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.

Franklin Keeps Perfect Season Alive, Heads to First Final

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Franklin senior Ali Brigham scored 25 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to help the Panthers beat Minnechaug and advance to the program’s first ever state title game. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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WORCESTER, Mass. – When asked if the loss to Springfield Central in last year’s state semifinal game, three days short of a year before Tuesday night’s semifinal at Worcester State, was being used as motivation by his team, Franklin coach John Leighton dismissed that idea, saying that his team had already moved on.

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“None, not at all,” Leighton explained. “We moved on and buried that. We celebrated winning the sectional championship with the three seniors from last year. Otherwise, you kind of live in past glory and it doesn’t motivate you forward.”

The Panthers can continue to look forward, as they pulled out a 55-43 victory against a feisty Minnechaug, which upset Springfield Central in the West final, to advance to the first state title game in program history. At the final horn, there were smiles and some cheers, but Franklin players reacted like it was business as usual.

“It’s the farthest that Franklin has ever been,” said senior Ali Brigham. “We make it this far, we’re not going to stop now. We wanted to make it to the championship game, which we did. It feels good to be there but that was an ugly game so hopefully we’ll be a lot better in that game.”

It was far from a perfect game for the Panthers, who struggled from the perimeter, making only two threes in the game and being forced to get almost every point at the rim.

“It was just one of those shooting nights,” said Leighton. The only good thing, I think our offensive rebound rate on those was really high, so that kind of helps give the shooters confidence that even if it’s not going we’re still creating offense. They’re good threes, I didn’t think we were chucking up the first shot, they just didn’t fall.”

Of course, having Brigham in the middle means that the Panthers cane find plenty of success going into the paint. The senior center finished with a game-high 25 points, 16 rebound, and three blocks. She got considerable help from second-leading scorer Olivia Quinn, as the sophomore added 16 points and five rebounds, including 10 points in the third quarter alone.

“It feels a lot better too when you have someone else to take the load off,” Brigham said of Quinn’s performance. “I thought Liv played great and without her we probably couldn’t have come out like this.”

Brigham was the focus of the Franklin offense right from the start. She scored 10 points in the first quarter, grabbed four boards, and drew five fouls as the undersized Falcons (who were without their star player Lauren Barry) had to surround Brigham with defenders. She got a basket off a Quinn pass to the post, on a drive from the top of the key, and on an offensive rebound.

With the Panthers leading 14-5 and time running out in the first, Emily Howard knocked down a deep three, beating the buzzer and keeping the Falcons close. That would become a theme on Tuesday, as Minnechaug knocked down seven threes as a team and never allowed Franklin to pull away.

In the second, Franklin continued to go inside to Brigham, who scored five points in the quarter. Stefany Padula also got free on the break for two, off a good pass by Megan O’Connell. The Panthers were held to only three made field goals in the quarter, but they only allowed four on the other end to keep the six-point lead at half.

After being saddled with two early fouls and having to sit more than usual in the first half, Quinn dominated the third quarter. She opened it with a three, which was the first outside shot that Franklin made in the game. After Autumn Strange banked in a three to get the Falcons within four, Brigham scored in the paint and had a nice pass over the top to Quinn for a layup.

Quinn took a feed from Emma Sousa and finished at the rim plus the foul, pushing Franklin’s lead to 10. Elizabeth Wilson got her first points of the night off a Quinn assist to make sure it stayed 10, 38-28, heading into the fourth quarter.

“She’s such a spark to our team,” Leighton said about Quinn. “She just naturally finds gaps, especially in the press. When they tried to cover us full-court it opened space for her and she can create.”

In the fourth, Franklin showed off its experience to never let Minnechaug get back into the game. Lillian Grono hit a three to cut the lead down to nine, 46-37, but Erin Quaile answered with one of her own at the other end to go back up by 12. Brigham scored eight in the fourth, including 6-for-6 at the line, and Wilson went 4-for-4 at the charity stripe to help the Panthers seal the win and a place in the final.

Leighton said, “It’s a tremendous feeling. I’m happy for the kids. They’ve just bought all in. They’re all in to be the best they can. They weren’t satisfied just now. There wasn’t a big celebration, they said if we want to keep going then we’re going to have to play better than that. They want to compete at the highest level.”

Franklin (25-0) will try to win the program’s first state championship and complete the perfect season when it takes on North champion Andover on Saturday at a time and location to be determined.

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Franklin Brings Home Second Straight Central Crown

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Megan O’Connell (34), Olivia Quinn (23), and Emma Sousa (24) celebrate after the final whistle of the D1 Central final win against Natick. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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WORCESTER, Mass. – After overcoming a rough first quarter against Holy Name in the Div. 1 Central semifinal, Franklin wanted to make sure that it got off to a better start in Friday night’s final at Worcester State.

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The Panthers dominated on both ends of the floor, scoring the first nine points of the game and building a 16-5 lead after one. Natick never got closer than eight points for the remainder of the game. Franklin showed off its experience on the big stage, and its defensive prowess, to pull out a 53-38 victory and win its second straight Div. 1 Central crown.

“That was super hard,” Franklin senior Megan O’Connell said of the tough start to the semifinal. “My stomach was in my throat that game. This was a lot better. We got up by a lot, but in the third quarter it fell apart and then we got it back. We want to keep moving on and it’s survive and advance right now.”

Franklin coach John Leighton admitted that there was a focus on starting better than the Panthers did at WPI and he brought in some reinforcements to talk to the team. Kristen McDonell, the current Norwood boys and former Braintree girls coach (who twice coached the Wamps to wins over Franklin in sectional finals), spoke to the Panthers about staying the course even if things don’t go well in the opening few minutes.

“We talked a lot about the fist five possessions, try to get everyone a touch, defense force them into a quick thing,” Franklin coach John Leighton explained. “I thought we did that tonight, got off to a good start and built confidence.”

“Having played in this gym and feeling the pressure,” he added, “when it’s new, the lights are brighter, the crowd is bigger, you feel the difference.”

It turned out, there was no reason for concern. O’Connell got the game started directly from the opening tip, as she drove to the basket for the game’s first points. Olivia Quinn (16 points and seven rebounds) drilled a three and then Ali Brigham (17 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks) stepped beyond the arc to bury one as well.

The Panthers had gotten off to the ideal start. Natick’s Yale-bound forward Brenna McDonald scored four points in the first, but Quinn got free on a kick-out by Erin Quaile for a jumper and Franklin went 6-for-8 at the line to build an 11-point advantage.

Quinn continued her strong play in the second, leaking out for a layup on an Emma Sousa look-ahead and then making a nice backdoor cut to get a perfect pass from Quaile for a layup. She also lined up against McDonald and did her best to contain Natick’s star.

“She’s tremendous,” O’Connell said about her teammate. “She worked so hard in the off-season, so she deserves this more than anything and I love to see her confidence.”

Natick was hanging around in the second quarter, but the Panthers continued to find ways to score. Brigham knocked down a short jumper and then got a layup after a nice post entry from O’Connell. Elizabeth Wilson came off the bench and closed out the first half by burying a three after a nice Brigham skip pass and the Panthers raced into the locker room up 28-13.

“I thought we came out ready to play tonight,” said Leighton. “I thought our defense was really, really good. Brenna is a special player but we tried to make her work for every look she got.”

It looked like Franklin forgot its game in the locker room at halftime, as the Panthers managed only six points in the third quarter. Thankfully for the Panthers, they continued to play tough defense and allowed only nine on the other end.

McDonald scored six of her 19 in the third, including a defensive rebound that she turned into a coast-to-coast layup and that cut the lead down to nine. Wilson (nine points) again came up with a crucial basket to close out the quarter, as she nailed a big three that extended the lead back up to 12. She also added the first three points of the fourth to make it 37-22.

“She’s been a spark,” Leighton said of Wilson’s play in recent games. “Elizabeth’s always been a good shooter, but it’s her defense. She came in and got two stops and then knocked down that three. When you have kid who can come in and do both, we really have six starters at this point. She’s been clutch.”

The Redhawks would not go quietly. They knocked down three shots from deep in the fourth and got the lead to as little as eight points, 42-34, but the Panthers closed on an 11-4 run and knocked down 11-of-13 free throws over the final eight minutes to secure the victory and the title.

After Wilson scored the first three points, McDonald and Jenna Forman knocked down back-to-back threes to get the lead down to single digits. Brigham answered on the other end, scoring in the paint plus the foul. Point guard Delaney Ross hit a deep, straightaway three but Quinn got two off an O’Connell feed to put Franklin up 11.

Three straight, all at the line, got Natick within eight but Quinn returned the favor to set up O’Connell for a finish at the rim. Franklin scored its next nine points at the line, including four from Brigham and four from Quaile.

Leighton said, “I’m proud of kids. Before a year and a day ago, we had won zero sectional championships and to win two back-to-back is incredible.”

O’Connell added, “It feels great, but I want a state championship though. We are so focused. We’re still competing every time that we step on the floor and we want this.”

Franklin (24-0) will face West champion Minnechaug, which upset Springfield Central, in the state semifinal. The game’s date, time, and location are to be determined.

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Franklin Drops Heartbreaker To St. John’s In D1C Final

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Franklin’s Thomas Gasbarro takes a shot in front of his bench in the D1 Central Final. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

By Joe Clark, HockomockSports.com Contributor

WORCESTER, Mass. – The Franklin and St. John’s Shrewsbury boys basketball teams are no stranger to each other, squaring off in the state tournament for the fifth time in the last seven years.

And just like the times before it, it came down to the wire.

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Behind a pair of free throws from sophomore TJ Power with 4.9 seconds left, top-seeded St. John’s squeaked out a 56-55 win over the sixth-seeded Panthers in the D1 Central Final.

“Franklin’s got a heck of a team, they’re well-coached, but we’re not bad either,” St John’s coach Bob Foley said after the Pioneers win.

With St John’s leading 52-51 with just over two minutes left to play, Franklin senior Chris Edgehill sunk a free throw to tie the game up, but Power hit a turnaround jumper on the other end to give St. John’s a 54-52 edge.

On Franklin’s ensuing possession, junior Declan Walmsley (eight points, three rebounds) found senior Brayden Sullivan in the corner and the senior knocked down a three to put the Panthers up 55-54. Sullivan then made an outstanding defensive play on the other end to force a backcourt violation by St. John’s.

Franklin couldn’t get a basket on their next possession, but they forced a St. John’s miss to get the ball back with under 30 seconds left. Franklin got to the line with 24.9 seconds left but missed the front end of a one-and-one.

With 4.9 seconds left, Power got fouled shooting from the corner on what at first looked like a three-point attempt, but after some initial discussion from the officials, it was ruled he was inside the three-point line. He made both free throws to put St. John’s up 56-55, and Franklin was unable to score despite having two looks at the basket in the final four seconds.

Both teams got off to a cold start, with neither team in double digits as Franklin led 9-8 after the first quarter on the strength of seven points from Edgehill (game-high 20 points), including a three right before the first-quarter buzzer.

The offenses got going in the second, as Franklin hit five threes in the frame to take a 29-25 lead into the half. St John’s came out hot to start the second half, as Charles Daniels (eight points, 11 rebounds) scored four quick points to tie the game.

Power went 1-2 at the stripe to cap a 5-0 St. John’s run, but Edgehill scored down the other end to put Franklin back on top. After a Malakhi Knight bucket, Edgehill once again found the bottom of the net to put Franklin up 33-32.

A 9-2 St John’s run gave them a 41-35 lead, but Edgehill found Thomas Gasbarro (seven points, five rebounds) and then Walmsley hit a triple to g get Franklin within a point at 41-40.

A Power bucket with just over a minute left in the quarter would be the last basket of the third quarter, with the Pioneers holding onto a 43-40 lead.

The fourth quarter was tight throughout, with the largest lead being at 50-46 for St. John’s with over four minutes to go. Down four, Edgehill sparked Franklin with a three-pointer and then matched a Charles Daniel basket with one of his own before tying the game up at the stripe.

“He’s our all-time leading scorer, he’s been a captain for two years, he’s a guy that always shows up in moments like this, there’s never been a tournament game I don’t think Edgehill hasn’t shown up and not been ready to go and really led us along the way and made all kinds of tough shots,” said Franklin coach CJ Neely. “We’ve had such an unbelievable four years together, it’s gonna be weird going to a Franklin practice or game and not see Chris Edgehill running around out there, it’s been quite a run.”

Along with Edgehill, Franklin graduates Andrew Cunningham, Thomas Gasbarro, Steven Karayan, Matt Lazarek, Brayden Sullivan, and Jack Rudolph from this year’s team.

“This senior class is one of the best senior classes I’ve had since being at Franklin, if not the best,” Neely said. “Basketball players aside, the people that go through practices every day, the type of attitude they brought to practices every day, there was a never that time where you look at it and you say, hey somebody’s being whatever or you have to deal with an attitude problem or not, there’s none of that going on, there’s always just positive people looking to get better for Franklin and nobody looking for themselves…love those guys.”

With the loss, Franklin finishes the season at 18-6. St. John’s will play Springfield Central in the state semi-finals.

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Franklin Blanked By Bishops In South Semifinals

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Franklin senior goalie Ray Ivers makes a save on a shot from Archbishop Williams’ Alex Umbro in the second period. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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BOURNE, Mass. – The Franklin boys hockey team had a sizable advantage in shots on goal, chances in the offensive end, and time in the attacking zone, but the Panthers walked away from Gallo Ice Arena with nothing to show for it.

Despite outplaying the 14th-seeded Bishops of Archbishop Williams for most of the game, the Panthers came up empty-handed. Archies scored a pair of power play goals and added a shorthanded one to skate to a 3-0 decision over the 10th-seeded Panthers.

“The seedings, you can throw them away,” said Franklin head coach Anthony Sarno. The D1 South Semifinals featured 9, 10, 12, and 14 seeds. “It’s about who comes to play, who wants it more. You’ve got to be on the right side of the puck and tonight, we had our chances we just couldn’t put it away. I thought we carried a lot of the play in the first and second periods, we just couldn’t put on behind the goalie.

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“You can’t put your finger on one single thing, but it just wasn’t our night. I told the seniors, don’t hang your heads. We tried to do the best we could tonight, we just didn’t have it tonight. But it’s a great group of boys and they worked hard from start to finish.”

Franklin peppered the Bishops’ net with 30 shots, plus a handful of good bids that went just wide or high, and at least a dozen chances blocked down by the Archies defense, but couldn’t solve sophomore goalie Nick Buccella.

What looked like a good opportunity to start the game ended up being a big boost for the Bishops. Franklin went on the power play just 1:09 into the game on a cross-checking call. The Panthers kept the puck in the offensive zone for the first 30 seconds before a shot from the blue line was blocked.

Archies junior John Riley quickly pounced on the puck that he just blocked and raced into the attacking zone with Franklin’s Declan Lovett going stride for stride with him. Riley unleashed a shot that was turned aside by Ray Ivers but Riley batted in the rebound to give the Bishops a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.

“In all honesty, I felt like we were on our heels the whole first period,” said Archbishop Williams head coach Derackk Curtis. “We got that lucky bounce and John Riley worked his ass off on that first goal, we’ve been working on that banging in the rebounds. Franklin had the momentum, they were on us a lot and we weathered the storm. I thought it kind of evened out after that. [Franklin] is a good team, they are a hard-working group but my team worked hard too.”

“We knew they were aggressive on their penalty kill,” Sarno said. “From that point on, we were chasing them. You have to tip your hat to Archies, they played hard. They kept picking up our sticks, they were playing through our sticks, they were pesky. And we didn’t make the most of our power plays either. We weren’t moving it quick enough knowing they’d be aggressive. “

The Panthers still had time left with the man advantage and nearly tied the game when Kyle Hedvig redirected a shot from Will Sheehan but Buccella squeezed the pads to prevent the puck from going five-hole.

Franklin spent the majority of the period in the offensive zone but didn’t have a ton of quality chances to show for it. Archies nearly doubled its advantage late in the period in a similar fashion to its first goal as Christian Koylion blocked a shot at the blue line and raced into the offensive zone but Franklin defenseman Paddy Dolan recovered well and swept the puck clear.

Dylan Marchand’s battle in front helped draw a penalty on Archies with 10:39 left in the second period, giving Franklin its second man-advantage chance of the game. But Franklin had just one quality bid when Colin Hedvig blasted a shot that was saved and Kyle Hedvig’s rebound chance was stuffed.

The chances continued throughout the second, as Kevin O’Rielly settled a puck for a shot from Justin Abely that was saved. Minutes later, Domenic Lampasona connected with CJ Jette, but his shot from close was misfired. And the best opportunity came with just under five minutes to go as Colin Hedvig intercepted a clearance and rifled a shot that was off the iron and stayed out.

“We were just snakebitten, it seemed like everything we threw at the net he was there,” Sarno said. “We had plenty of chances, it just wasn’t our night. You can have 30 or 40 shots on net and sometimes it’s just not your net.”

Archies went on the power play with 2:08 in the period on a trip call, and a second tripping penalty 1:15 later gave the Bishops a 5-on-3 chance for 45 seconds. The Bishops made the most of the chance as Ivers denied a pair of shots in close but Archies sophomore Jackson Sylvester lifted the third chance over the sprawled out goalie to make it 2-0 with 28.2 seconds left in the middle period.

Starting the third period with the power play, Archies needed just eight seconds to tack on an important insurance goal. Thomas Page rifled a shot after striding over the blue line that went under the bar for a 3-0 lead.

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Franklin pushed to get on the board but was unable to find the back of the net. Marchand and Colin Hedvig linked up but the latter couldn’t lift his backhand past Buccella. With nine minutes to go, Conor O’Neil blasted a high shot that Buccella had to fight off, and seconds later, Sean Connelly blasted a shot with O’Neil screening in front but it was saved.

Even with just under two minutes to go, the Panthers had a perfect play with Connelly finding Lovett in front for a one-timer but Buccella was in the perfect position and made the pad stop to preserve the shutout.

Franklin boys hockey finishes the season at 11-8-4.