Franklin Drops Overtime Heartbreaker In State Semis

Franklin girls basketball
Franklin’s Megan O’Connell drives to the basket against Springfield Central in the D1 State Semifinal. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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WORCESTER, Mass. – Springfield Central is headed back to the MIAA D1 State Championship for the third straight year, but it wasn’t without a hell of a fight from the Franklin girls basketball team first.

The Panthers went toe-to-toe with the three-time West sectional champions, forcing overtime with a late bucket before bowing out of the tournament with a 64-57 loss at the hands of the Golden Eagles in the D1 State Semifinals.

“When you’re this close, you’re a game away, they are definitely disappointed,” said Franklin head coach John Leighton. “For the girls, I think in the next 24 hours, the sense of accomplishment will come back, but right now, it stinks. It’s raw because it just happened and was overtime. It’s one thing if you lose by 20, you know the season is done. But not here when you’re battling until the last 12 seconds. It’ll hurt tonight, but it’ll get better.”

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For the second straight game, junior Megan O’Connell scored in the final seconds, this time a layup with 6.1 seconds left to tie the game at 48-48 to force overtime.

“We have a lot of faith in her,” Leighton said of O’Connell. “Her confidence has grown so much. It was a similar play to what we ran the other night, just with Ali or Meg with an inside-out option, and the lane was there so I give her credit. The kids have really grown confidence-wise. We’ve been in a lot of close games and come out ahead and I think that gives them a lot of confidence. We celebrated last game and then buried it but I think that confidence at the end helped us.”

Franklin carried that momentum into the extra period as O’Connell (16 points, 17 rebounds) drove to the basket on the opening possession to give the Panthers the lead, and two trips later, senior Shannon Grey drained a corner three for a 53-48 lead with 2:49 left.

But the Golden Eagles refused to go away, answering right away with a triple from Selenya Gonzalez (21 points). Franklin’s Ali Brigham (26 points, 25 rebounds) converted an offensive rebound to give Franklin a four-point cushion and then blocked a shot to give the Panthers possession back with under two minutes to go.

But a missed three resulted in two free throws for Jaliena Sanchez (34 points, eight rebounds) and then a turnover resulted in two free throws for Rosheda Guthrie, knotting the score at 55-55.

Turnovers hurt the Panthers all night, and their 19th and final one of the game led to one of the biggest plays of the game. After two misses, Franklin came down with another offensive rebound but a pass to the paint was picked off by Sanchez and she raced the length of the court and converted while being fouled, hitting the free throw to put Springfield Central up 58-55 with under a minute to play.

“There’s going to be plenty of swings throughout the game,” Leighton said. “I thought they had a couple of good stops, got us to turn it over a couple of times. And Sanchez was just on fire at the end, she couldn’t miss from the foul line. She did a lot of stuff, she finished strong and I thought she was the biggest difference in the game, especially in the second half and in overtime.”

Brigham answered on the other end with a pair of free throws but Sanchez went back to the line, where she finished 17-for-21, and sank another two to push the lead back to three, 60-57. Franklin was unable to convert its chance and Sanchez added four more from the line in the final seconds to ice the game.

It was back-and-forth for the majority of regulation, with neither team grabbing a significant lead at any point. Springfield Central jumped out to a 6-0 lead to start the game but Franklin settled in and took a 13-11 lead by the end of the first quarter.

Buckets from O’Connell and Brigham midway through the second helped the Panthers build a brief five-point lead at 19-14 but a 7-1 swing from the Golden Eagles put Springfield Central ahead. The Panthers got points from Bea Bonhus and Erin Quaile, plus four straight from Brigham to take a 28-26 lead into halftime.

Sanchez worked her way to the line early and often in the third, hitting five free throws but Brigham answered with a three-point play, a rare shooting foul called against the Golden Eagles while defending Brigham.

A four-point play from Sanchez — a made three plus another foul — gave Springfield Central a 37-33 edge and the momentum but the Panthers stole it back with a 10-0 run to end the quarter. Brigham scored the first four then O’Connell scored three straight baskets for a 43-37 edge heading into the fourth.

Franklin was held to just one point — a free throw from freshman Olivia Quinn — for the first six minutes of the fourth. The Panthers finished the game just 2-for-18 from three-point range.

“We’d love to have a couple more of those [threes],” Leighton said. “And the thing is, I thought we took good shots, we weren’t forcing them, they just weren’t falling. Not that we’ve been living off the three all year, but they were urging us to shoot it and we had to take the open shots. “

Quaile sank two free throws with 1:40 left to get Franklin within one before O’Connell’s tying basket late.

“This team is historic,” Leighton said. “They went further than any other Franklin girls team has ever gone. This is a cohesive group, which is really special. I’d love to take credit for it but I have nothing to do with it. These girls love each other.”

Franklin girls basketball finishes the season at 21-4.

O’Connell Beats Buzzer and Lifts Franklin to First Title

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Franklin girls basketball celebrates on the court after beating Wachusett at Worcester State to earn the program’s first-ever sectional title. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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WORCESTER, Mass. – Franklin got the look it wanted to try and win the game.

Down by one with less than 10 seconds remaining, Erin Quaile swung the ball around the perimeter to her backcourt partner Shannon Gray, who looped the ball into Ali Brigham on the left block. The 6-foot-3 junior center, who had 28 points to that point, turned into her smaller defender, took a dribble, and got a look at the rim.

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Unlike so many other chances that Brigham converted in Friday night’s Div. 1 Central final at Worcester State University, this one didn’t find the bottom of the net. Instead, it kicked off to the far side, but her classmate Megan O’Connell was there and pulled down the offensive rebound between three Wachusett defenders.

O’Connell instantly went back up with an off-balance shot. It bounced on the right side of the rim, took a touch on the backboard, and dropped through to put Franklin ahead 61-60 just as the final horn sounded on the program’s first-ever sectional title.

“I was thinking, ‘oh my god, it’s not going to go in,’ and then it somehow did,” said O’Connell after the game. “I was thrilled, this is all we’ve been working for. I’m just happy it all worked out.”

Gray added, “It’s amazing. I can’t believe that we’re the first team in Franklin girls basketball history to ever get a sectional and that’s just so amazing…I can’t believe it’s real.”

When the ball dropped through the basket, O’Connell seemed to hesitate for a second before the celebrations kicked in, as though she wasn’t sure if she had really just done that. That she had just won the game. “I was in shock. I didn’t really process that it went in,” she explained.

“It was like every bad Disney movie at the end where you’re just waiting and waiting,” Franklin coach John Leighton joked. “We drew up a play to get Ali the ball but we talked about at the end of the game, whoever has the ball just shoot it, not to make the extra pass. [Megan] got it, she didn’t blink, she didn’t think twice, and she shot it right away.”

There were points in the second half when it looked like Franklin may run away from the Mountaineers and cruise to the title. But, Wachusett came in undefeated for a reason and stormed back in the fourth. A 4-0 run to close the third was followed by four more to start the final quarter with junior Belle Lanpher (21 points) getting a steal and then a transition basket to cut the lead to 47-45.

Brigham answered back with a basket plus the foul and senior Bea Bondhus (10 points) knocked down a pull-up jumper from the right to push the lead back to seven. A jumper by Rachel Vinton (14 points) was matched by a Brigham layup, off a feed from O’Connell, to keep the Panthers up 54-47.

That was when things started to get very interesting.

Lanpher drilled a straightaway three to cut the lead to four points and Vinton halved that with a pair at the line. Again, Franklin turned to Brigham, who added 14 rebounds and seven blocks to her game-high point total, and she responded with a basket from a Gray assist. A layup for Jill Post made it a two-point game and then Courtney Lanpher (14 points) buried a three to put the Mountaineers up 57-56. It was their first lead of the second half.

Bondhus got fouled in the backcourt and, despite the cacophony of noise from the Wachusett student section, buried two clutch free throws with 1:19 left to give the Panthers back the lead. Courtney Lanpher was fouled and knocked down a pair at the line to make it 59-58 with 1:06 left. After another foul, Gray (seven points) hit 1-of-2 to tie it with 1:01 remaining.

“The whole time we were just like let’s do it,” said Gray. “We’ve got it and let’s just finish.”

The score stayed the same until Lanpher was fouled going to the basket with 15.1 on the clock. She missed the first and Leighton took a timeout. The senior guard made the second and instantly Wachusett went into its press. Quaile got free to get the inbound and pushed the ball up court, where the Panthers got the ball into Brigham’s hands and then O’Connell provided the heroics.

“A quarter-inch difference and Wachusett wins the game and we’re going home,” said Leighton, adding, “If that bounced the other way, I’d be just as proud of the kids because what they did tonight was give everything they had against a great team. This was as complete a game as they could play and if that ball bounced out I don’t think I would feel differently.”

O’Connell said, “We worked so hard and we had a good run in the first half and we thought we were going to win and it turned around and we had to stay put and keep playing defense and we pulled it out.”

Wachusett came out firing and took an early 10-4 lead in the first. The Mountaineers scored 19 points in the opening quarter, mostly using a high pick-and-roll in the center of the court. Franklin was aggressively jumping out to the shooters and the Mountaineers were able to turn the corner time and again and get to the rim, where Brigham was nowhere to be found because she was forced to extend out.

The Panthers changed things up defensively in the second and held Wachusett to just 10 points in the quarter.

“They shoot the lights out…so we came out trying to limit their three-point shots,” said Leighton. “We adjusted and we tried to switch a lot more and put a person in that gap so it wasn’t a straight shot to the rim. That got Ali a lot of those blocks because she had time to get back.”

Brigham was on fire early in the game, as the Panthers got the ball inside early and often. O’Connell (10 points and nine rebounds), fresh off a 19-point game in the semifinal, was also getting free and taking the ball to the rim. Gray nailed a three in the final seconds to tie the game at 19-19 after one.

In the second, Franklin’s outside shooting started to find the range. Bondhus and Quaile each hit threes and Brigham added another six points as Franklin pushed the lead to as many as 10, 35-25. A quick 4-0 run at the end of the half got the top seed back within single digits at the break.

A Belle Lanpher three cut the Panthers advantage to 40-37 in the third, but then Franklin went on a 7-0 run to again push the lead to 10. Brigham got an offensive board and put-back and Bondhus drilled a three in the run. But again, Wachusett was able to score four straight to get back within six at 47-41 and set up an exciting finish to this rematch of the 2015 Central final.

Franklin (20-4) now advances to the state semifinal for the first time and will face West champion Springfield Central.

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Panthers Find the Range in Second Half to Reach Final

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The Franklin bench celebrates one of the team’s five three-pointers in the second half that allowed the Panthers to pull away from Concord-Carlisle. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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WORCESTER, Mass. – When the ball swung around to Franklin guard Shannon Gray right in front of the Panthers bench, her teammates started to rise in anticipation of a shot. But Gray hesitated and passed it back up top. Franklin coach John Leighton urged the senior to let it fly when she gets the chance.

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Gray heeded that advice and she knocked down a pair of threes on back-to-back possessions to stretch the Franklin lead from just four points to double digits. She knocked down three of her team’s five shots from beyond the arc in the second half, helping the Panthers pull away for a convincing 59-43 victory over No. 2 seed Concord-Carlisle in the Div. 1 Central semifinal at WPI’s Harrington Auditorium.

“We talked at halftime, start like it’s 0-0 and play like we do and the key is to keep reversing the ball,” Franklin coach John Leighton explained. “In the second half, they were just packed in so when we reversed it the kids were just wide open to take the shot and once one goes in that confidence starts coming.”

At halftime, Franklin held a slim, two-point lead over the Patriots and that was entirely because of two players, junior center Ali Brigham and her classmate Megan O’Connell.

The Panthers opened the game with a 10-0 run, as O’Connell took advantage of the attention on Brigham in the paint to find driving lanes. Brigham added an and-one off an offensive rebound and had four points in the first, but O’Connell was the aggressor in the paint and on the glass (13 rebounds), scoring 10 of Franklin’s 14 in the first. She finished with 19 points in the game.

“I had a pretty bad game last time and I really just wanted to get back to where I know I can be,” said O’Connell about her aggressive start. Leighton added, “I’m so happy for her because she’s been so patient all year. They were so hyper-focused on Ali that the lane just kept opening up. Early on everyone was a little tentative and she was aggressive.”

The Patriots crept back into the game, trailing by just six after one and then getting as close as two at several points in the second quarter. Franklin was determined to get the ball into the paint and Brigham (game-high 22 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks) scored all of her team’s nine points in the period, twice scoring on put-backs and twice getting baskets at the rim thanks to O’Connell assists.

While Franklin had the lead at the break, it was hard to envisage a trip to the final with only two players getting on the scoresheet, especially as the Patriots threw a variety of different defenses at Brigham in the post, almost daring the Panthers to shoot from the perimeter. That strategy worked for a half, but Franklin made the Patriots pay in the second half.

After an O’Connell drive for two, Bea Bondhus knocked down Franklin’s first three, and her only shot of the game, to make it 28-21. Concord-Carlisle, which came into the game with only one loss on the season, cut the lead back to just four points but then Gray stepped up and knocked down a pair to suddenly make it a 10-point edge.

“She’s our captain and she leads us in every way,” Leighton said of Gray. “She’s the most selfless kid. She makes us run, her composure…so for her to get a little bit tonight was really nice.”

Leighton added about the team’s outside shooting, “It broke what they were doing. They went into that triangle-and-two to look to pack the paint hoping we wouldn’t make any threes. I think it was vital to break their confidence in what they were doing.”

Again the Patriots rallied with back-to-back buckets, but Brigham answered with a rebound and score and then Teagan Collins finished a break with a scoop shot off the glass. As the clock wound down on the third, Erin Quaile put a punctuation mark on the quarter by drilling a three at the buzzer to give Franklin its largest lead at 43-31.

The Panthers scored nearly as many points in the third quarter as in the first two combined. That offensive barrage continued in the fourth. Brigham got a three-point play on a rebound and then finished off another rebound to make it 49-31.

Corcnord-Carlisle hit back with five straight points, but then the Panthers put the game out of reach. Gray snagged an offensive rebound and made a nice dish underneath to a wide open O’Connell for two. Gray then stepped back outside and nailed her third three-pointer of the afternoon and O’Connell added two more with yet another rebound.

“We just needed to slow down really,” said O’Connell. “We were getting ahead of ourselves and trying to make the perfect pass, but we just needed to make the easy pass and we’d get layups.”

Franklin (20-4) is making a second appearance in the D1 Central final, its first since 2015, and will face the top seed Wachusett.

“It’s definitely a big deal,” said O’Connell. “We’ve been working really hard every day in practice and we’re just trying to get as far as we can.”

Leighton praised his team for meeting its high expectations. “Two years ago, we started 0-6 and I brought the team that year to watch the finals at Worcester State,” he recalled. “We were like, this is where we want to be. This is what lays ahead, if we do what we need to do.”

He added, “For this team, hard work has been the key.”

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Brigham, Bondhus, Defense Lift Franklin in Comeback

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Hockomock League MVP Ali Brigham scored 33 points, pulled down 15 rebounds, and blocked three shots to lift Franklin to a come from behind win against Westford Academy in the opening round of the playoffs. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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FRANKLIN, Mass. – Franklin head coach John Leighton was not pleased when he called timeout with his team trailing by 10 points in the third quarter of Wednesday night’s Div. 1 Central quarterfinal against Westford Academy. The Grey Ghosts had just knocked down their third triple of the quarter and eighth of the night and Leighton urged his team, which has allowed less than 40 points per game this season, to find another gear on the defensive end.

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The Panthers responded and then some. Franklin gave up only 10 more points the rest of the way, turning a 10-point deficit into a 10-point, 63-53 win that sends the Panthers into the quarterfinal. Franklin closed the game on a 30-10 run to earn its first playoff win since the team made a run to the Central final in 2015.

“We really communicated far better on defense, communicated the switches, communicated how we had to rotate far better at the end of the third quarter and especially the fourth quarter,” Leighton explained. :When we were in better position, then we rebounded better, which kept them to a lot of one-and-done’s.”

Out of that third quarter timeout, Franklin went on a 7-0 run that instantly got the hosts back into the game. Olivia Quinn set up Ali Brigham for a basket to get things started and then Quinn added her only basket of the night off a Shannon Gray dish. Westford got two back, but then Brigham snatched one of her 15 rebounds and scored to make it only a three-point game heading to the fourth.

Erin Quaile completed the comeback for the Panthers when she buried a three-pointer from the left wing, her only points of the night, to put Franklin ahead 46-45. It was Franklin’s first lead since the second quarter. Jennifer Martin answered for the Ghosts with a step-back three, her fourth of the night, but momentum was with the Panthers and they answered with a long inbounds pass to Brigham under the basket to tie it.

Brigham, who was recently voted the Hockomock League MVP, was dominant throughout and she grabbed another offensive rebound to put Franklin back in front. She finished with a game-high 33 points.

She also got some help from senior guard Bea Bondhus, who scored seven of her 15 points in the fourth quarter to secure her first win in the playoffs and make sure this was only her final home game, not the final game of her career. Bondhus drained a three on a kick out from Brigham that put the Panthers up 53-51 and then she followed it with a pump-fake and drive to the basket that extended the lead to four.

“In our timeout we were talking about reversing the ball side to side,” Bondhus said. “And so me and Ali were talking and I said, my girl is running in and doubling so look opposite and she said I’ve got you next possession and it happened exactly as we said it would happen.”

Leighton said of Bondhus, who is one of just three seniors on the roster, “Bea’s been a great three-point shooter forever, but she raised her game up. How many times did she ball-fake, drive, and create. She defended, boxed out, rebounded. She’s really expanded her game.”

A pair of free throws by Brigham was followed by a jumper from Megan O’Connell, who had a rough shooting night up until that point, and the Franklin bench and the home crowd sensed that the Panthers were moving on.

“It took a lot of mental toughness there,” Bondhus said. “We wanted to focus on our defense because we gave up five threes in the first half and we wren’t closing out. Once we started getting defensive stops that transitioned into offense for us.”

Three-point shooting had put Franklin in an early hole, as the Grey Ghosts knocked down four from beyond the arc in the first quarter alone. Despite Brigham scoring nine in the first, including a spinning pull-up jumper from the free throw line, and Bondhus adding five, Westford held a 16-14 edge.

The Panthers kept forcing the ball into the paint to Brigham, who added another eight points in the second quarter, but on the defensive side of the ball Franklin was allowing Westford to control the boards and get second chance opportunities. The Ghosts extended the lead to 10 at one point in the second, but a mini-run cut that lead in half by the break. Brigham in the paint and Bondhus from three giving Franklin a quick five points.

The threes kept raining down from the visitors in the third quarter until Leighton’s timeout and his insistence that the Panthers lock down the perimeter.

Bondhus said, “I was really happy we pulled it out. This team means so much and we’re all best friends off the court, so it was so nice to have the team win there… It really shows our toughness.”

Franklin (19-4) will take on No. 2 seed Concord-Carlisle on Sunday at WPI at 5:00.

Leighton remarked, “It was big to get back to WPI. These kids have never played there. Now they want to get to the final. They’re not done; hungry for more.”

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Brigham Hits Milestone and Panthers Rally to Win at OA

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Franklin junior center Ali Brigham is mobbed by her teammates after scoring her 1,000th career point on a third quarter free throw at Oliver Ames. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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NORTH EASTON, Mass. – Midway through the third quarter of Wednesday night’s game at the Nixon Gym, Franklin junior center Ali Brigham was sent to the line with a chance to reach the 1,000-point milestone. She missed the first, but drilled the second one to become the first Franklin player to hit that mark since Kelley Meredith in 2008 (Kyle Gibson reached 1,000 points in 2011 for the Franklin boys).

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After head coach John Leighton called a quick timeout, Brigham, who finished with a game-high 20 points and 12 rebounds, was mobbed by her teammates on the court.

There were plenty of hugs and smiles at that stage of the game, with the Franklin ahead 33-32, but Oliver Ames nearly put an early end to the celebrations when it took a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter. With three minutes to play, the Tigers led by four and it looked like Franklin’s unbeaten run through the league was about to end.

The Panthers rallied with a 13-4 run to close out the game, including 10-2 over the final three minutes, to pull out a 53-51 victory and allow Brigham the chance to savor her moment as well.

“We’re really excited for the tournament that we’ve got coming up this weekend and we just won the Hock, so this is a game that we could’ve let slip,” Brigham said after the win. “I think that was really big for us to come back in the fourth because we work so hard at practice to not let a game like this slip us up.”

Brigham has been a dominant force in the paint since her freshman year, and came into the week leading the league in scoring with more than 22 points per game. Leighton praised his star for her desire to keep improving her game.

“What’s neat is the improvement every year,” Franklin coach John Leighton said. “The scoring has been great, but she also knows what she needs to get to 1,000 rebounds, which says a lot about a kid when that’s what she’s worried about. She’s worked on getting other people open. When things slogged down, she set more screens to get everyone else going.”

While the headlines would be about Brigham’s milestone, it was freshman Olivia Quinn and senior Bea Bondhus that would bring Franklin back in the fourth quarter.

Twice Ally Scolnick (eight points) got behind the Franklin defense for transition layups, both assisted by Caroline Flynn (eight points), freshman Caroline Peper (team-high 17 points and eight rebounds) drilled a corner three, and her classmate Hailey Bourne (eight points) snagged an offensive rebound to help OA build a 47-40 lead.

Quinn helped the Panthers claw back into the game by crashing the boards. She scored six of her seven points in the quarter (hitting three of Franklin’s four made field goals) and all came on offensive rebounds, including a layup that tied the game at 49-49.

“At this point, [freshman] is not a term that I associate with her because she’s played in so many meaningful minutes,” Leighton said of Quinn. “She moves so well with her height. We can have her do multiple things.”

Bondhus (14 points) followed another defensive stop by driving down the left side of the lane, absorbing the contact, and finishing at the rim for the go-ahead score. Another defensive stand and two more free throws put the Panthers up four with only seconds remaining.

“The game plan was very specific and I would say that 99 percent of the time they executed it and I was really proud of their defensive effort,” said OA coach Laney Clement-Holbrook. “It was all of them. It was the best team performance that we’ve had this season.”

Things were a struggle at the start of the game for the Panthers, who were clearly trying to get Brigham some touches, but OA senior forward Alex Sheldon was doing everything in her power to keep Franklin’s 6-foot-3 center uncomfortable and limit her touches. Bourne, despite giving up plenty of size to the George Washington-commit, also jumped into the post to provide some defensive help.

“They were so physical,” said Clement-Holbrook. “They weren’t afraid to bump. They tried to make it a little bit difficult for her.”

Flynn got off to a good start on the offensive end with six points in the first, twice getting transition baskets off Sadie Homer assists, but Brigham still managed to get eight in the quarter and keep the Panthers down just three, 16-13.

“I was a little worried,” Brigham said, “because 15 is kind of a big number but I came out fast and it was good. My team did a good job of just doing their thing and it just happened.”

Franklin clamped down defensively in the second, limiting the Tigers to just seven points as a team, six of those scored by Peper. On the other end, Bondhus started to heat up. She scored six in the quarter, including a steal and layup that put the visitors ahead 24-23. Shannon Gray hit a jumper to put the Panthers up three at halftime.

Brigham was only three points away from 1,000 to start the third and opened the second half with a basket, but Peper countered with a bucket, assisted on a Meg Holleran basket, and then drilled a three to tie the game at 32-32. Megan O’Connell was taking advantage of the attention being on Brigham to score six of her nine points in the quarter.

After Brigham hit her free throw to reach the milestone, Scolnick got her first points to tie the game at 34-34. Bourne went 4-of-4 at the line and the teams entered the fourth quarter tied.

OA opened the fourth with a 9-2 run and looked on the verge of a signature win, but the Panthers showed why they have only lost once this season and were able to earn the come from behind win.

“I think it’s very valuable for us,” said Leighton about being pushed to the end. “I thought they played with real grit at the end. We locked it down and I thought we got every single defensive rebound. We stopped turning it over. We did the little things that you need to win.”

Franklin (17-1, 15-0) will close out league play against Attleboro on Friday before taking on perennial power Braintree (and either Belmont or Cathedral in the second game) at the IAABO Board 27 Tournament at Woburn High over the weekend. Oliver Ames (10-7, 9-6) will end its league schedule by hosting King Philip.

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Panthers Net Kelley-Rex Title With Win at Mansfield

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Erin Quaile (20) and Shannon Gray (10) were all smiles after beating Mansfield on the road to clinch at least a share of Franklin’s first league title since 2013. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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MANSFIELD, Mass. – The cliche is that defense wins championships and, if the cliche is true, then it is no wonder that Franklin had the chance to clinch a Kelley-Rex division title on Tuesday night. The Panthers came into the game against Mansfield in the Albertini Gym allowing a little more than 35 points per game, which was a league best.

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With a potential title on the line against the three-time defending champions, the Panthers turned to their defense once again, and added some clutch shooting to go with it.

Franklin held Mansfield to just 14 points in the first half and took control with an 11-0 run just before the break and sealed the win with a 11-4 run down the stretch when the Hornets had gotten back within single digits. With the 47-32 victory, Franklin secured at least a share of its first league title since 2013.

“It’s really what we’ve been working towards all season,” said Franklin senior Bea Bondhus. “Yesterday, at the end of practice we sat in front of the banner in the gym and coach was like, ‘2013 was the last time we won it and you guys have the chance to win it this year.’ Before the game, we were really nervous but he made it clear that this was an opportunity and that we can beat this team.”

The game was a defensive struggle from the opening tip. It took nearly three minutes for either team to get on the scoreboard and the teams were tied at just 7-7 after one.

Mansfield coach Mike Redding said, “They’re aggressive defensively, [Ali] Brigham’s back there if they do get beat off backdoors and off the dribble and it’s hard to make field goals against them and if you’re not getting to the free throw line good luck trying to beat them.”

Mady Bendanillo buried a three off an assist from her sister Kara to open the scoring, but Franklin was able to get the ball into the paint to star center Ali Brigham. The 6-foot-3 junior scored all seven of the Panthers’ points in the first and finished with a game-high 17, along with 10 rebounds and four blocks.

The Hornets continued to hang right with the league leaders late into the second quarter, thanks to its own defensive effort. Mansfield is allowing fewer than 40 points per game this season as well. Emily Vigeant (nine points) scored on a drive and then drilled a three to put the hosts up 14-13 with only a couple of minutes left until halftime.

“The tight start? Mike’s team plays great ‘D’. Bea was never open, Ali was hugged, and they just said beat us with someone else,” Franklin coach John Leighton explained.

Franklin took control in the span of about 90 seconds. Freshman Olivia Quinn scored on an offensive rebound to get the lead back. Shannon Gray knocked down a three to extend the lead to four and then Brigham stepped into a transition three. Gray capped the half with a corner three off a Brigham kick out to open up a 10-point lead.

“That’s exactly how I drew it up with my center hitting a pull-up three,” Leighton joked. “It was huge, especially Shannon hitting a couple because we’ve been working with her. In practice, she nails them but in games she’s the last kid to look for her shot and tonight, when it was there, she took them.”

Redding added, “It was a great defensive battle and then a one-point game became a 10-point game. We played them pretty even in the second half but that run really was the killer.”

Maggie Danehy (10 points and 13 rebounds) opened the second half with a jumper, but each time Mansfield got the lead back to single digits Franklin had a response. Megan O’Connell got a layup off one of Erin Quaile’s five assists and then Quaile drove to the rim for a basket.

Sydney Mulkern hit a three to cut the lead back down to nine points, but Brigham scored at the rim and Quaile hustled to snag an offensive rebound and fed Bondhus (eight points) for an easy finish. The Panthers led 36-23 after three quarters.

“A lot of people, when they talk about our team, they say that Ali carries us but it’s huge for everyone on this team to step up and make shots,” said Bondhus. “Megan, Erin, Shannon, everyone made shots.”

Neither offense clicked in the fourth but Mansfield was able to get as close as eight points (36-28) off a Mulkern drive. With Brigham in foul trouble, the Panthers were starting to rush against the Mansfield press and it looked like the Hornets might just have a chance to get back into the game.

“This is such a game of momentum,” said Leighton, who called a timeout in the fourth quarter to try and rally his team. “I’d love to tell you I drew something new up, but I just wanted to settle them down because they’re good enough. Once we settled, I think the guards handled the pressure better and we ran good offense.”

Following the timeout, the Panthers responded. Quaile scored, extending the lead to 11, and then Bondhus got free for the first time at the three-point lead to break the game open again. She buried a second three, the team’s sixth of the night, to put the game away.

“Bea stayed patient and stayed loose until the fourth quarter and those were some killer shots when we needed them,” said Leighton. He added, “Nothing changes after this. Win or loss, we still have to play the remaining games. Nothing is done.”

Franklin (15-1, 13-0) can clinch the outright title on Friday night when it hosts Taunton. Mansfield (11-4, 10-3) will try to keep up its push for a top-four seed in the Div. 1 South sectional when it travels to Oliver Ames.

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Brigham Dominates as Franklin Ends Foxboro Streak

Franklin junior center Ali Brigham put up monster numbers (27 points, 15 rebounds, and six blocks) to end Foxboro’s 26-game unbeaten run and keep the Panthers unbeaten in league play this season. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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FOXBORO, Mass. – Coming into Tuesday night’s showdown, Foxboro and Franklin were both unbeaten (8-0) in Hockomock play and were the league’s top two scoring teams, its top two defensive teams, its two division leaders, and boasted the league’s top two scorers.

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It was clearly a battle of the top two teams in the Hock and it was a battle that was dominated by the Hock’s top scorer, Ali Brigham. The 6-foot-3 junior center scored 27 points, pulled down 15 rebounds, and blocked six shots, controlling the paint on both ends of the court to help Franklin remain unbeaten with a 52-40 victory.

“She’s frustrated because she thought that she could’ve played better,” Franklin coach John Leighton joked when asked about Brigham’s performance night-in, night-out. “It’s great coaching a kid that wants to become better. She’s not complacent. She’s not close to the player that she wants to be, yet. She keeps expanding her game.”

Franklin’s win ended Foxboro’s 26-game win streak and 33-game league win streak.

While Brigham rightfully stole the headlines for her all-around game, Franklin also won because of its defensive performance on Foxboro sophomore Katelyn Mollica. The league’s second leading scorer was held to just nine points (four in the fourth quarter) thanks to the very close attention of sophomore Erin Quaile.

With Mollica contained, Foxboro was held more than 20 points below its season average.

“It gets tough for Mollica having all that pressure, especially when you have someone who can stick with you the way Quaile did tonight,” said Foxboro coach Lisa Downs. “She completely blocked her out and denied her the ball, but I don’t know if we have any answer for Ali Brigham but our goal was to keep her below her average and we didn’t do that.”

The Panthers jumped out to an early lead, as Brigham scored eight points in the first, matching Foxboro’s total in the quarter. She twice got baskets on offensive rebounds, drove to the basket and was set up by a Bea Bondhus drive. Bondhus (nine points) also scored twice herself and Megan O’Connell (10 points) added four points.

Chelsea Gibbons hit a three, Mollica hit a pull-up three and Lizzy Davis scored on a jumper, but that was all the Warriors could manage against Franklin’s pressure defense.

Leighton said, “Erin Quaile and Shannon Gray have been doing this all year. We unleash them on the other team’s best guards and they’re very good athletes and tough as nails but it helps having Ali behind them. They ran a lot of screens for Mollica tonight and I thought we hedged well; no one was alone on an island.”

That pattern held in the second, as the Warriors were held to eight points as a team again. A quick 6-0 run extended the Panthers’ advantage to 14 points, but Foxboro hung around thanks to four points from Yara Fawaz (team-high 12 points and six rebounds). But, whenever Foxboro seemed to be climbing back into the game, Franklin responded and Brigham scored off assists by Quaile and Elizabeth Wilson to push the lead back to 12 at halftime.

“Foxboro doesn’t win as many games in a row as they have without that,” said Leighton about Foxboro continually pushing back. “There is zero quit, but I thought we answered defensively every time they made a run. We got patient on offense, worked the ball around and instead of taking that first open look, work it around and either get an inside touch or kick it out to the open kid.”

The third quarter was back-and-forth. Brigham was again the focal point for the Panthers, who found different ways to get her the ball on the block and moved the ball well from side-to-side and kept the Foxboro defense moving. With Brigham and O’Connell (seven rebounds) controlling the glass, Franklin also prevented the Warriors from getting out in transition.

Fawaz scored four more points in the third, combining well with fellow forward Abby Hassman (five assists) to try and step away from the basket and, of course, Brigham. Davis also drilled a three and Anita Busznyak took a lead pass from Mollica for a rare basket on the break.

Despite Foxboro feeling like it was on the brink of a comeback, the Warriors fell a further point behind heading to the fourth quarter. Still, the hosts kept battling back, with six straight points to start the fourth cutting the lead to 43-36 after Mollica’s steal and layup.

O’Connell answered with a basket and then assisted on a Brigham basket. Fawaz got into the lane to score and make it a nine-point game again, but Bondhus came right back down and drilled a three from the left wing to push the lead into double digits and seal the win.

Brigham remarked, “I think we were just so focused and so ready to win that we just handled what we needed to do. If they went on a run, we came back with another one.”

Downs was philosophical about the end of the win streak. She said, “It’s one of those teams that’s going to help us for down the road to prepare for the postseason because they are so talented. We never really could get past that hump, but they didn’t stop fighting and I give them credit for that.”

Franklin (11-1, 9-0) will be back home on Friday night to host Attleboro, while Foxboro (10-1, 8-1) will host North Attleboro, which comes in with five wins in its last six games.

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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.

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2018-2019 Hockomock Girls Basketball Preview

2018-2019 Hockomock Girls Basketball Preview
Foxboro sophomore Katelyn Mollica will try to keep the Warriors on top in the Davenport division, as the new Hockomock League girls basketball season gets underway. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

By HockomockSports.com Staff

2017-2018 Hockomock Girls Basketball Preview

Attleboro

2017-2018 Record: 9-13
2017-2018 Finish: Missed postseason.
Coach: Martin Crowley
The Bombardiers were just two wins shy of a playoff spot last season under new head coach Marty Crowley and Attleboro brings back three starters and has added several new faces to the roster to try and make a postseason push this winter.

The graduation of leading scorer Sam Pierce (16 points per game) means that a number of players are going to need to step in and make up for production on offense and on the glass. Senior point guard Jordyn Lako will be back to run the Bombardiers offense and provide three-point shooting, while junior Nyah Thomas is a versatile weapon on the offensive side of the ball. Both are also aggressive defenders, who set the tone on that end of the floor. Senior forward Mackenzie Roberts can score in the post or from beyond the arc and junior Liv McCall is a dynamic guard who is capable of big scoring nights.

Defense has always been the focus of teams that Crowley coaches and the Bombardiers will be no different. To keep up that defensive intensity, the Bombardiers have added depth to the rotation. Seniors Abby Struminski and Dom Garnes (who was out last season with an injury) provide leadership, while sophomores Gabby Bosh and Sonny Stuger and freshmen Meghan Gordon and Lillian Froio are newcomers to keep an eye on.

“Hopefully we can generate scoring opportunities off our defense and use our athleticism to create baskets,” said Crowley. “We have a great mix of experience and youth. We are excited about what lies ahead. Practices have been spirited and the kids have been working hard.”

Canton

2017-2018 Record: 10-11
2017-2018 Finish: Reached Div. 2 South first round.
Coach: Jim Choquette
Last winter, Canton got a taste of the postseason for the first time in seven seasons and now the program will try to build on that momentum while finding a way to replace the scoring and rebounding of Hannah Jerrier, who averaged a double-double for the Bulldogs last winter. An exciting crop of underclassmen has been added to the roster and now Canton will try to build experience with a schedule that puts them on the road for the majority of the first half of the year.

While Jerrier will obviously be missed, the Bulldogs bring back the other four starters and other players with plenty of experience to try and make it a much shorter wait to get back into the playoffs. Senior point guard Julia Hamilton is back to run the offense, senior Erin Devine gives Canton control on the glass and a rim protector on defense, senior Molly Ludwig gives balance to the offense, and senior Maggie Connolly is one of the league’s top defensive players on the perimeter. Senior Nicole Galvin will add depth to the backcourt.

Junior Lilah Milton came on strong at the tail of end of last season, including a huge game in the playoff-clinching win over Weymouth, and could take up some of Jerrier’s scoring from the power forward position. Sophomore Kayla Albert gained valuable experience last season as a freshman and current rookies Sydney and Fay Gallery, and Kiara Cerruti have the potential to step right into the rotation and contribute.

“Details are everything to us,” said Canton coach Jim Choquette. “If our group of young talent and veteran leadership/experience can continue to stay focused on the details during the good times and tough times of a season then we should continue to improve and have a very excited and successful season.”

Foxboro

2017-2018 Record: 26-2
2017-2018 Finish: Won Div. 2 state championship.
Coach: Lisa Downs
Last season was one to remember for the Warriors, who rolled through the regular season in dominating fashion and lived up to the team’s immense potential by bringing home the Div. 2 state title. With the graduation of a very strong senior class, the expectations are much lower for the Warriors this season but there are several returning players and new faces that have Foxboro coach Lisa Downs confident that the program can continue its recent run of success in the Davenport division.

Losing players like Ashley Sampson, Lily Sykes, Grace Tamulionis, and Shannon Smally is a challenge for any team, but the Warriors will bring back a pair of starters from the playoff run in sophomore Katelyn Mollica and junior Abby Hassman. Mollica is the team’s top returning scorer and will be one of the top point guards in the Hock with her ability to shoot and score off the dribble. Hassman gives Foxboro a strong presence on the glass and showed increased confidence in her offensive game at the end of last season. Senior Chelsea Gibbons and junior Lizzy Davis should see increased minutes and bigger roles in the offense this year.

Juniors Shakirah Ketant and Yara Fawaz should give Foxboro more depth in the post and contribute on the glass and both saw limited minutes in the playoffs last winter. Sophomores Adrienne Dunn and Jordyn Collins will be newcomers to the backcourt and have impressed during the preseason, while junior forward Anita Busznyak is expected to see a lot more time this year and could be a player to watch.

Downs is hoping this year’s team will learn from the graduating class. She said, “The time they spent practicing with and playing against these girls has really paid off – they know what is expected of them on the court and what is required to be a winning team. We have established a winning culture at Foxboro and the players know that I expect nothing more than what they should expect from themselves.”

Franklin

2017-2018 Record: 15-9
2017-2018 Finish: Reached Div. 1 Central first round.
Coach: John Leighton
The Panthers bring back 10 players from last year’s roster, which reached the state tournament but lost in the opening round to Natick, and there are high expectations on Oak St. as the new season gets underway. Franklin enters the season as the favorite in the Kelley-Rex division and its balanced lineup has the potential to make a run in the state tournament as well.

Much of the enthusiasm for Franklin’s chances this winter come from 6-foot-3 center Ali Brigham. The junior recently committed to George Washington (where her father once played) and is the lone returning player from last season HockomockSports.com First Team. While she (deservedly) garners much of the attention, the Panthers have a number of other weapons to give the opposition headaches. Senior guard Bea Bondhus, who committed to Springfield College, is one of the top three-point shooters in the Hock and sophomore guard Elizabeth Wilson is back from an injury that cut short the promising start to her varsity career.

The Panthers will also bring back versatile junior forwards Megan O’Connell and Breanna Atwood, who add size in the paint but can also take defenders off the dribble or knock down outside shots. Seniors Hailey Sanders and Calen Frongillo add depth to the frontcourt, while senior Shannon Gray and juniors Kelsey MacCallum and Sydney Garilli are capable of stepping in at either guard position.

“It is our goal to compete each night and to improve from last year,” said Franklin coach John Leighton. “With 10 returning players, we feel our experience will help us to better prepare for the season and compete against the best in our league.”

King Philip

2017-2018 Record: 4-16
2017-2018 Finish: Missed postseason.
Coach: Amy Siggens
King Philip had to battle injuries throughout head coach Amy Siggens’ first year in charge, including a late season injury to leading scorer Shannon O’Connor, but the Warriors are healthy coming into this season and with a year to get use to a new system, confidence is high that KP can make a push up the standings and fight for a postseason berth this winter.

O’Connor is the key piece returning for the Warriors. A four-year varsity player who has been recruited by Div. I college programs, O’Connor gives KP a consistent scorer and someone who will draw opposing defenses. Senior Julia Leroux will be back at the point and running the KP offense, while junior Faith Roy is the team’s best outside threat and has developed as a ball-handler who can score in a variety of ways. Sophomore Emma Glaser, who battled injuries throughout her freshman season, will add versatility to the lineup and can play multiple positions and her classmate Courtney Keswick is a newcomer to watch in the backcourt.

The Warriors will also have strength in the post with senior Catherine Cummings providing a solid presence on the glass and junior Faye Veilleux giving KP length and athleticism at the forward position. Newcomers like junior Taylor Butler and returning senior Kendall Mason will give added depth and strong play on the defensive end of the floor.

There is a lot of enthusiasm surrounding our team this year with our sights on continued growth and improvement upon our overall record from a year ago,” Siggens said. “Our practices have been very competitive and I’m encouraged by our team’s attitude and overall interest in getting better. I like this team a lot and I look forward to the challenge of helping each girl reach her maximum potential.”

Mansfield

2017-2018 Record: 20-6
2017-2018 Finish: Reached Div. 1 South final.
Coach: Mike Redding
After three straight league titles and four trips to the Div. 1 South semifinal in the past four seasons (including back-to-back finals), Mansfield has been one of the most consistent teams in the Hockomock League, but the Hornets enter this season trying to replace Meg Hill, who scored more than 1,000 points and pulled down more than 1,000 points in her stellar career. With 10 seniors and loads of athleticism, this might be a very different looking Mansfield attack, but one that has the potential to keep the Hornets right back on top in the Kelley-Rex division and capable of making another deep tournament run.

The Hornets have been known for slowing the ball down and running intricate sets, but this team is suited for getting up and down the court as quickly as possible, highlighted by senior guard Mady Bendanillo, one of the quickest players in the Hock. Senior forward Maggie Danehy has emerged as a strong interior scorer and someone who can control the glass, but she is also someone who can run like a guard and get out on the break for easy baskets. Seniors Sydney Mulkern and Erin Daniel add wing scoring and are both solid shooters who can spread the floor and open lanes to the basket.

Athletic senior forwards Emily Vigeant and Steph Kemp can outrun many of the guards in the league and senior point guard Kara Bendanillo is another speedster who can push the ball off makes or misses. Sophomore Ashley Santos saw time last year as a rookie and adds to the frontcourt depth and versatility, while junior Becca Hottleman will be back to give Mansfield another option at guard.

It is a different feel to the lineup but one that Mansfield coach Mike Redding feels can be effective. He said, “We need to rebound as a team and must change our style to up-tempo with defensive pressure/fast breaks and play to our strengths (athleticism and depth).”

Milford

2017-2018 Record: 13-9
2017-2018 Finish: Reached Div. 2 Central quarterfinal.
Coach: T.J. Dolliver
Milford coach T.J. Dolliver brings back six players from the team that not only reached the state tournament last season but also went on the road and beat Burncoat handily, the program’s first playoff win since 2001. The problem for the Hawks is that almost the entire rotation from last year’s team has graduated, including 1,000-point scorer Kate Irwin.

While this may be a rebuilding year for the Hawks, Dolliver sees it as an opportunity for players to step into new roles and establish themselves as starters and as regular contributors. The lone senior back from last year is forward Grace Risio, who Dolliver said made a difference when she was given the opportunity last year, and sophomore guard Jillian Michelson saw some time in the backcourt as a rookie.

The Hawks will have eight sophomores on the roster this season, so it is clear that Milford is going to try and build with youth, similar to several teams from last year. Among the players from last year’s roster, forwards Katie Maietta, guard Emma Lawrence, and forward Carly Ferreira all got time as freshmen and could see those minutes increase significantly this winter.

Dolliver said, “With our entire rotation graduating last year, there are a lot of opportunities waiting for everyone in the program. It will be exciting to watch who emerges within the group and elevates their game to compete at the varsity level.”

North Attleboro

2017-2018 Record: 4-16
2017-2018 Finish: Missed postseason.
Coach: Derek Herber
Last year was a tough transition season for the Rocketeers, as North Attleboro moved on from a number of players who were starters for several years and incorporated a number of new, young faces into the lineup. North had a better second half to the season and will try to build on that this winter with a more experienced group of players.

Senior Julia Feid is back on the wing and is North’s top returning scorer, coming off a season in which she averaged more than nine points per game. Fellow seniors Liz Smahi and Emma Noreck will add leadership in the backcourt and try to set the direction for the team this year. Junior point guard Olivia Forbes, who was on the HockomockSports.com All-Underclassman Team last season, will be back to get the offense going and provide strong defense on the perimeter. Junior Eliza Dion also returns to add rebounding and interior scoring for a team that can’t count on a lot of height in the paint.

The North offense improved over the course of last season with the addition of sophomore Amanda Kaiser (8.6 points per game) and junior Julia Kleczkowski (40 percent from three-point range), who can both fill it up from the outside and who are both willing to take any shot that presents itself. Several newcomers will fill out the roster with the potential of adding important minutes over the course of the season, including sophomore Lydia Santos and Siobhan Weir.

“We will rely on Julia Feid to be our first option on offense and the sooner we can develop a consistent second option will be a factor in the early part of the season,” said North Attleboro coach Derek Herber. “The inside scoring option will hopefully be Eliza Dion, while both Amanda Kaiser and Julia Kleczkowski showed an ability to stretch the defense with their outside shooting in limited time last year.”

Oliver Ames

2017-2018 Record: 16-6
2017-2018 Finish: Reached Div. 2 South quarterfinal.
Coach: Laney Clement-Holbrook
Oliver Ames will be making a transition this year following the graduation of Kayla Raymond, who was a two-time HockomockSports.com First Team performer and last year’s league MVP (and is already a three-time Rookie of the Week at Stonehill College), but the Tigers have a number of returning players to try and make up for Raymond’s production on both ends of the floor and make another run at a league title.

Senior Alex Sheldon grew in confidence over the course of last season and became a double-double machine by the end of the year, dominating on the glass and improving her finishing around the rim. Junior Erin Holberg emerged last year as a strong scorer on the perimeter with her touch from the outside and ability to take defenders off the dribble. Junior Meg Holleran is in her third season on varsity and is a tough, physical defender who can knock down shots from the outside.

Sophomore Caroline Flynn had a strong freshman season, playing several positions (from point guard to small forward), crashing the boards, and showing off decent range. The return of senior Sadie Homer will add energy on both ends of the floor and give the Tigers another strong outside shooter to stretch the floor, while senior Ally Scolnick came off the bench last season to add another shooter to the OA offense.

OA coach Laney Clement-Holbrook said of the experienced returning players, “They will lead the youngest team OA has put on the court in quite a long time. We are looking towards gaining valuable game experience and coming into to our own as the season progresses.”

Sharon

2017-2018 Record: 2-18
2017-2018 Finish: Missed postseason.
Coach: Sanda Lombardi

It was a tough winter for new Sharon coach Sandra Lombardi, as the Eagles struggled to a two-win season, but five of their losses were by 10 points or fewer and they return all but one player from last season’s team. With a year to get acclimated to Lombardi’s system, an experienced roster of returning players, and several newcomers, Sharon has its sights set on getting into the postseason for the first time since its run to the Div. 2 South final in 2013.

Sharon returns its leading scorer and playmaker in senior Emma Eberhardt, who was on the HockomockSports.com Third Team last season, and she will once again be the focal point of the offense, as well as one of the team’s leading defenders. Eberhardt’s versatility as a wing player should open things up for junior guards Kaitlyn Wallace and Ally Brown, who will both fill in as ball-handlers after the graduation of Miranda Cheung. Wallace will extend defenses with her shooting from the outside and Brown adds energy to the backcourt defense.

Senior guard Bridget McManus will add depth and junior forward Telishya Herbert provides a strong presence in the paint. Junior Olivia Langol-Leonard added frontcourt depth and was active on the glass in her time on the court, while senior forward Evanjuline Elisma can score in transition and adds another solid wing defender.

“We only lost one player due to graduation,” said Lombardi. “We have the entire team back and we added some height. I’m excited to see what the season brings. The girls are working hard and our goal is to qualify for the postseason.”

Stoughton

2017-2018 Record: 13-9
2017-2018 Finish: Reached Div. 2 South quarterfinal.
Coach: Charmaine Steele Jordan
Stoughton started last season with five straight defeats and only one win in the opening eight games, but the Black Knights turned things around with a vengeance, winning 11 of its final 12 games of the regular season and winning its opening game of the state tournament. Stoughton’s only two losses in its final 14 games of the season were to state champion Foxboro. That is a lot of momentum for the Black Knights to carry into this year.

It may be a little different look for Stoughton this winter after the graduation of Val Whalen and Jordan Motley. Instead of being a team that dominates the paint, there will be a host of guards and wing players who can still battle on the glass, but will bring energy and tenacity on the perimeter on both ends of the court. Junior Aliyah Wright is back as the team’s point guard and her length makes her a factor guarding multiple positions. Senior Lindsay McDonald adds versatility as a combo guard and sophomore Sydnee Hyacinthe is a dynamic guard and stretches defenses with her ability to shoot from the outside.

While there are a lot of familiar faces returning for the Black Knights, there are several players who will have more responsibility this year and the potential to make big contributions. Junior Lexi Baptista defends well at the forward position and gives a different look on the post, while seniors Hailey Egan and Heather Maddalena will add extra toughness to the backcourt. Junior Shyanne Trinh is still battling an injury at the beginning of the season, but she will give Stoughton a big scoring boost when she returns.

“This season will be all about our effort, energy and enthusiasm on defense,” said Stoughton coach Charmaine Steele Jordan. “The Black Knights will be most successful when we put in work on the defensive end and finish each play with a Black Knights rebound.”

Taunton

2017-2018 Record: 7-15
2017-2018 Finish: Missed postseason.
Coach: Walter Harrigan
Taunton started last winter well and had the potential for making a return to the state tournament, but injuries slowed things down for the Tigers and they missed out on the postseason. While the year didn’t end the way they would have hoped, a number of younger players were given valuable varsity experience and there are a number of returning players ready to make an impact.

Senior Lily Patneaude will be the player to watch for the Tigers, as the team’s leading scorer from last year. After battling an injury down the stretch, her return gives Taunton a consistent primary offensive weapon and takes some of the scoring pressure off her teammates. Senior point guard Alexa White is also back to provide leadership, energy, and tenacity on the defensive end of the floor. Sophomore Kelsey White showed flashes as a rookie of being the secondary scorer that Taunton needs, with her ability to knock down shots from the outside and take defenders off the dribble.

Even with a year of experience, Taunton is still a relatively young team. Sophomores Jaelyn and Sonya Fernandez will provide athleticism from the forward positions and give Taunton effort in the paint, while sophomore Tori DaRose, and freshmen Abby Souza (who saw brief minutes as an eighth-grader last season) and Braeley MacDonald give the Tigers depth off the bench.

“We have great group of enthusiast student athletes consisting of senior leadership, youth, athleticism, and talent,” said Taunton coach Walter Harrigan. “This team is looking forward to a fun and exciting season.”