Three Hawks scored in double digits and Milford rolled to a 58-39 victory. It was not only the first win of the season for Milford, but also the team’s first league win since the final game of the 2017-18 regular season. It was also nearly 20 points better than the previous top scoring night for the Hawks this season.
“Obviously I’m very excited and I’m happy that the girls are able to experience this because we haven’t had a Hockomock win in a while,” said Milford coach TJ Dolliver. “I’m just happy for the girls, we didn’t even know if we would be here. I have a lot of seniors and I’m happy that we’re here and I’m happy that we’re doing this.”
Although the game wouldn’t end the way that Taunton wanted, the Tigers did have a special moment at the opening tip. Senior guard Kelsey White, who injured her knee last winter and is a non-playing member of this year’s team, was able to celebrate senior night by registering her first minute and her first two points of the season.
“It was awesome,” said Taunton assistant Jenna Olem. “She’s such a great kid to have around the program and the fact that she still wants to be a part of this is really, really special.
Milford came right back with an 8-0 run to take a lead it would never relinquish. Taunton answered with a 6-0 run to tie the game, including a three by Kyanna Barros, but Emma Lawrence (16 points and six rebounds) nailed a three on the other end to restore the lead and Emily Croteau turned a steal into a layup for a 13-8 advantage after one.
The Hawks were just getting started offensively, scoring the next seven points and putting up 20 points total in the second to extend the lead to double digits by halftime.
Lawrence had back-to-back steals where she was able to race past the Taunton players for layups and Brooke Ferreira buried a three to make it 20-8. The Tigers tried to hang around behind senior forward Sonya Fernandez (15 points). She scored 11 of her team’s 13 points in the second (the other two coming on free throws by her sister Jaelyn Fernandez) and knocked down three from beyond the arc.
“She was a big difference tonight,” said Olem, who is filling in on the bench for head coach Amy Siggens this season. “She kind of kept us in the game to begin with, we just couldn’t get a stop for the life of us.”
Milford’s balanced attack proved too much for Taunton to handle. Croteau continued to make plays. She took a Katie Maietta feed and was able to score plus the foul. She missed the free throw, but chased down the rebound and went back up for what was essentially a four-point play. Croteau finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
“Emily rebounds the ball like crazy,” said Dolliver. “She’s our leading rebounder on the year. She does such a good job. My assistant coach made this comment the last couple games, when Emily is on the court you just know because she makes a difference one way or the other.”
Carly Ferreira (nine points and seven rebounds) also hit a big three in the quarter to push the lead up to 15 and Milford went into the break ahead 33-21.
Taunton came out for the second half and tried to get back into the game, cutting the lead to as little as nine points, but the Hawks continued to answer the bell every time they needed a big basket. Jaelyn Fernandez hit Maddie Michenzi for a layup to make it 35-26, but a 12-2 run put Milford in control.
Brooke Ferreira followed her own shot and hit a short jumper to start things. Jillian Michelson (10 points) took an outlet pass from Ashanty Barreto and got a layup and then knocked down a triple off a Lawrence skip pass. Ferreira nailed a corner three, one of six threes for the Hawks on the night, and it was 47-28 heading to the fourth.
The Tigers kept coming. Kristy Gorman had a three-point play after an offensive rebound and Izabella Russell hit a pair of runners high off the glass, but Taunton was never able to get the lead any lower than 14.
“It was tough to get stops tonight,” said Olem, who acknowledged the team is still building after the late start to the winter. “They were pretty much shooting the lights out. Every time we could get back in the game, we could never cut that deficit close enough to really make it a game.”
Croteau drove baseline and had a nice feed to Carly Ferreira for a short jumper and then Ferreira knocked down a stepback jumper to keep the Tigers at arm’s length. Lawrence went end-to-end for a layup and Croteau capped things with another offensive rebound and put-back.
“We don’t exactly play from ahead very often so I told them at the beginning of the fourth quarter, by no means is this game over but you can take your time a little bit,” Dolliver explained. “It would inch closer, but then we would come down and get a big bucket and those were from some of our experienced players.”
In a 62-52 season-opening win over visit Milford, the Panthers’ unselfish offense resulted in four players reaching double-figures in the scoring column and their aggressive defense never let the senior-laden Hawks get comfortable.
Maybe more impressive was that the game marked the first meaningful minutes for all but two Panthers — Declan Walmsley (game-high 18 points, six rebounds) and Andrew Byfield (13 points, 13 rebounds). The other seven Franklin players that checked in were experiencing their first meaningful minutes in a varsity game.
“There’s a certain level of expectation we have and guys like [Jake] O’Brien and [Zach] Harvey, they watched as juniors and didn’t get to play very much but they were at practice every day, playing that type of defense and they know how much it means to our team,” said Franklin head coach CJ Neely, who is in his seventh season at the helm of the Panthers. “They don’t just become good defenders all of a sudden because they are seniors, they’ve been working at it, going against really good players in practice so it’s not a total shock when they get the chance to play. These guys are tough, they have good attitudes and they come to work. Defense is something we’re always going to take pride in.”
Walmsley was a steady presence throughout for the Panthers, the top-scoring option returning from last year’s squad that graduated an experienced and talented group of players. The senior hit a three in the opening quarter, earned a trip to the line, and came up with a steal to set the tone for the hosts.
Byfield overcame some early jitters and turnovers to score 10 of his points in the second half. His game-high 13 boards helped limit the visiting Hawks to a total of four offensive rebounds.
To top it off, the Panthers got a big boost from freshman Henry Digiorgio (15 points), who provided a big spark off the bench in the opening quarter with a pair of threes. And when Milford made its biggest run of the game, Digiorgio sank arguably the biggest shot of the game in the third quarter to push the hosts’ lead back to double-digits.
A back-and-forth first quarter had Franklin ahead 15-14, Milford staying in it on the back of senior Jordan Darling (10 rebounds, four assists) who scored nine of his game-high 25 points in the first eight minutes. The Panthers’ defense really shined in the second as they held the Hawks to just five points on 2-of-13 shooting with three turnovers.
“You always want to jump on teams early but we knew Milford has a lot of experience, a lot of guys that have played in big tournament games, guys that won a division title last year…we knew we’d have our hands full but we wanted to be aggressive and make it difficult on their offense,” Neely said. “Getting a couple to go early and getting a lead early at home is nice, and those guys have to just come into the gym with all this stuff going on, maybe they aren’t comfortable right away and we get a cushion early on.”
Meanwhile, Franklin’s offense inched away on some success from three-point range. Walmsley connected early and O’Brien (12 points, four assists) hit two more to push the lead to 24-16. Byfield hit a three in the final minute to give the Panthers a 29-19 lead at the break.
“We weren’t ready to play, period,” said Milford head coach Paul Seaver, also in his seventh season. “Mentally we just weren’t ready to play. [Franklin] hits shots and they defend, and they do it amongst the best teams in the state year in and year out. I’m disappointed right now, we have to be better.”
Milford made its move in the third quarter, hitting a pair of threes — one from Ben Blanchard (10 points) and one from Max Martin (12 points) — in the first 90 seconds of the half after connecting from downtown just twice in the first two quarters.
The Panthers answered with a 7-0 burst when Byfield converted off a turnover and O’Brien used a quick step to get past his defender for an easy two. But Milford continued to claw back as Darling sparked an 8-0 run with a three. Ralph Franklin Jr. got to the rim for two and Martin hit another corner three and the Panthers’ lead shrunk to just 38-33 with two minutes left in the third.
Digiorgio sank a pair of free throws to snap the run, and two possessions later, the freshman sank a straightaway three with the shot clock about to expire and just seconds left in the third to push the Panther advantage back to 10 at 43-33.
“We knew he was a good player, we had seen him play at the Metro level,” Neely said of Digiorgio. “You never know how it will translate to the varsity level but he has confidence which is good. We told him you’re either varsity or not, doesn’t matter a sophomore or freshman. That was a huge bucket.”
An early five points from Darling gave the visitors some hope for a comeback but Byfield, O’Brien, and Digiorgio scored in succession, and the Panthers’ lead never shrunk to single digits again.
“I think being at home will benefit us, I think it’s that type of situation this year,” Seaver said. “It’s a little more of a comfort level given the protocols. But we have to be better. We have to be better in practice tomorrow and we have to be better in the game on Thursday.”
NORTH EASTON, Mass. – Just over a year ago, an injury forced Milford keeper Kevin Gomes to the bench at the start of double overtime in the D2 South Sectional Final against Nauset.
Up stepped Leo Oliveira, who went on to make a huge save in penalty kicks to help the Scarlet Hawks secure the sectional crown.
Fast forward to Monday night in the Hockomock Cup Final, a battle between the Kelley-Rex division Hawks and Davenport division champion Oliver Ames, and the roles were reversed.
Oliveira had to exit the game with an injury early in the fourth quarter and in stepped Gomes, who came up with a colossal save on an indirect kick from inside the area as Milford claimed the cup with a 2-1 win on the road to finish the season undefeated.
“We know they are a powerhouse, always a top team, always a state championship contender…so this game to me is like a district final,” said first-year Milford head coach Antonio Pinto. “For me, these were the two best teams in Eastern Mass. and they put on a show. It was a back-and-forth game, chances both ways, full of excitement, and I couldn’t be more proud of Milford, and couldn’t be more proud of OA for the battle they put up.”
The Hawks scored twice in the opening 10 minutes of the second half but the Tigers pulled one back before the end of the third quarter to set up the frantic finish.
A low cross from Oliver Ames’ Brady deVos in the 78th minute was first touched by a Milford defender before Gomes handled it, giving the Tigers an indirect kick inside the box near the end line on the right side, about 10 yards from goal. Colin Milliken touched the ball in play and Matthew Nikiciuk blasted a rocket from close range but Gomes stood tall and pushed the ball over the bar to keep the Hawks ahead.
“Me and Leo love each other, we practice together every day,” Gomes said. “Right when I saw he was hurt, I knew I had to do it for him. Because last year against Nauset, he did the same for me. He won it for us. He was upset from the injury but I wanted him to leave happy so I told him I got this, I was going to do it for him. I just had to be confident, calm down, and play my game.
“It was a close play but the angle they were in, there was only one way they could try and get it in and it was all power. So I had my teammates marking, lining up in front where they could and I just had to be confident and be strong when I approached it. It was the best feeling after saving that.”
The ensuing corner bounced around the box twice but was finally cleared away. OA had another attacking free kick a minute later but the service sailed wide. Chris Tocci came up with key clearances in the final seconds as OA continued to press.
“It was a great game, a lot of fun,” said OA head coach John Barata. “Just one or two things separate the teams in a game like this. We hit the crossbar, they cleared a ball off the goal line and the game changes completely if those go in. Two nice goals [from Milford] but not goals we’ve given up all year. The challenge for us is the way it happened. The loss isn’t bad because it was a fantastic game, definitely a state final atmosphere, and we’ve been in them before so we know, and that team is excellent.
“The boys are a little more disappointed because of the errors. It wasn’t that they were dominated…sometimes it’s better to lose a game being dominated and not one that at times, you were on the front foot and better. But they have special players…their two best players put the two daggers in.”
After a scoreless opening 40 minutes, the Hawks took the lead less than five minutes into the second half. Senior Leo Coelho helped the Hawks transition into offense by splitting a pair of defenders and feeding a pass to Lucas Da Silva, who took a touch and was fouled five yards outside the box.
Coelho took the free kick, bending a left-footed shot towards the far post and just under the bar and out of the reach of OA keeper Drew Nickla.
Just six minutes later, the visitors tacked on another goal. A big clearance from Julio Dasilva was tracked down by Lucas Da Silva, and he was able to beat a defender along the right sideline before launching a high arching ball that eluded the keeper and fell just under the bar into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
“Two phenomenal goals from two phenomenal players,” Pinto said. “They can flip a switch and turn the game around in a second. If Leo gets half a chance, he can make it a goal. And Lucas scored from no angle, he didn’t have any options inside so just chipped it.”
Nickla came up with a big stop on a Coelho free kick in the 54th minute and the Tigers came back down and found the back of the net on the other end. After being dispossessed, OA senior Kevin Louhis tracked back to steal the ball back. He took one touch forward before unleashing a rocket that found the top left corner from 35 yards out to make it 2-1 in the 58th minute.
Although neither team scored in the first half, there were still chances from both sides. Milliken unleashed a blast in the 7th minute that was swallowed up by Oliveira. And minutes later, Milliken put another shot on goal that was denied and Dillon Cupples had a bid on goal but Avi Seri was there for the Hawks to clear it off the line.
Just seconds later, Nikiciuk rifled a free kick from 40 yards out that hit off the crossbar and stayed out.
“We knew they’d be a top team…we said if we could give them a game we’d be happy and I think we did more than give them a game but we’re not happy [with the result],” Barata said. “It’s sad for the seniors but ultimately, if you have to end this year…when we look back, we went 12-1, won the division, and played the team who was probably picked to win it all this year. And we had a chance to play, what a blessing.”
Milford boys soccer finishes the season without a loss at 10-0-3, with two of the draws coming on cancellations. Oliver Ames finishes the season at 12-1.