WRENTHAM, Mass. – Coming into the season, Franklin had several new faces to incorporate into the lineup, a few key players who had graduated, and a group of experienced, talented teams to contend with in its quest for a third straight league title. The Panthers haven’t missed a beat.
Shaw Downing scored a pair of first quarter goals on Friday afternoon and Franklin powered to a 2-0 victory over title rival King Philip at Macktaz Field. The win keeps the Panthers perfect on the season, moves them two games up in the loss column on the Warriors, and extends their remarkable unbeaten run in league play to 40 games.
“That was our plan to try and score fast, score early, and see how the rest of the game goes,” said Franklin coach Michelle Hess. “I’m glad that they were able to get those two quick ones because they do a good job of frustrating us and getting in our heads a little bit.”
Franklin came into the game with 64 goals on the season, 23 more than anyone else in the league, and had only allowed three. KP definitely wanted to keep the game close early and try to frustrate the Panthers. Unfortunately for the Warriors, that game plan only lasted five minutes.
The visitors stormed out of the gates. In the fifth minute, Downing got free inside the circle and shot on the turn to slip it through a crowd in front for a quick 1-0 lead. Two minutes later, the lead was almost doubled but the league’s leading scorer Kaitlyn Carney couldn’t get full purchase on a backhand shot from close range.
With two minutes left in a first quarter that was completely controlled by Franklin, Downing struck again. Off the fourth corner of the quarter, Carney fired a shot from the top of the circle to the post and Downing’s deft flick took it past KP goalie Haley Bright.
Bright (10 saves) would be called into action early in the second when Carney found space right in front but was denied by a kick save and then two minutes later when Carney wound up and took a shot from distance that needed blocking.
KP had been struggling to get into the attacking half of the field. Sydney O’Shea was a consistent outlet on the right side, but Franklin defender Kate O’Rourke kept a close watch on her and didn’t allow the Warriors to get into their transition game. Sweeper Kendall Jones was also on hand to mop up when KP did get the ball forward.
Hess said, “We knew they were fast and I know my fullbacks are quick, so I just really had to tell them make sure you don’t over-commit because they’re quick and if they get by you we need to have people back there covering for you if you decide to step up. We had a game plan and I think we executed it well.”
Franklin came close to adding a third when freshmen Haley Wernig and Raena Crandall combined for a shot, but Bright was out aggressively and forced it wide. The combo of Crandall, Downing, and Carney was proving tough for the KP defense to handle and another good move led to a drop pass for Carney that forced another kick save from Bright.
“She played great,” KP coach Lisa Cropper said of Bright. “She was a little tentative in the first quarter but she got over it, almost like she could relax after they got two. But, you know, they’re great, they’re scoring a ton of goals, so keeping them to two is kind of a moral victory.”
KP had two corners in the game, both within seconds of each other in the second quarter, and the Warriors nearly scored on both of them. Kelly Holmes went with an aerial that was blocked off the line and on the second attempt she lifted it over everyone but was unable to beat the crossbar.
The pattern continued into the second half, with Franklin controlling possession and keeping the Warriors largely pinned back, but with KP able to stymie the Panthers’ attempts to put the game away. Kiera Kotwicki teed up Carney for a backhand shot that Bright stopped and then the KP goalie denied Carney on a shot from the right and Downing following up on the rebound.
“We were tinkering with a different formation and we went with it from second quarter on and it worked,” Cropper explained. “We shut them out for three quarters, but we gave them two early ones. We didn’t take advantage of our chances. We had some good pressure points but we just couldn’t find it.”
Freshman Emily Carney tried an aerial on a fourth quarter corner but KP defender Molly Piller was able to drop back and use her reach to knock it down before it crossed the line. Another Franklin corner led to a scramble in the circle and Lily Brown was able to get back on the line to block and clear another chance for the Panthers.
“I think the fourth quarter for us was probably the best,” Hess said. “They didn’t really get it over the 50 and we were pretty much down here the whole time. I told them, play your game, don’t let them frazzle you.”
Franklin (10-0-0) will take on state power Walpole in a showdown of unbeaten teams on Monday before traveling to Sharon two days later. King Philip (9-3-0) will try to get back on track with a trip to North Attleboro, hoping that someone can beat Franklin before the two teams meet again the regular season finale.