Warriors Rally Again, This Time to Win State Title

Foxboro Girls Basketball
Foxboro seniors Ashley Sampson, Lily Sykes and Shannon Smally hold up the Div. 2 state championship trophy after beating Hopkinton at the MassMutual Center. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Foxboro just couldn’t make it easy. After storming back from 20 points down in the second half to win a dramatic state semifinal in overtime against Pentucket, the Warriors found themselves down by 14 points to Hopkinton in the first half, having scored just nine points, in Saturday morning’s Div. 2 state championship at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

“I think they were feeling a little confident, more than they should’ve coming into the game and then they recognized the fact and were reminded of the fact that that’s a very good team,” said Foxboro coach Lisa Downs.

Just as it did in the semifinal, the Foxboro defense turned the game around in the second half. After allowing Hopkinton seniors Ivy Gogolin (13 points) and Regan Keavany (six points) to score 19 combined in the first half, the Warriors held the pair to only five after the break.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Behind a lockdown defense, Foxboro (26-2) used a 32-14 second half run to pull out a 49-41 victory and seal the program’s second state championship, and first since 1995.

“That just shows that we never give up,” said senior guard Ashley Sampson, who scored nine of her team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter. “We were down 10 to a good team but our defense, especially Lily pestering the guards, it got us back into it.”

Lily Sykes, who finished with 11 points, five steals, and two charges taken, added, “We knew that we played that 2-3 really well against Pentucket, so we were like okay we can work on it for Hopkinton too but obviously it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, clearly, because they hit every single outside shot. Man is our bread-and-butter so we just stuck to that and we know that defense creates offense.”

For Sampson, Sykes, and fellow seniors Grace Tamulionis and Shannon Smally, the state title was the culmination of their four years together at Foxboro. From playing together as freshmen in a South final to winning back-to-back Davenport division and Div. 2 South titles to getting redemption for last year’s loss at the TD Garden and reaching the title game, going on the journey together made the result that much sweeter.

“It’s the best thing that could ever happen,” said Sampson. “To end the season all together, it doesn’t feel real right now.”

Tamulionis added, “It means everything. We’ve been talking about it since freshman year, working towards it and I remember last year at the banquet she (Coach Downs) was like this is our goal this year just get here and to actually do it is…just awesome.”

The ultimate happy ending did not look promising in the first quarter. Foxboro managed just four points, on an Abby Hassman jumper to start the game and a Sampson jumper that cut the lead to 8-4. Hopkinton was hardly lighting up the scoreboard, but all four made field goals were threes (two by Keavany) for an early 12-4 lead after one.

In the second, the Hillers got the ball into the hands of Gogolin and the UNH-bound senior provided Hopkinton’s first 13 points in the quarter. The Hillers pushed the lead to 23-9 as Foxboro continued to struggle to find the range. Sykes (11 points) buried a three and Sampson followed with a pull-up jumper before Katelyn Mollica (eight points) got her first points on a tough finish at the rim.

With an 8-4 run, Foxboro got the lead down to 10 at the half and, just as they had done three days before, the Warriors refused to panic.

“I think it was nerves at first but it was the same as any place we’ve ever played,” Tamulionis said. “The game made us a little nervous and it took us a little while to warm up.”

Downs remarked, “Even if I had a shred of doubt in my mind, I was completely moved when I saw their eyes. There was a timeout and I just looked at each of them and they were just like, coach we’ve got this.

“They knew what they needed to do, they knew what their capabilities were compared to what they had already done out there and we knew it was just a matter of time and we needed to kick it into gear.”

The Warriors got going at the start of the second half. Sykes nailed her second three to start the third, Sampson hit a pair at the line, and Tamulionis finished a fast break off a Sykes assist. Sykes grabbed a steal and a layup to cut the lead to just one.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

“Defense is always our thing because you can have an off-night shooting but the only time you’re going to have an off-night on defense if your effort isn’t there and my girls are always giving 100 percent,” said Downs.

Hopkinton scored the final four points of the quarter to extend the lead to five heading to the fourth, but the Warriors had stolen the momentum.

Tamulionis hit a pair of threes early in the fourth that kept Foxboro within three points. Sampson twice got the Warriors within one, once on a steal and layup and then on a pair of free throws. Sykes got another steal in the backcourt and went in for a layup that gave Foxboro a 38-37 lead, its first since the opening basket.

“It was a little bit of redemption because coach would’ve killed me,” said Sykes of the go-ahead basket. In the Pentucket game she had missed a layup that would have tied it late in the fourth quarter. She joked, “I hit it and was like, finally I hit a layup.”

Mollica scored with a drive to the rim and Sampson became more aggressive taking the ball to the basket and getting to the line. She went 7-of-9 down the stretch and Mollica added four from the charity stripe as well.

“I just wanted to win that game,” said Sampson of her mentality in the final quarter. “I was going up weak when I had the opportunity to go inside but I had to go up strong and, if not make it, then draw the foul and take the free throws.”

The seniors have played 99 games together during their high school careers. It has been a long journey to this moment and it was one that each of them wanted to savor.

“It’s wicked exciting. I don’t even know, it doesn’t feel real at all. It’s just awesome,” said Sampson. When asked what it meant to be a state champion, Tamulionis simply added, “I don’t believe it. It’s crazy.”

Sykes said, “It’s the best feeling ever. They’re my best friends off the court and to win this with them is huge.

“I’m speechless. I just knew that it was the senior leadership. Freshman year we were all on the court playing, all three of us, and to just come back and step up in this huge game is just amazing.”

Downs, who was an assistant coach in 1995, the last time that the Warriors won the state title, praised her seniors for their contributions to the program and admitted that along with the excitement of winning is the sadness of not having another practice or game with this group.

“It’s kind of surreal,” she explained. “It was 111 days ago, I counted on the calendar, that we started the season and we knew we had to put some tough games on our schedule because no one else would play us this year.

“I always kind of knew we’d get to this point, not that I’d let them know, but the Coyle game at their gym we won by one, I saw the exact same faces that I saw in that timeout [today]. Obviously, it’s bittersweet because I’ll never have a group like this one.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Rocketeers Make History With Win Over Hopkinton

North Attleboro girls lacrosse
North senior Hana Caster scores one of her four goals against Hopkinton in the first round of the tournament. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – North Attleboro went into halftime of its first ever home playoff game holding an 8-5 lead. The Rocketeers had been up 5-1 but Hopkinton had started to get momentum near the end of the half and then used a 4-1 run at the start of the second to tie the game at 9-9. The first tie since three minutes into the game.

First-year coach Mike Vitelli called timeout to settle down his team. While the playoff experience is relatively new for the North program, Vitelli has seen success in the tournament before, winning a South title with King Philip in 2006.

The coach turned to his leading scorer Hana Caster and the UMass-Lowell commit responded with a pair of goals, her third and fourth of the game to go along with two assists, to regain the lead for North.

“I challenged her in the timeout,” said Vitelli, “I said, this could be your last game – don’t let it be; go out there and make the next couple of plays. True to form, she goes out and she makes the plays.”

The Rocketeers would not relinquish the lead, holding off the Hillers 14-12 in Tuesday afternoon’s Div. 2 East first round match-up and earning the program’s first ever state tournament victory.

“I’m elated for these girls,” said Vitelli. “It’s their first tournament win and they deserve it. I’m really proud of them. We’re excited to keep playing.”

He admitted that the team came into the game with a little added motivation after one publication picked the Hillers to earn an upset (as the ninth seed against the eighth). Drawing from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Vitelli made sure that it turned into bulletin board material for his players.

“They looked to the newspaper,” he said with a smile, “and they saw that the [Boston] Herald had picked Hopkinton in the upset and we’ll take that…and run with it a little bit. They drew a little inspiration from that today and it’s just fun to be a part of it.”

The Rocketeers jumped out to a 5-1 lead, despite struggling with draw controls in the early going. Senior goalie Brooke Ebert helped keep the shorthanded Hillers, who were missing a couple of players with injuries, making seven of her nine saves in the first half alone.

North took advantage of the possessions those saves created with Caster opening the scoring followed by goals from Chloe Olsen, Emily Schromm, Erin Holley, and Mackenzie Rosenberg. After Hopkinton scored to make it 5-2, Caster answered back with a bouncing shot that extended the lead to four.

The Hillers would not go quietly. Three straight goals cut the lead down to one in the final minutes of the half. North answered with a couple of draw controls and goals by Holley and Rosenberg to lead by three at the break.

“You’ve got a team that plays in arguably the best league in the state,” said Vitelli, “they’re loaded and they’re better than their 9-9 record and we knew that coming in. I knew at 5-1 that the game wasn’t over.”

Caster assisted on Liz Cooper’s first goal to break a two-goal streak by the Hillers at the start of the second half, but Hopkinton continued to press and back-to-back goals by freshman Lydia Rudden tied the game at 9-9 and forced Vitelli into a timeout.

“I called timeout and said it’s a 0-0 game, lets go back to what we did at the start of the game and that’s win draws,” he explained. “We put Chloe Olsen on the draw from that point on and it made all the difference in the world.”

Olsen started to win some draw controls and give North chances to attack. Caster made those chances count. She turned a quick transition off a Rosenberg feed into a goal with a dodge and a bouncing shot and then just seconds later smacked the post off a pass from Julia Dakin. A minute later, Caster scored from eight meters and the Rocketeers had a two-goal lead.

“Having played a lot of tight games this year, I didn’t feel like the kids panicked,” said Vitelli. “It’s a fast game, you’re going to have turnovers, but I thought we minimized the turnovers and got again stellar goaltending.”

Olsen tallied off a cut through the middle but Hopkinton answered in transition. Cooper scored with a turn and shot under the bar, but again the Hillers scored to stay close. Holley added another on a feed from Rosenberg but Rudden came right back with a quick response.

Leading 14-12 with a minute remaining and play about to restart with Ebert in possession, Vitelli called his last timeout. He needed someone to get the ball cleared and he turned to Schromm, who had been one of North’s defensive leaders all game along with Alaina Mello and fellow junior Samantha Taggart.

“She has that intangible that you can’t coach,” said Vitelli of Schromm. “She has speed and speed kills in this game. We called that timeout and she’s been running all day but I asked, do you have a ‘rocket’ left in you? She said, I got it.”

In the closing seconds, Schromm scooped yet another ground ball at midfield and ran out the clock to send North Attleboro into the second round for the first time in program history. Vitelli did not hide his joy at the historic moment and led the North bench onto the field at the final horn.

North Attleboro (13-6) will advance to face top seed Walpole at Turco Field on Thursday at 4 p.m.

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

Tomaso Homer Lifts Milford Softball to Win

Milford softball
Jess Tomaso (18) is greeted at home after her sixth inning homer that turned out to be the game-winner against Hopkinton. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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MILFORD, Mass. – It was not a banner day for the Hawks at the plate. Heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, Milford had only three hits of Hopkinton pitcher Bri Mirabile and none of them had traveled more than 10 feet from home plate.

With the home team finding itself down by a run with just six outs remaining, the Hawks needed a response. Jess Tomaso, a sophomore transfer from Hopedale, has proven to be a clutch hitter for Milford during its opening four games of the season and she came through again on Thursday afternoon with the big hit that the Hawks needed.

Tomaso lined a two-run homer to left to provide Milford with the go-ahead runs in the sixth inning and the Hawks threw out the tying run at the plate in the seventh to walk away with a 3-2 victory over Hopkinton and stay unbeaten through the first five games.

“She’s a great hitter,” said Milford coach Steve DiVitto about Tomaso. “She’s worked really, really hard and it pays off in games like this. You’re battling, you’re grinding, and she got a 2-0 pitch and found one she’d like to drive and she did just that.”

Hopkinton took the lead in the top of the sixth against sophomore pitcher Kelley Reichert, who had limited the Hillers to just one hit and two base runners through the first five innings. Kate Welzel drove a one-out double to right center that plated a pair of runs and made it 2-1.

Reichert managed to get the next hitter to line to Kate Irwin in left for the second out, but then gave up a single to her opposite number, Mirabile. Sydney Pounds throw to the plate was blocked by catcher Megan Jacques, forcing Welzel to hold at third.

“She’s been a rock all year,” said DiVitto of his catcher. “She calls a great game, the girls, like throwing to her, she’s a senior and a leader, and she’s doing a great job back there.”

A grounder to second ended the inning for Reichert, who finished with four strikeouts in six innings and showed that Milford has depth in the circle behind junior Ali Atherton.

DiVitto said of Reichert, “She threw great. She kept them off-balance early; towards the later innings she maybe got a little tired, but overall i thought she battled for us.”

He added, “We view the two of them (Atherton and Reichert) as our two pitchers. In order for this team to go somewhere we need them both to pitch effectively and they have so far.”

Mirabile had only allowed two infield singles and a bunt single through the first five innings, as Milford struggled to make significant contact, but Maggie Farrell started the sixth by lining a shot nearly to the fence in center that the Hopkinton player tracked but could not haul in. The error proved costly.

The next hitter was Tomaso, who had walked and flied out to right. She got hold of a 2-0 pitch and drove it well past the fence in left to instantly put Milford back on top, 3-2.

“It’s definitely not the best game we played this year but tip your cap to their pitcher, Mirabile, she kept us off-balance all day, threw strikes, and I just don’t think it was our best day with the sticks,” said DiVitto.

“You’re going to have those days; you’re not always going to score a bunch of runs. You have to find a way to win and we did that today.”

Atherton came in to close the game out in the seventh, but got a little help from her defense to shut the door. Katey Holly, the No. 7 hitter, led-off with a single to center and, after a strikeout, was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Lead-off hitter Emily Whelan lined a two-out single to left and Hopkinton coach Kiely Murray elected to send the runner.

Irwin scooped the ball cleanly and hit third baseman Kaitlyn DeCapua who then relayed the ball to Jacques at home. Jacques blocked the plate, applied the tag, and Milford had the victory.

DiVitto explained, “We work on those things all the time. The girls may think it’s tedious work but it comes up big in those situations where you know what to do. They knew exactly what to do and they executed it.”

Milford’s only other run came in the third inning. With two outs, following Mirabile’s fourth straight strikeout, Irwin bunted down the third base line. She would have been safe at first anyway, but the throw was wild and she advanced to second.

Emily Piergustavo drew a walk and then drew a throw from the catcher, which sailed into right field. The rightfielder’s throw back to the infield was errant allowing Irwin to score an unearned run for the Hawks.

Milford (5-0) will look for its third non-league win of the week when it travels to take on Silver Lake (widely considered the No. 1 team in the state) on Saturday.

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