of the playoffs. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

By Joe Clark, HockomockSports.com Reporter

FRANKLIN, Mass. – The first round of the MIAA Division I East Tournament pitted two Hockomock League opponents against each other in #2 Franklin and #15 North Attleboro. Franklin took the first matchup between the two on April 10th, and history repeated itself on Monday afternoon at Pisini Field in Franklin, as the Panthers won by a score of 20-1.

Franklin got off to a quick start, with Kelsey McCallum netting the Panthers first goal less than a minute into the game. Stella Regan followed that up with a goal of her own a few seconds later, and then Kenzie Baker (five goals) scored three straight goals to put Franklin up 5-0 less than five minutes into the game. Franklin’s quick start could be attributed to their success on the draw, as they won 21 out of the 24 total draws.

“We always want to come out hard and set the tone early, starting with draws, we’ve been really working on that in practice, just winning draws and the ground ball battle and then taking care of our shots, and we definitely did that today,” said Franklin coach Kristin Igoe Guarino about her team’s start.

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The rest of the first half was all Franklin, as the Panthers scored another five goals within eight minutes to increase the lead to 10-0 with 12:16 to go in the first. It could’ve been a larger lead for Franklin if it weren’t for a great save with 14:39 to go by North Attleboro goalie Faith Graveline.

Erin Walsh scored back-to-back goals for the Panthers to go up 12-0, before Hailey Toolin and Kate O’Rourke got on the board to extend Franklin’s lead to 14-0. North had a great scoring opportunity with 5:15 to go in the first half, but a nice save by Franklin’s Gianna Cameron kept them off the board. Jackie O’Neil scored Franklin’s last goal of the first half with 3:50 to go which put Franklin up 15-0.

Franklin would extend their lead to 17-0 early in the second half off goals from O’Neil and Baker, but North would then get on the board with just over fifteen minutes to go in the half. Franklin closed out the game with another three goals to finish out the game and come out with a commanding 20-1 win.

With the win, Franklin moves onto the quarterfinals to face #7 Hopkinton, who beat Bishop Feehan 12-8 in the first round on Tuesday to move on. Franklin played Feehan in their last regular season game and squeaked out a 10-8 road win. Hopkinton entered the postseason with a 12-6 record.

“They’re definitely tough, they’re well-coached, we haven’t seen them this year, but I know they have solid players and a solid team, so we have to focus on ourselves, be ready, but I think it’s gonna be a good game,” Igoe Guarino said about the Panthers’ next opponent.

#1 Franklin will host #7 Hopkinton at Pisini Field in Franklin at 4:00 on Thursday.