Warriors Use Experience to Bring Home Sectional Title

Foxboro Girls Lacrosse
Foxboro captains Molly Murphy (9) and Sophia DiCenso (1) lift the Div. 2 East trophy, the first sectional title in the program’s history. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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WALPOLE, Mass. – With seven minutes to go in Friday night’s Div. 2 East final at Walpole High, Medway scored its second straight goal and grabbed its first lead since midway through the first half. Having managed to pull out close wins in each of the first two rounds, Foxboro needed to keep its composure and find a way to make it three in a row.

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The Warriors could call on the experience of 14 seniors who were part of the program’s first sectional final appearance two years ago, a disappointing loss in the East quarterfinal last season, and a regular season that featured many of the state’s best teams. All of that came into play on Friday.

Of course, it also helps having a player like senior midfielder Sophia DiCenso. The University of Richmond-commit, and recently announced member of the U.S. U-19 national team, split the defense to tie the game and then scored her sixth goal of the night with three minutes to play to put Foxboro ahead for good. Julia Kelley tacked on another goal with 1:05 left and the Warriors celebrated an 11-9 win and the program’s first East title.

“She’s on cloud nine,” Foxboro coach Brittany Sherry said of DiCenso. “She puts the weight of the world on her shoulders. She carries this team and we really look to her to get it done and she got it done.”

DiCenso said, “I feel like everyone’s just been wanting it since we lost to Walpole our sophomore year and every day at practice we talk about this is our year, we’re going to win a trophy, and we did it. Everyone’s literally on top of the world right now.”

Similar to the semifinal against top seed Wayland, it took a while for someone to get on the scoreboard. Sophomore Lilly Vey cut though the defense and put Foxboro ahead 10 minutes into the game. Medway scored twice over the next five minutes to grab the lead, while Foxboro was struggling to finish off the chances that it was creating.

Senior Meghan Curran hit the post twice on free positions and Molly Murphy smacked the post with a shot on a fast break. Curran also had a chance in the final second of the half that bounced up off the turf and kissed the bar.

“If we’re hitting the post then it means we’re placing the ball, we’re not throwing it randomly, but they needed to drop eventually,” said Sherry. “Wayland [in the East semifinal] really helped us knowing that we could make mistakes offensively and still prevail.”

DiCenso finally got a chance with three minutes left in the half and she made it look easy from a free position. A little more than a minute later, DiCenso added her second of the night, again from a free position, to make it 3-2 at the break.

Abby Hassman had an early free position opportunity saved and Medway raced down field to tie the game at 3-3 just two minutes into the second half. DiCenso completed her hat trick from a free position but then had one miss the net and Medway took advantage to tie the game again at 4-4.

Curran came through with her next direct opportunity, picking the top corner with an unstoppable shot. Ninety seconds later, DiCenso cut across the defense from the left and went side-arm to rip a shot under the bar for a two-goal lead, the largest lead of the game for either team.

Medway bounced back with two straight goals to tie it again. Foxboro once again had the response to avoid allowing the Mustangs to grab the lead. Curran scored her second of the night, going side-arm after spinning back to her left.

The lead was short-lived and the Mustangs scored back-to-back goals to put Foxboro on its heels and take its first lead since the score was 2-1. No surprise to anyone, but the Warriors again turned to DiCenso. She showed good patience as she worked her way across goal, making the goalie commit before firing in the tying goal.

With the clock winding down on three minutes to play, Medway was inches from tying the game, but a shot came flying back off the post and ricocheted out towards midfield. Senior Molly Murphy reacted first and chased the ground ball down at the near sideline and got possession for the Warriors.

DiCenso drove towards the back of the cage but then spun back on her marker, tried to split two defenders, and earned a free position and a yellow card for her opponent. She made no mistake on the big opportunity and put the Warriors ahead 10-9 with 2:58 to play.

Foxboro got the ball back and tried to run out the clock. With a minute to play, Kelley drove to the cage and finished from close-range to make it a two-goal game. The Warriors won the next draw and proceeded to run the clock down, smiles stretching across their faces as they realized that the dream that started two years ago, the chance to make history for the program, was coming to fruition.

“It feels amazing,” said Sherry, who may have had the biggest smile on the field at the final whistle. “Even in the semifinals when they started picking away at leads, I think that exposure of playing top D1 teams, we do it because we learn from it every single time.” She added, “We’ve battled and we’ve gotten tested and we prevailed because of it.”

When asked about playing a schedule with perennial D1 powers like Notre Dame Academy, Longmeadow, Walpole, Franklin, and others, DiCenso joked, “At first we saw it and were like what is she doing but honestly now I can say it was so worth it.”

She added, “I think there were moments when we were like, wow we’re getting beat pretty bad by these teams and going into tournament we need to step our game up, but I feel like those losses were more motivators. Our schedule prepares us for 30 seconds left and we’re up by one or two and we’re so composed on the field because of the competition that we face.”

Foxboro (16-7) will play South champion Cohasset in the state semifinal on Tuesday night at Babson College.

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Canton Rallies Past Medway To Advance To Central Final

Canton volleyball
Canton’s Bailey Shea (21) and Erin Devine go up for a block against Medway in the first game. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
MEDWAY, Mass. – Throughout the 2018 season, Canton senior Erin Devine and junior Taylor Harris have taken turns as the Bulldogs go-to option on offense.

In fact, in 18 of the 20 matches played prior to Wednesday night’s D2 Central semifinal matchup with #5 Medway, either Devine or Harris led Canton in kills.

But this time around, both players had it going offensively for the top-seeded Bulldogs, each recording double-digit kills to pace Canton to a 3-1 (21-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-9) win over the Mustangs.

“Both Erin and Taylor had super games,” said Canton head coach Pat Cawley. “We really haven’t had a day like that this year, it’s usually either Erin or Taylor. But tonight they both were on.”

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Devine had a team-high 16 kills (with just two hitting errors) and added seven blocks while Harris added 15 kills, 12 digs, and four blocks. It’s just the second time this season that both players reached double-digit kills in the same match.

Even though Canton was the top-seed, the match took place at Medway High, which was a predetermined site by the MIAA. However, it wasn’t selected as the location until the semifinalists were set.

“They worked really hard on not letting the crowd get in their head,” Cawley said. “You have to beat the best to be the best, we’re going to be on the road from now on anyways. Granted we won’t be in someone else’s home gym, but we’ll still be on the road. And if you want to win it all, you have to be good on the road.” g

While both players had strong games offensively, the key to the game came down to matchups. After the Mustangs took the first set, Cawley did her best to figure out how to get Devine matched up with Medway star Maegan Hladick, who had eight kills in the first game alone.

Canton actually had a strong start to the first game, jumping out to a 6-2 lead but Medway worked its way back into the match and rattled off a 10-3 run to take a 12-9 lead. The Bulldogs responded with some strong play, including a couple of nice serves from Megan McDonough (12 digs), and took a 20-16 lead.

But after a Medway timeout, the Mustangs won five of the next six points to tie the first set 21-21. Despite a timeout from Canton, Medway won the next four points, including a pair of kills from Hladick, to secure a 25-21 victory to go up 1-0.

Cawley elected to try and get Devine and senior Bailey Shea on the opposite side of the net to try and get a block on Hladick.

“We didn’t change after the first game but we matched up better because they changed their rotation,” Cawley said. “When they started with the serve, they changed it and it was a better matchup for us. Going into the third, I had a feeling he was going to switch his rotation so I moved mine and luckily we matched up. We were lucky with the rotation, it’s a lot of guess work.

“We were trying to get Erin and Bailey, our two best blockers, to line up with [Hladick]. Because she plays the outside, she’s not blocking Erin so I wasn’t really too concerned who was blocking Erin, I just wanted to block [Hladick].”

The matchup change worked well for the Bulldogs, as Hladick finished with just four kills in the second set. While Canton led for the majority of the match — going up 12-6 after a big kill from Devine, and 16-10 off the hand of Devine again — Medway continued to battle back.

The Mustangs got within three 18-15, and then notched four straight points to go up 19-18 to force another Bulldog timeout. Canton came out with renewed energy, but the Bulldogs trailed 22-21. Devine landed a kill to tie it, a strong serve from Julia Minichiello resulted in a 23-22 lead, and Devine landed a big block on Hladick for a 24-22 lead. Medway got within one but saw its final hit go into the net with Devine and Shea ready for the block.

The third set was close throughout, with nine ties in the first 26 points, the last coming at 13-13. But Devine landed a kill and blocked an attack, and Harris landed back-to-back kills for a 17-13 lead. Canton kept the lead the rest of the way, but Medway did get close at 19-18, but before the Mustangs could tie it, Cawley called a timeout.

“I just reminded them that we have the lead and we have to play like we have the lead,” Cawley said. “We have to play aggressive and strong, and to their credit they did it. It was such a back and forth match. We battled so hard last year, we had a rough year but they stuck together and they deserved this. They gained a lot of confidence by sticking together. We’re really a team.”

Coming out of the timeout, Canton won six of the final seven points, getting a kill and an ace from Harris in the span to win 25-19 and take a 2-1 lead in the match.

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Harris finished with eight kills, a block, and an ace in the third game.

“We need that second option if we’re going to win,” Cawley said. “Taylor hits the ball the hardest, she’s just trying to find her groove and keep it in play while still being aggressive. She’s working really hard on it, and she’s also a really good defensive player. She plays all six spots for her, she’s upped her game for us. She played well against Holliston too so I think she plays well under pressure.”

The momentum from the win in the third set carried over into the fourth set. Devine landed a kill and had a block, Shea, Rose Hazam, and Nicole Brown (28 assists, 11 digs, six kills) all had a kill, and Harris added two kills as Canton raced out to a 12-2 lead.

The strong beginning was all Canton needed as the Bulldogs went on to win the fourth set 25-9 to secure a 3-1 victory.

Canton volleyball (19-2) advances to the D2 Central Final and will play the winner of #2 Groton-Dunstable (18-2) and Westboro (17-3) on Saturday at Wellesley with a time to be determined. It marks the fifth time in the last seven years that Canton has reached the sectional final.

Eagles Comeback Falls Just Short at Medway

Sharon boys lacrosse
Craig Titus (21) and Jimmy Fitzhenry (23) celebrate a third quarter goal in Sharon’s 14-12 loss to Medway. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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MEDWAY, Mass. – Trailing by six goals at halftime and five after the third quarter, Sharon rallied to try and extend its season for at least one more round. Led by three goals from senior Matt Cancian, the Eagles got as close as two goals and had a three-on-none break that could have made it even closer.

Unfortunately, the Eagles ran out of time and Medway goalie Tanner Pearl made a series of strong saves that preserved the lead as the pressure mounted. The Mustangs managed to hold on for the final six minutes and advanced with a 14-12 victory in Tuesday night’s Div. 2 Central/East first round game at Hanlon Field.

“We brought it in at halftime and we kind of asked ourselves, how do we want to go out?” explained first-year head coach Pete DeSisto. “We were down a good amount and it was just kind of a gut-check.”

The Mustangs dominated the first half and every time that Sharon got on the board Medway seemed to respond with a couple of its own.

Junior Jake Tomsik opened the scoring 90 seconds into the game and that was quickly matched by Cancian, who won the face-off and raced down to score his first. Adam Dwyer came right back for Medway but Mark Bloom tied it again with a step back rip that snuck inside the far post.

Tim Niklas drove into the middle to regain the lead (a lead that Medway would never relinquish) and then a long Mustangs possession ended in a Collin Kennealley goal off a back cut. Seconds later Tomsik scored with a backhand shot in traffic to make it 5-2 after the first.

Josh Rotman scored his first with a shot in traffic to cut the lead to two, but Sharon mistakes helped Medway build a five-goal lead midway through the quarter. Rotman scored his second to cut the lead to 8-4 but James Anderson went 50 yards straight down the middle to answer right back and Tomsik’s third made it 10-4 at the break.

Whatever was said at halftime turned the tide for the Eagles, who dominated possession in the third quarter, although they struggled to cut into the lead.

Needing to find a way back into the game, Sharon looked to its senior trio of Cancian, Bloom, and Titus.

DeSisto said, “It started with our seniors. They brought everyone out, they set the example that the younger guys seemed to follow. It just seemed a little too late at the end.”

Bloom scored first but three minutes later Dwyer was allowed to run straight down the middle to beat Dan Spelfogel (six saves). Craig Titus leapt and finished on the edge of the crease and Bloom picked out Titus for a man-up goal that brought Sharon within four goals.

But, with a minute left in the third, Ben Steinhoff also found plenty of space in the middle of the defense to give Medway a 12-7 advantage heading to the fourth.

“At the beginning of the year, no one who played defense for us had gotten varsity time and from where we came from at the beginning of the year to now is leaps and bounds,” said DeSisto about the performance of his defensive unit. “We definitely have a bright future.”

Rotman started the comeback with a lefty shot on the run and then Cancian quickly added another with a shot into the bottom corner. Steinhoff got one back straight off the draw, but Cancian scored a man-up goal to make it 13-10 and then won the draw and came down to score with an overhand shot to the corner.

“He did everything,” said DeSisto of Cancian. “e started to take over at the end. He hurt his ankle early in the second half and just manned up and kept going. It was a real gutsy performance.”

Anderson again found a lane in the middle to get an important insurance goal for the Mustangs, but Rotman bullied his way to his fourth goal of the game to make the deficit just two with 6:15 to play.

In the fourth, Jack Lesser twice hit the post and Cancian and Rotman both saw Pearl come up with big saves to rob them of sure goals. Lesser also had a chance in transition to cut the lead to one, but his shot on the break went wide and Pearl chased it down quickly to get Medway possession.

“I can’t even think about the amount of saves he made with just the tip of his toe or something like that and yeah if we buried three more of those then we’re talking about something else,” DeSisto reflected.

It was not the way the first-year coach was hoping to end his season but with only three seniors on this year’s roster, the Eagles have plenty of promise for the future.

“I’m excited,” said DeSisto. “We’re losing three unbelievable players…but we had a really young team this year.

“To be where we’re at now says a lot about our seniors and juniors and upperclassmen but it says a lot about our freshmen and their willingness to go out there and learn.”

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

Medway Goalie Saves The Day Against Canton

Shaun Kirby
Medway goalie Mike Purnell made 25 saves to shutout Canton on Wednesday in a potential Div. 2 South matchup. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

By Josh Perry, Managing Editor

FRANKLIN, Mass. – Coming into Wednesday afternoon’s game with Medway at Pirelli Veterans Arena in Franklin, Canton knew that it would be facing an uphill battle to score against Mustangs goalie Mike Purnell, who is one of the top high school netminders in the state.

The Bulldogs also boast a strong defensive unit, one that had only allowed 11 goals in 11 games entering Wednesday, so this was poised to be a game where one opportunity could be decisive.

Canton thought it had the chance with eight minutes remaining in the second period. A misplaced Medway clearance was intercepted by Matt Lazaro and turned into a quick two on none break for the Bulldogs. Lazaro held the puck for an extra second before sending a pass across the crease to a wide open Jim Jenkins.

It seemed to everyone that Canton was about to take the lead, until Purnell, who had been hugging the post to deny Lazaro a shot, dove across the goal and denied Jenkins point-blank and at full stretch with his glove.

“The whole bench had their hands up and they thought it went in,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman after the game. “It was just a great save.”

“He had a 2 on 0 and I think that’s what great goalies do – they can sense when that pass is going across and he was leaning and made the stop. It was probably the save of the season.”

Just three minutes after Purnell (25 saves) made his remarkable stop, Medway jumped into the lead. A shot from the point was knocked down by a screened Justin Slocum (25 saves) and the rebound was batted in by Matt Narducci. It turned out to be the game-winner, as Medway added a second goal in the third period and skated away with a 2-0 win.

“He’s certainly rewriting the record books for us in Medway,” said Mustangs coach Chris Ross about Purnell. “He’s probably the top goaltender Medway has ever had. His mystique sort of started in the shootout last year against [Oliver Ames goalie Jimmy] Tierney and he’s played unbelievable.”

The Bulldogs were the team that came out flying to start the game. Canton held an 8-1 advantage in shots early in the opening period, but many of them came from the outside, including a few shots from junior defenseman Jackson Maffeo. None of the shots looked likely to beat Purnell.

As the period wore on Medway started to gain traction and created the two best chances of the frame. Narducci nearly opened the scoring with 8:35 left in the first but his wrister in transition clipped Slocum’s shoulder before skipping off the crossbar. Four minutes later, Andrew Diebus had a good look in the slot from a face-off win but Slocum gloved his hard shot.

“They were right in his face the entire game, knocking him down, and he got up and made some big saves,” said Shuman of Slocum. “He’s a very good goaltender and I know we’d love to have another crack at these guys.”

Canton again got off to a strong start to the second period with Maffeo stepping into a slap shot that bounced off the outside of the post. Jenkins and then senior Bobby Mullaney both had chances off a rebound four minutes into the period but Purnell was able to adjust and block both shots.

“Against him you’ve to get guys out front because very rarely do you beat him clean,” said Shuman. “All credit to them for matching our net front presence; very rarely did we outnumber them and they were able to clear away some pucks.”

Other than the turnover that led to Purnell’s amazing save, Medway bottled up the Canton forwards limiting them to shots from the outside and keeping bodies central to force the play out to the wings.

Ross explained, “We spent all week working on our forecheck and that was definitely our plan to stop their progress from their zone coming out. We felt with our goaltender and our defense we’d be able to take care of things in our zone, I was more worried about transitions.”

Trailing by a goal entering the third, Canton struggled to get into a rhythm and sustain pressure on Purnell and the Medway defense. An early pass went through the crease but Medway outshot the Bulldogs, who twice were forced to the penalty kill, 10-7 in the period.

With 7:15 remaining, Lazaro had Canton’s best chance to tie the game when he managed to squeeze past two defensemen and skate in on Purnell. He gave a head fake and then dragged the puck to the backhand getting the goalie to slide, but his shot to the back post slid wide.

Medway sealed the win with 2:05 left. James Anderson sprung Cole Fisher with a quick outlet pass and, despite the best efforts of Ryan Lodge to get back, he managed to hold off the defense and flick a shot just inside the post.

Shuman said, “That second goal was just a result of us trying to get a little too aggressive at the blue line. Both Jackson and C.J. [Martin] pinched and it left the middle wide open, but when you’re down 1-0 with a couple minutes left you have to take those chances.”

Canton (9-2-1, 6-0-0) will try to rebound on Saturday with a trip to Asiaf Arena to face Oliver Ames.

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

Hamilton, Bulldogs Dig Out Spot in Sectional Final

Elizabeth Hamilton
Elizabeth Hamilton (21) had 14 digs to lead the way for Canton, which showed off its defensive chops to beat Medway in the D2 Central semifinal. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

By Josh Perry, Managing Editor

MEDWAY, Mass. – Canton hopes that the popular saying, “defense wins championships,” applies to volleyball as it does in so many other sports. The Bulldogs may not be the biggest or the hardest hitting team in Div. 2 Central, but they can frustrate opponents with the relentless ability to get the ball back over the net.

On Thursday night at Medway High, the Bulldogs showed off that defensive mentality against the host Mustangs and pulled out a 3-0 (25-19, 25-19, 25-20) win to advance to the Div. 2 Central final to face Westborough for the third time in the past four years.

The Bulldogs were led in the match by Hockomock MVP Elizabeth Hamilton, who showed off her athleticism and positioning to pick up 14 digs along with her team-high 15 kills. Many times, Medway’s leading hitter Jess Jubb thought she had another kill only to have Hamilton or libero Olivia Devoe (11 digs) keep the play alive.

“She’s just a super all-around player,” said Canton Pat Cawley about the MVP, “and we have relied on Elizabeth and Olivia all year for our defense. So, when good hitters hit angle and are hitting at those two I feel pretty good that we’re going to get a hand on it.”

The Bulldogs trailed only three times in the entire match (at 2-1 and 3-2 in the first set and 5-4 in the third), but Cawley did not feel like the Bulldogs were ever able to fully put away the hosts.

“To me it felt like it was close the entire way,” she explained. “We had the lead I think pretty consistently but we’d get up three, four, five, and then they’d get back within one or two.

“We had runs, but so did they right behind us.”

Canton jumped out to a good lead in the first behind the hitting of Hamilton, who had six of her 15 kills in the opening set. Following back-to-back aces by Rye Verille, the Bulldogs led by as many as eight points at 19-11. A pair of aces by Medway’s Sydney Rice cut the lead down to four but Hamilton rose up to spike the comeback and Canton took the opening set.

The second was very similar to the first with Sarah Reissfelder and Hamilton combining for three quick kills to give the Bulldogs the advantage. With the Medway crowd screaming and the Mustangs getting a little momentum, Hamilton dropped down to dig out what looked like a sure kill then hopped up and blasted a hit cross-court to make it 11-9.

Casey Shea also had a big block for a point to make it 14-9 and continue extending the lead. Shea partnered with Verille and with Emma Murphy to give Canton a blocking matchup that could compete with the towering Jubb.

“Both combinations had some blocks on her tonight,” said Cawley.

“Casey is a good blocker…it’s only her second year playing volleyball and having a good blocker on another team’s hitter is an invaluable asset.”

Verille would kill off the second set with an emphatic slam down the line to give Canton a comfortable 2-0 edge. The Mustangs, propelled by a vociferous home crowd, did not lay down and pushed the Bulldogs throughout the third set.

Riana Pozsgai had a kill and then an ace to give Medway the 5-4 lead, but it would be the final lead of the match for the Mustangs, who never trailed by more than five in the closing set.

Kehla Minkin came in and provided a spark with a pair of aces to to give Canton back the advantage. Hamilton followed with a tip for a point and setter Nicole Poole (22 assists and one block) rose up for a very rare block to make it 9-5. With a big smile, Poole excitedly turned to the bench making sure that it knew she had made the play.

Medway continued to battle and keep it close. The final dagger may have come with Canton leading 19-18, when the ball skipped off Devoe and was heading into the stands. Hamilton raced over to keep it alive and Erika Lum was there with a heads up bump to get it over the net.

The Mustangs hit it into the net and deflated as the point went to Canton. Shea would cap the win with a big block at the end to send the Bulldogs into the final.

“I feel like this is kind of a blue-collar team,” said Cawley. “We’re a very good defensive team, pretty good blocking team, and we have timely offense.”

This is another trip to the sectional final for the Bulldogs, who have had their struggles when they reach this point. Canton has only once (2012) gotten out of the sectional and Cawley insisted that her team needed to enjoy the moment on Wednesday.

“The pressure to win sometimes overrides the joy of winning,” she said, “and they really need to enjoy their accomplishments right now and we’ll see what Saturday brings.”

Canton will face Westborough on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Hudson High.

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