Teams of the Decade #2: 2012 Franklin Girls Soccer

Franklin girls soccer

Team: Franklin Girls Soccer
Year: 2012
Record: 22-0-1
2012 Kelley-Rex Division Champions
2012 Division 1 State Champions


With the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious just how talented the 2012 Franklin girls soccer team was, but heading into that season there were question marks about a roster featuring 15 freshmen and sophomores. Only two years removed from a trip to the state semifinal, could the Panthers incorporate so much youth and still compete with the top teams in the league, let alone the state?

They could and they did. The Panthers outscored opponents 98-15 over the course of an unbeaten season, winning the Kelley-Rex division title for the third straight year, just missing out on perfection with a tie in the regular season finale, and claiming the program’s first-ever state championship.

It was a remarkable finish, but one that was hardly guaranteed at the start.

“I had some kind of idea of how they would be,” Franklin coach Tom Geysen said of the incoming freshmen, “but especially in our league, because our league is very competitive, if you’re not a very physically aggressive person then you can be taken out of your game almost immediately.”

One of the players that needed to step into a critical role was freshman Dani Lonati, who became the team’s starting goalkeeper. Along with her fellow rookies, like midfielders Alexis and Victoria Stowell, Lonati needed to be ready to go right from the opening whistle and she credited the captains, Kristi Kirshe, Grace Conley, and Stephanie Pisani, for providing a welcoming environment for the younger players.

“It was probably one of the most welcoming teams that I’ve been on,” she said. “The upperclassmen knew entering that season that they were about to have a younger team. As soon as we entered the team and were on the roster, we were best friends. I think that was probably one of the most essential parts of our success was that we had some amazing team chemistry.”

It also didn’t hurt to have one of the state’s most prolific offenses giving the team a cushion almost every game. Spearheaded by Kirshe and sophomore Taylor Cogliano, the Panthers never scored fewer than two goals in a game.

“Because we were spending so much time at practice and on the field together that we got to a point where we knew how to anticipate each other, we knew how each other played,” said Kirshe. “We just started to become a dynamic duo, which was a lot of fun.”

In a roster loaded with talent, Kirshe was the star. She would score 36 goals that season, earning All-American honors and being named Gatorade Player of the Year. It was about more than just the number of times she found the back of the net, but also when she scored. She tallied the winner in both the state semifinal and final.

“She’s a rock,” Lonati said of Kirshe. “She’s probably one of the most athletic people I’ve ever met. She’s always there and she’s like that as a person too, you can rely on her no matter what. She’s competitive, she’s tenacious, and she’s the player you want because you know she’s going to get it done.”

Geysen said simply, “In all my years that I’ve been here at Franklin, she’s the best all-around female athlete we’ve ever had and we’ve had some good ones.”

He added, “The most unassuming, laid back, nice kid. Everything about her was what you wanted. She was aggressive as hell, she was physical as hell, and she was skilled.”

A dynamic partnership up top is nothing if the defense is leaking goals, but the Panthers proved to be just as solid at the back as they were up front. In front of Lonati, Pisani, junior Julia Bireley, and sophomores Nicole Ellin and Lexi Martin all played key roles making it tough for the opposition attack.

“The key to the back became Dani,” Geysen explained. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a goaltender over four years who had the stats that she had and that game against Nashoba [in the state final] she was lights out.”

Franklin cruised through the first half and talk started to grow about an undefeated season. Only Mansfield managed to stay within a goal of the Panthers over the first 13 games. Mansfield coach Kevin Smith noted, “They were so tough because they were loaded with talent in every position. They had multiple scoring threats, which made it near impossible to stop the team. You could stop one, maybe two, but not four-plus. Their midfield group was super athletic and super talented as well. There was not a weak link anywhere.”

It was the second meeting with North Attleboro, in the 14th game of the season, that Geysen highlighted as the moment when he realized his team had the extra mental fortitude it would take to go the distance. After jumping out to an early 3-0 lead, Franklin made changes to the lineup and North got one back, but the Panthers answered to make it 4-1. North got two in quick succession to make it 4-3 and Geysen thought the game was going to slip away.

“It was coaching changes that took the momentum away from them, but they came back and regained the composure and slowed the game down and kept it under control’” he said. “Even when the games were close, there was no panic on their part. If there was any panic, it was me. From that point on, I said, these kids understand.”

Kirshe said, “Coach Geysen was very, very clear about making sure we focused as a group on game at a time. There were moments when we felt like we were doing something special and we had a lot of potential but Geysen did a really good job of keeping us grounded so we weren’t thinking about the possibilities.”

The need to remain focused became clear in the final game of the regular season. On a dreary Sunday night, the Panthers fell behind against a Walpole team that barely qualified for the tournament and only salvaged a draw thanks to a late Kirshe goal. The perfect season was over, but dropping a point just before the tournament may have been a blessing in disguise.

“I think it lit the fire for us again and reminded us that this wasn’t something we were going to be able to walk through,” Kirshe said. “We had some easy games through the season, but we were getting into tournament now and tournament is a special part of the season where anything can happen. I’m incredibly grateful for that tie, to this day. Without that tie, I don’t think we win that state championship.”

Franklin rolled into the South final, but the 2-0 win against Marshfield in the semis proved to be costly. Pisani was injured in the game and would miss the remainder of the season. That left a big hole to fill in the defense with no obvious solution. Grace Conley, who had played sparingly that season after surgery related to stomach cancer, told Geysen that she was ready to step in and, after some debate, he agreed.

Conley was one of the team’s leaders from the sideline and she proved to be an inspiration on the field as well over the last three games.

Lonati said, “She truly cared about every person on that field. To be able to go into those last three games and to play such an important role and to earn that title after everything she went through was amazing.” Kirshe added, “Grace is one of the best people I know. It was incredibly special for me as a friend and a fellow captain to see her get that moment. She was the spirit of our team, so just getting her on the field was something that lifted all of us and made us want to play that much better.”

The Panthers faced league rival Oliver Ames, in a battle of the two previous South champs, and prevailed 3-2 to get back to the state semifinal for the second time in three seasons. Against Beverly at Manning Field, Kirshe made personal history when she scored on an early free kick, which was a rarity for her, to notch the 100th goal of her career. Thanks to a strong defensive performance, particularly Bireley’s man-marking, that shut down Beverly’s 50-goal scorer Caitlin Harty, Franklin advanced with a 2-0 win.

“We got to play every single possible game in our senior year, which is something that so few people get the opportunity to do,” said Kirshe. “You know it’s your last time to play high school soccer, it’s your last time with this group of people, and personally I find a lot of happiness in that.”

Kirshe found the back of the net twice to put the Panthers ahead in the title game but Nashoba battled back to cut the lead to one and ramped up the pressure looking for an equalizer while the Franklin defense held on, thanks to 10 saves from Lonati.

“I had the ball in my hands, actually, and I made eye contact with the ref and I knew there wasn’t much time left and he signaled for me to distribute it,” Lonati recalled. “So, I punted it and as soon as it left my foot that whistle blew and I was, oh my god, in utter shock.:

“I cried,” Kirshe admitted. “To be quite honest with you, I cried today when I was looking back trying to think about it. That’s a dream come true for any high school soccer player. Especially as a senior, just to cap off a career that way? It was just such an unforgettable moment and just a testament to years of hard work. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief.

When asked what it took to go unbeaten and win his first state title as a coach, Geysen said, “You have to have things go your way. We’ve had other years where we’ve been every bit as good overall but not with the kind of depth as this crew.

“The best part of that whole thing for me was after we beat Nashoba, when everything was going crazy on the field, I stood off to the side and just watched them. Nothing will ever take that picture away from me. To work that hard for that long, some of them for four years, and to accomplish that and to appreciate it the way they did was the most gratifying thing for me.”






Listening Options:

                                        


Franklin girls soccer
Franklin girls soccer

Opponent
Result
SharonW, 4-0
StoughtonW, 10-0
CantonW, 5-2
AttleboroW, 2-0
TauntonW, 7-0
North AttleboroW, 4-0
MansfieldW, 2-1
FoxboroW, 6-0
Oliver AmesW, 6-1 (Recap)
MilfordW, 3-1
AttleboroW, 7-0
King PhilipW, 4-1
TauntonW, 5-0
North AttleboroW, 4-3
King PhilipW, 7-0
MansfieldW, 4-0
WalpoleT, 2-2
New BedfordW, 4-0
DartmouthW, 3-1
MarshfieldW, 2-0
Oliver AmesW, 3-2
BeverlyW, 2-0 (Recap)
NashobaW, 2-1 (Recap)






Franklin girls soccer
Franklin girls soccer

Franklin girls soccer
Franklin girls soccer

Franklin girls soccer

Franklin girls soccer


Teams of the Decade #5: 2020 Franklin Girls Basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Team: Franklin girls basketball
Year: 2019-2020
Record: 25-0
2020 Kelley-Rex Division Champions
2020 Division 1 State Champions


It may still have been the regular season and there was a lot of basketball standing between the teams and a trophy, but there was a distinct sense of anticipation when Franklin and Bridgewater-Raynham met up in the first round of the Comcast Classic at Woburn High. A lot of people in the stands were wondering if the Panthers, who had been widely-considered the top team in the state since preseason, were as good as advertised.

Franklin made a statement, leading from the opening tip and pulling out a comfortable 58-41 victory over the eventual Div. 1 South champion. It was a turning point, where the 2020 Franklin girls basketball team recognized that it could play at another level, one that even the top teams in the state would struggle against. It was a confidence boost that carried the Panthers to a second straight D1 Central crown, a perfect season, and the program’s first state championship.

“That’s when we started to realize, and that was in February, that maybe it’s even beyond what we originally thought,” said Franklin coach John Leighton. “Some of the kids said they wanted to go undefeated from day one, and that’s a great goal, but seeing it become a reality is a different thing.”

Senior center Ali Brigham, who was named league MVP and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year for the second season in a row, added, “We didn’t want the rankings to do the talking. We actually wanted to go out and do it ourselves. I think every single person, when we stepped on that court, and even days before when we knew we were playing B-R, it was time to lock in and play how Franklin basketball played. We did the talking in our play.”

While there was plenty of attention on Franklin coming into the season, after reaching the state semifinal the year before and with Brigham, a George Washington-commit, returning in the middle, the Panthers had some questions. Two starters from 2018-19, Shannon Gray and Bea Bondhus, graduated and it wasn’t obvious who would emerge as an offensive threat to take the pressure off Brigham.

Those questions were answered in the first week of play. Juniors Kaleigh Houlihan and Elizabeth Wilson added outside shooting, senior Megan O’Connell and sophomore Emma Sousa added athleticism and versatility at forward, and junior point guard Erin Quaile continued to be a rock on both ends of the court. Meanwhile sophomore Olivia Quinn scored 20-plus points in two of the first three games and became one of the league’s top players this season.

“It made me and Ali’s lives super easy,” said O’Connell. “Instead of trying to find people to step up and take those roles, people were gunning for them. Olivia Quinn is tremendous. No one worked harder than her in the offseason and that was clearly visible by all of her accomplishments.”

The Panthers dominated from game one. The only team that managed to keep it close against Franklin was Holy Name, which lost by four and by nine in the two regular season meetings. It seemed that Franklin could flip a switch and take over games on both ends of the court.

Against King Philip, the Panthers jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. On the road at title rival Oliver Ames, Brigham and Quinn combined for 37 points in the second half and they won by 30. Davenport (and D2) champion Foxboro was down by single digits in the fourth quarter until a 17-0 run broke the game wide open.

“To go undefeated, and any team that gets to do it will say the same thing, you just need that consistency that the players are able to bring,” Leighton explained. “You need to bring that every day and if you have kids who aren’t feeling well or working on an injury, it doesn’t matter. You need to bring that same level day.”

O’Connell said the team was aware of the rankings and the hype surrounding the team but added, “The coaches did a great job of keeping us level-headed and not letting that go to our heads. They said that means absolutely nothing unless you go out and show everyone that is true.”

The Comcast Tournament, which also included a 17-point win against D4 state champion Cathedral, came at the perfect time. Along with a one-point win against New Hampshire power Bishop Guertin, the Panthers closed out the regular season by overcoming tough challenges, a good warm-up for the state tournament and additional confidence for a team that was already riding high.

“There is a fake confidence, fake bravado,” said Leighton, “but then you have that real confidence when you look at each other in the huddle and you just know that we can come back and do what we need to do. You know you can get that look, you know you can make that stop, and you can count on the kid next to you to make that play.”

In the playoff opener, Brigham achieved an important personal milestone, solidifying her place in program history. With a free throw late in a big win against Framingham, she passed Kelly Meredith to become the school’s all-time leading scorer (male or female). She finished her career with 1,692 points (and also with a school record 1,276 rebounds).

“I wrote a letter to myself when I was in eighth grade to my 2020 self,” Brigham recalled. “My main goal was to make the varsity basketball team.”

“I’m just really glad that I was able to do it,” she continued. “I put in a lot of work, and especially having it be my last home game, which was pretty cool. It was almost like I wasn’t even the most excited in that video.”

Leighton said, “At no point was Ali worried about Ali this year and that tells you so much about her. She’s a program-changing player. The young kids at Franklin playing at halftime to high-five Ali Brigham, those kids are going to remember that. Her legacy will last a very long time here.”

King Philip coach Dan Nagle said, “Ali is a real issue (obviously) because she not only is bigger than any kid in our league, but she is incredibly skilled and unselfish. If you double her, she finds a wide open shooter. If you don’t double her, she scores easily with a wide variety of moves/finishes. She even hit a three against us this year and I know we weren’t alone. She is a ridiculous talent.”

In the Central semifinal, Franklin faced Holy Name for the third time and the first quarter did not go as planned. The Panthers were held to just six points in the first and looked out of sorts. “They knew everything you wanted to do,” said O’Connell. “They knew I was going to pump fake and go to the left and whatever. It was super frustrating for all of us and we just had to turn it around.”

Franklin closed the gap to one at halftime and then dominated the second half to win by 17. That momentum carried into the Central final, as the Panthers jumped out to a 9-0 lead and never looked back. Even when the offense was struggling, as it did in the third quarter against Natick, the defense locked opponents down and different players stepped up each night with key plays to get the win.

“I honestly think they were far and away the best team in the state this year,” Nagle said. “Even the very best teams could hang with them for a quarter or two, but eventually their size/talent, coupled with extremely organized and effective coaching, really separated them from the rest of the pack. It was a group of kids that from an opposing coach/onlooker’s perspective really understood and embraced their roles, and simply executed them to perfection night-in and night-out all season long.”

When the final horn sounded in the state semifinal win against Minnechaug, the celebrations were muted. It was clear from the players and coaches that reaching the final wasn’t the ultimate goal and there was still work to be done. Unfortunately, the following night it was announced that the final would be canceled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m so sad that it ended that way,” said O’Connell. “I was in my driveway and I was tagged in a Twitter post. I was like, holy crap, I would’ve stayed [at practice] all night if I had known they were going to cancel it.”

Brigham said, “The last practice we had we all got into a circle and were just talking about it. It was like an, ‘okay, we’ll see you tomorrow,’ thing. Driving home, I pulled into my garage and got the text that we’re not playing. We weren’t able to have that final goodbye together as a team, we still haven’t. It’s definitely unfortunate because we didn’t get to end it the way a team should.”

Weeks after that final practice, both players were able to reflect on the achievements of the season and the history that the team made this winter even if there is still disappointment about not having that moment in the spotlight. Brigham joked, “I’m really competitive so the fact that another team thinks they’re state champions too, that doesn’t go over very well with me.”

Leighton also took time to reflect on the perfect season and the first title in program history.

He said, “That banner will always be there and that’s a piece of history and they really bought into that. I don’t think it diminishes anything in the kids’ eyes. In the moment it did, it stunk, but now that you have a moment to step back and reflect and look at everything that happened, I’m so proud of them.

“Fairly quickly, the team attitude was obvious, how we were getting at it in practice, the maturity, our work approach. We saw that early, but seeing that you could be really good is different from winning every game or winning a state championship. It’s a whole different level.”






Click here to listen to the HockomockSports.com Franklin Girls Basketball Podcast on Spotify


Franklin girls basketball
Franklin girls basketball

Opponent
Result
MilfordW, 81-25
King PhilipW, 80-50
CantonW, 61-34
Holy NameW, 44-40
MansfieldW, 67-39
StoughtonW, 77-31
TauntonW, 66-18
North AttleboroW, 53-33
Oliver AmesW, 71-41 (Recap)
FoxboroW, 61-40 (Recap)
AttleboroW, 73-41
SharonW, 53-20
King PhilipW, 65-39
MansfieldW, 67-41
TauntonW, 79-36
Holy NameW, 52-43
Oliver AmesW, 76-30
AttleboroW, 64-26
Bridgewater-RaynhamW, 58-41 (Recap)
CathedralW, 73-56
Bishop Guertin (NH)W, 47-46
FraminghamW, 85-37
Holy NameW, 59-42 (Recap)
NatickW, 53-38 (Recap)
MinnechaugW, 55-43 (Recap)






Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball


Teams of the Decade #13: 2018 Franklin Volleyball

Franklin volleyball

Team: Franklin Volleyball
Year: 2018
Record: 20-1
2018 Kelley-Rex Division Champions
2018 Division 1 Central-West Champions
2018 Division 1 State Semifinalists


With a strong group of returning players, the Franklin volleyball team entered the season as the top-ranked team in our Hock 5 rankings. But there were few, at least outside of the program, that expected the Panthers to be as good as they were.

While the Panthers graduated a couple of key pieces from the lineup a year before, first-year head coach Kelsey Weymouth inherited a talented, experienced group that looked primed to get back atop the Kelley-Rex division. There were signs very early of just how talented Franklin was, including a 3-0 sweep over non-league foe Bishop Feehan, a 3-0 sweep over defending division champ King Philip, and a 3-1 win on the road over Hockomock power Canton — all in a five-day span.

Senior Lauren McGrath returned for her third year as the team’s starting setter was a key piece in orchestrating the offense as well as an important part of the Panther defense. After dishing out 545 assists her junior year, McGrath crossed the 1,000-assist mark as a senior with 547 assists. McGrath had plenty of choices to work with offensively with four players reaching the 100-kill mark: Ellie Wisniewski (151), Maggie Doyle (135), Allyson Bonnet-Eymard (102), and Hailey Sanders (100).

“I knew from our first practice that we had the skillset and drive to go all the way,” Weymouth said. Weymouth was a former standout at Hock rival North Attleboro before a successful career at Stonehill. “I was coached hard while playing at Stonehill College and in doing so, we were successful. I wanted to bring the same drive to my girls at Franklin High School … I was not easy on this group because I knew they had what it took but they needed that push and confident booster! They worked so hard day in and day out and I could not be more proud of them and all of their hard work during our 2018 season! These ladies had natural-born talent and when they came together as a team they were unstoppable.”

What made Franklin’s offense so dangerous was their ability to hit successfully from all three spots at the net. It wasn’t just a rotation between two outside hitters or forcing to just one player. Not only did the Panthers have one of the best outside hitters in Wisniewski, but they also had two very good options in Doyle (middle) and Sanders (opposite). Bonnet-Eymard and Emma Chase, both sophomores that season, provided strong attacking depth for Franklin.

On the flip side, the Panthers were strong defensively at the net as well. Doyle led the charge with 65 total blocks while Sanders added 35 and McGrath stepped up defensively while in the front row with 16 blocks. Riley Marino was the team’s defensive specialist, recording 218 digs. Wisniewski, Bonnet-Eymard, McGrath, and Shannon Gray were all reliable in the back row as well.

“Our 2018 season was amazing,” McGrath said. “Undefeated in the Hock, a league championship, first Sectional Championship for Franklin High School Volleyball, and a team and coach that was hardworking, resilient, and a lot of fun to be around. It will be a season I remember forever.”

Only three teams avoided being swept by the Panthers during the regular season with Oliver Ames (3-1) and Mansfield (3-1) being able to take a set along with Canton. But the playoffs were a different story and the Panthers really showed their mettle during the postseason run.

Entering the D1 Central West bracket as the #2-seed at 17-0, the Panthers were tested right away by #7 Concord-Carlisle. In their first five-set match of the season, the Panthers pulled out a victory to advance to the sectional semifinals. Franklin fell behind 0-2 to #3 Hopkinton, who was the home team because of a predetermined site, but the Panthers rallied to force a fifth game. Once again Franklin prevailed to move on to the sectional final. Despite going up 2-0 on #4 Shrewsbury, Franklin was forced to a fifth set for the third straight playoff game. The pattern continued as Franklin won the fifth set and the match, this time to clinch its first ever sectional championship.

“The girls were out with vengeance [against Hopkinton], you could cut the tension with a knife and I wanted nothing more than a hard-fought win for them that night,” Weymouth said. “After being down 2-0, they had no choice but to fight. I made some drastic but necessary changes that match and they adapted the best that I’ve ever seen. Ending in yet, another deserving five-set victory!

“Ending up top four in the state is something every young athlete hopes of doing. I did not accomplish that during my high school career and I wanted nothing more than for this group to accomplish that. Words honestly cannot describe how proud I am of that group of young ladies. They deserved everything they accomplished and then some.”

In the state semifinals, the Franklin volleyball team faced off against the standard-bearer of volleyball in the state of Massachusetts in Barnstable. The Raiders won the match 3-0 but not without an incredible effort from Franklin, who fell 25-17, 25-22, 25-23.






Franklin volleyball
Franklin volleyball

2018 Franklin Volleyball Schedule

Opponent
Result
MilfordW, 3-0
Bishop FeehanW, 3-0
King PhilipW, 3-0
CantonW, 3-1
MansfieldW, 3-0
StoughtonW, 3-0
TauntonW, 3-0
North AttleboroW, 3-0
Oliver AmesW, 3-1
FoxboroW, 3-0
AttleboroW, 3-0
SharonW, 3-0
King PhilipW, 3-0
MansfieldW, 3-1
TauntonW, 3-0
Oliver AmesW, 3-0
AttleboroW, 3-0
#7 Concord-CarlisleW, 3-2
#3 HopkintonW, 3-2
#4 ShrewsburyW, 3-2
Barnstable (State Semifinal)L, 3-0






Franklin volleyball

Franklin volleyball

Franklin volleyball

Franklin volleyball

Franklin volleyball

Franklin volleyball

Franklin volleyball

Franklin volleyball


Teams of the Decade: Top Playoff Runs

Teams of the Decade

Over the past couple of months, our staff has reviewed hundreds of championship-caliber Hockomock League teams from the past decade (Fall 2010 through Winter 2020) and selected its Top 20 “Teams of the Decade.” During that process, we came across so many talented teams that accomplished so much. Below is a list of teams that just missed out on the final list but stood out for their postseason performances.

2019 Taunton Baseball

Record: 21-7
Division 1 State Champions

The stars aligned perfectly for the Tigers when the postseason rolled around. Although Taunton finished in third in the Kelley-Rex division in the regular season (behind Super 8 selections Franklin and Mansfield), the Tigers took full advantage of their opportunity in Div. 1 South. At 11-7 midway through May, Taunton won four straight to finish the regular season at 15-7 for the fourth seed in the D1 South bracket. After dispatching Marshfield, the Tigers rallied to stun Catholic Memorial with a seventh inning rally, scoring the game-winning run off a bunt from Lucas Martins. Taunton followed with a shutout of Catholic Conference power Xaverian before taking down Hockomock rival Attleboro, 6-1, to win the South.

The magic continued for Taunton, head coach Blair Bourque, and its playoff hero Nic Notarangelo in the D1 State Semifinals. Against a powerful Lincoln-Sudbury side (21-2 entering the game), the Tigers fell behind 3-0 in the top of the first inning. Logan Lawrence had a huge game, hitting a two-run home run in the first and pitching four scoreless innings in relief. Notarangelo smacked a hard hit to right to score sophomore Ty Cali in the bottom of the ninth inning for the game-winning run. Taunton capped its magical run with a 5-3 win over Shrewsbury and 6’8 Boston College-commit John West. Josh Lajoie made his first start of the playoffs, senior Evan Melo put a cherry on top of a special individual postseason by driving in the game-winning run, and both Notarangelo and Lawrence – as they had done all tournament – made key plays in the final innings to help Taunton secure its first-ever Div. 1 State Championship.

2016 Franklin Boys Hockey

Record: 18-4-5
Division 1 State Champions

Just one year removed from a historic trip to the Super 8, and after graduating 21 seniors, Franklin showed off the depth in its program and erased its demons at the TD Garden, ending a three-decade wait for a second state title. A team without a true star, Franklin’s depth and its work rate were its greatest strengths. The Panthers were 12-3-5 and the fourth seed in Div. 1 when the playoffs began, but it felt like a wide open bracket. The tournament run began with a 2-1 win against Wellesley, followed by a 1-0 win against Walpole in a jam-packed Pirelli Rink.

After dispatching a third straight Bay State Conference team, Newton North, in the semifinal, Franklin avenged a late-season loss against highly-regarded Marshfield. In the state title game at the TD Garden, a place where Franklin and head coach Chris Spillane had come up empty three seasons in a row earlier in the decade, the Panthers led 3-1 heading into the third period against St. Mary’s (Lynn), a team that just missed out on a Super 8 berth. The game went to double overtime before senior Jake Downie assisted on sophomore Luke Downie’s dramatic game- and title-winner and secured a first state title since 1983.

2018 Franklin Baseball

Record: 21-5
Division 1A (Super 8) State Champions

It was a season that started with high expectations and ended in history, but it was hardly a straight and easy path for Franklin. Few will remember because of how the season ended, but the Panthers opened the season by being shutout by Foxboro, were swept by Taunton, and finished a game behind Mansfield in the league. Through it all, Franklin put together a good enough resume that it was selected for the Super 8 for the first time in program history. The Panthers (21-5) entered as the No. 7 seed, but once the playoffs began everything seemed to fall into place.

Thanks to the dynamic duo of Jake Noviello and Bryan Woelfel and a lineup filled with clutch hitters, Franklin beat Wachusett in the opening game and then proceeded to beat St. John’s Prep and Central Catholic (twice). The final three games were all one-run wins. In the Super 8 finale against the Raiders, head coach Zach Brown brought Noviello into the bottom of the eighth in a tie game with runners at second and third. He struck out three of the next four batters (hitting one in between) to somehow keep it tied and in the top of the ninth Evan Wendell’s perfect suicide squeeze plated Steve Luttazi with the title-winning run.

2016 Foxboro Girls Tennis

Record: 19-2
Division 2 State Champions

The third time proved to be the charm for the Foxboro girls’ tennis team. After coming up short in the state final in 2014 and 2015, the Warriors took a 3-2 decision over Wayland to clinch the title. The Warriors dropped two matches all season, both 3-2 to eventual Davenport division champion Sharon, as Foxboro finished second in the division at 14-2. The sister combination of Diana Prinos at first singles and Sophia Prinos at second singles gave Foxboro a huge advantage while junior Lexi Nelson was such a steady presence at third singles.

Behind interim head coaches CJ Neely and Jon Montanaro, the Warriors earned the fourth seed in the Division 2 South bracket and survived an early scare with a 3-2 win over Westwood. The second doubles team of Michaela McCarthy and Morgan Krockta helped the Warriors knock off a strong Hingham team in the quarterfinals and Foxboro swept singles action in both the sectional semifinals and finals to defeat previously unbeaten and top-seeded Apponequet and Hopkinton, respectively. After dropping a singles match in the state final, the Warriors had to show off their depth as a team and the first doubles pairing of sophomore Kayla Prag and freshman Julia Muise pulled out a 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 win to secure the title.

2012 Sharon Football

Record: 10-3
Division 3 Eastern Mass. Champions

It’s hard to think of a more special individual season than the one the Sharon football team had in 2012. To put things in perspective, the Eagles had just won seven games over a seven-year span in the previous decade and its last winning season came in the late 1980s. Head coach Dave Morse led Sharon to four wins in his first year in 2011 but that turned out to be just a preview of what was to come. The Eagles had a special group of players come together and accomplish something a lot of people thought they would never see: bringing a Super Bowl title back to Sharon.

While it wasn’t a perfect season, the Eagles got it done against division foes. Sharon knocked off Canton in overtime, scored with under a minute left to stun previously unbeaten Stoughton, and used a gutsy fourth-quarter fourth-down conversion touchdown to secure a win over Foxboro and clinch its first Davenport division title. In the playoffs, the Eagles held on for a 7-6 win over Pembroke when the Titans’ two-point conversion with a minute to go fell short. In the Super Bowl, senior running back Sean Asnes capped a terrific season with a pair of touchdowns as Sharon notched a 12-3 win over Wayland in a freezing cold game at Bentley University.




2018 Mansfield Boys Basketball

Record: 27-2
Division 1 State Champions

Mansfield’s playoff run during the 2017-2018 season was as close to perfect as you can get in basketball. The Hornets were very good during the regular season, but they were close to unstoppable once the state tournament rolled around. Mansfield suffered two setbacks during the season, one in December to BC High and a 15-point loss on the road to rival Franklin in January. Head coach Mike Vaughan has said that second loss might have been the spark that ignited one of the most impressive playoff campaigns of the decade. With seven seniors (John McCoy, Tyler Boulter, Ryan Otto, Nick Ferraz, Alex Ferraz, Justin Vine, Sam Hyland) and a trio of talented juniors (Damani Scott, Tommy Dooling, Khristian Conner), the Hornets made the most of the playoff opportunity.

The top-seed in Division 1 South, Mansfield rolled through the bracket — and we mean rolled. Mansfield beat all four of its opponents by double figures, dismissing Newton South (76-49) in the first round, avenging its loss to BC High (71-58) in the quarterfinals, eliminating a very good Newton North (70-50) team in the South semis, and beating a talented Brockton (79-65) squad to win the South championship. The momentum continued as the Hornets secured a spot in the state final with an impressive win over Everett (73-65) at the TD Garden. In the D1 State Championship, the Hornets capped a terrific postseason run by taking down rival Franklin (67-54); the matchup marked the first time a pair of teams from the same league met in the D1 final.

2017 Franklin Boys Basketball

Record: 22-5
Division 1 State Finalists

This Franklin boys team might not have won it all, but it packed some of the most memorable games into its great postseason run. The Panthers were good throughout the regular season, and they certainly had their fair share of impressive wins including one over league champ Mansfield, one over a very good Cardinal Spellman team, and concluded the regular season with arguably its best win, a 70-53 decision over a good Tech Boston team. But there were five losses too, including on the road at Canton, and early season tilts against Malden Catholic and Catholic Memorial.

The wins over Spellman and Tech Boston to finish the regular season were a clear sign to head coach CJ Neely that this squad was ready to make some noise in the state tournament. Junior Jalen Samuels helped the hosts knock off upset-minded Acton Boxboro in the opening round and senior Connor Goldstein gave Franklin a needed spark in its semifinal win over St. Peter Marian. In the Central final against perennial power St. John’s Shrewsbury, freshman Chris Edgehill sank a huge three with just over a minute left in overtime and then hit two from the free throw line in the final seconds to help secure Franklin’s first sectional title. In the state semifinal against Springfield Central, the Panthers snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with an improbable 8-0 run in the final 20 seconds to force overtime. Four minutes later, Franklin was on its way to its first state championship. Although the Panthers ran into a juggernaut in Cambridge, the run that the Panthers had leading up to that point was a very memorable one.

2018 North Attleboro Baseball

Record: 22-2
Division 2 State Champions

North Attleboro rolled through the regular season, finishing 14-2 in the league and 18-2 overall. Big Red ended a 12-year wait for a league title and took the top seed in Div. 2 South. North’s run to a first-ever state title was hardly a surprise, but the way that the Rocketeers rolled through the South bracket was more than impressive. North scored at will over the first three games of the tournament, out-scoring its opponents 41-4, including a 20-2 win against Dartmouth in the semifinal and a 19-2 win against Oliver Ames in the final.

Behind the pitching of Nick Sinacola and the clutch bat of Zach DeMattio, the Rocketeers were unstoppable heading into the final against Beverly and jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the state championship game (all four runs driven in by DeMattio). The Panthers got to Sinacola for three runs in the fifth to cut the lead to just one run, but he settled down, with the help of his defense, to get through a scoreless sixth and seventh inning and becoming the second Hockomock League baseball team in a week to win a state title.

2018 Taunton Softball

Record: 26-2
Division 1 State Champions

Taunton had lost in the first round in each of the past two postseasons, both times on its home field and both times to league opponents (King Philip in 2016 and North Attleboro in 2017), but the Tigers put it all together in 2018 to erase those playoff struggles. Always one of the most feared lineups in the state, the Taunton offense exploded for 44 runs in six playoff games. The Tigers, under the guidance of legendary coach Dave Lewry, scored nine runs against Dartmouth and Bishop Feehan, six against Newton North, and 13 in the state final against previously unbeaten Wachusett.

The toughest, and arguably most memorable, game of the playoff run was the Div. 1 South final against KP. The Warriors won the league title and had also scored 21 runs in three games to get to the final. After rallying to tie the game in the fifth, Taunton scored the game-winning runs on a single down the third base line by surprise starter and No. 9 hitter Rylie Murphy. KP got the tying runs on base in the seventh, but freshman starter Kelsey White escaped the jam and the Tigers went on to win their first state title in 11 years in blowout fashion (13-2 over Wachusett).

2016 King Philip Softball

Record: 24-4
Division 1 State Champions

There is nothing unusual about King Philip softball going on a playoff run, after all this was the program’s third state title in seven seasons, but the Warriors entered the season as the No. 7 seed in Div. 1 South, had lost the Kelley-Rex title to Taunton, ending a run of nine straight league championships, and lost four times during the regular season. Once the playoffs began, the Warriors flipped a switch. Thanks in large part to a dominant run of games from starting pitcher Kali Magane, KP allowed only two runs in six playoff games and outscored opponents 29-2.

The Warriors beat Taunton in the quarterfinal, winning the season series against the Tigers, and avenged an extra-inning loss from 2015 by beating defending South champion Silver Lake in the final. Magane saved the best for last, striking out 13 and tossing a one-hit shutout in the state title game against Doherty. Magane finished the season by striking out the side in the seventh and closing out an unlikely championship campaign.

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.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.