Panthers Clamp Down on Naps to Stay Unbeaten

Franklin girls basketball
Franklin sophomore Erin Quaile (20) helped lock down the Holy Name guards to earn a non-league win against a potential playoff opponent. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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FRANKLIN, Mass. – Defense has been the story for Franklin through the opening few games of the season with the Panthers holding its first three opponents to only 30 points per game. Much of the attention is on junior center Ali Brigham (two blocks) and her ability (at 6-foot-3) to dominate the paint, but on Monday night against Holy Name (Worcester) it was the perimeter players who stood out.

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Using a combination of players, including sophomore Erin Quaile, senior Shannon Gray, and junior Breanna Atwood, Franklin held Holy Name’s standout guards Jaini Edmonds and Grace O’Gara to just 15 points combined and the Naps to just 13 points as a team in the opening half of a 56-36 victory.

“That’s been a real focus for us to become a better defensive team,” said Franklin coach John Leighton. “Shooting comes and goes but defense translates every night. They brought a good challenge for us…both lefty guards, which makes it trickier too. We talked a lot about limiting their touches and really make them work for it. They didn’t get a lot of clean looks, which was our goal.”

Brigham was the star for the Panthers on offense, scoring a game-high 24 points, pulling down 15 rebounds, and dishing out four assists from the center of the press break and combining with junior Megan O’Connell (nine points) in the high post. She scored 17 of the team’s 26 points in the first half.

O’Gara scored her only basket of the night to tie the game at 5-5 in the first quarter but then Franklin rolled off eight of the next nine points to finish the quarter with a lead it would never relinquish. Bea Bondhus (eight points) knocked down three free throws to get the lead then Brigham knocked down a free throw line jumper and scored on a rebound.

The Naps scored to start the second but again Franklin put enough stops together to break the game open. O’Connell answered with a layup off a Brigham pass and, after four free throws, the duo switched roles for another easy basket. Brigham scored Franklin’s final nine points of the half, twice getting layups from offensive rebounds.

“She’s expanded her sphere of influence because in the middle of the press break we can use her and then on offense from the three-point line to the hoop and she does different things at different times in the games,” said Leighton about Brigham, who recently committed to George Washington.

In particular, Brigham’s success came from combining and switching positions with O’Connell from the free throw line to the post. Leighton said, “Megan has improved as much as anyone and using her with Ali in the post, you can’t double both of them and it’s really opened things up for her.”

Holy Name tried to put together a run in the third quarter with Edmonds finally getting a few shots to fall and Lilly Krysinski knocking down three jumpers to get the Naps as close as nine points (26-19). Quaile and Atwood knocked down back-to-back threes and then Brigham answered a Holy Name bucket by hitting the glass for a three-point play.

Leighton said, “We’ve been getting layups but we were able go further through the offense and get open looks and knocked down some threes.”

Franklin went into the fourth quarter leading by 11 and proceeded to bust the game wide open. Six different Panthers scored in the fourth, including four each for Brigham and O’Connell. Bondhus drilled a three followed by sophomore Elizabeth Wilson, who scored all five of her points in the fourth.

“I think our practices have really picked up,” Leighton said when asked about the team’s strength in depth. “They get after it and it’s made everyone better. Bre (Atwood) is a lockdown defender and she’s going against Bea in practice and that makes her better, Megan going against Ali, and I think it’s raised everybody’s games.”

It was a dominating performance from the Panthers (3-0), who will try to carry that over on Wednesday when they host Canton.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

‘Relentless’ Panthers Roll to Win in Season Opener

Lauren Rudolph
Lauren Rudolph (25) scored 15 points to lead the Panthers to a 70-41 win over Holy Name in the season opener. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

By Josh Perry, Managing Editor

FRANKLIN, Mass. – There are a lot of new faces on the Franklin bench this season. The Panthers bring back only one starter from last year’s team, which reached the Div. 1 Central final, and it is expected that there will be an adjustment period for new players in new roles.

The pieces, new and old, fit perfectly on Friday night in the season opener against Holy Name.

Utilizing a tenacious full court press, Franklin jumped out to a 26-0 lead and never looked back. The Panthers won the opener 70-41 in a rematch of the last two district semifinals, which the teams split.

“One of the words we use is relentless,” said Franklin coach John  Leighton, “and I thought they played that way from the first play to the last play of the game. Defensively especially they were aggressive.”

Lauren Rudolph led the way for Franklin with 15 points and the senior added six rebounds, a couple of assists, and five steals in an all-round performance that demonstrated why Leighton believes she will be a player that the Panthers can lean on this year.

“That’s just the unselfish kid that she is; she’ll give the ball up just as much as she goes,” Leighton said. “She’s not worried about her stats. She’s got a high motor and the kids work hard to play with her.”

In the opening quarter, Franklin forced nine turnovers and held a 12-2 edge on the boards (led by Erin Skidmore with five of her team-high nine rebounds). It was exactly the type of effort that Leighton was hoping to see from his many inexperienced players and an effort that can make up for any learning curve that comes from playing at the varsity level.

He explained, “I think with the roster we have that we need to win the hustle plays, whether running up and down the floor, boxing out, playing defense, those are what’s important for us.”

Rudolph gave the Panthers the spark from the start with offensive rebound put back and then a layup in transition off a steal. Off the bench, junior Carli Koffinke (12 points) stepped in and buried a pair of threes (one off a Rudolph drive and dish) that extended the Franklin lead to 18-0 by the end of the quarter.

“I thought that was a big run to erase any hopes they had of making a quick little run,” said Leighton.

“Carli has always been a good shooter, but she’s really been working on the defensive end and one of the last plays she made she drove and found the open kid and she’s really finding a way to create.”

The run continued at the start of the second quarter with Margaux Welsh (eight points), Grace Sameski, Aubrie Kutil, and Olivia Adiletto (seven points) extended the lead to 26-0. Logan Lornell hit a pair of three-pointers to get Holy Name on the board, but Rudolph answered with a triple of her own, as did Madison Kuzio and it was 41-18 at the break.

In the second half, Leighton continued to mix and match with his lineup to get every player time on the court. Holy Cross-commit Monica Viapiano (10 points, all in the second half) tried to get going and scored five points, as Holy Name won the third quarter 15-14, but it was still a 22-point Franklin lead heading to the fourth.

In the final quarter, the Panthers continued to crash the boards and take the ball to the basket. Rudolph and Koffinke each had four points in the quarter, while Skidmore, Kutil, and Welsh also added buckets.

He said, “Offensively we tried to get to the rim. I was impressed that a lot of players in their first varsity minutes got to the rim. It was about the effort level.”

It was the perfect start for the Panthers, who are looking to reload rather than rebuild this year, although Leighton knows that there will be tougher challenges ahead, including a possible rematch with the Naps in the tournament.

Franklin will try to make it 2-0 when it hosts Canton on Tuesday night.

Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.