Milford Battles Back But Falls in Five-Set Thriller

Milford boys volleyball
Milford senior hitter Joao Boaventura helped the Hawks battle back and force a fifth set in the Central semifinal against Natick. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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MILFORD, Mass. – No offense to the teams that played earlier in the afternoon, but the nightcap felt like the final. From the atmosphere in the gym to the intensity of play on the floor to the ebb and flow of emotions on both sides of the net, Milford and Natick showed why they are both considered among the top teams in the state.

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After falling behind in Friday night’s Central semifinal on its home court, Milford (20-4) rallied with its strongest game of the day to force a decisive fifth set. The hosts led 11-10 in the fifth only to have Natick score the final five points of the match to secure the 3-2 (25-17, 23-25, 25-21, 20-25, 15-11) victory.

“My biggest fear tonight was coming in and getting overwhelmed by the moment,” said Milford coach Andrew Mainini, “but there was never a moment in the match where I thought they gave up. Some of the points and some of the rallies, the pursuits of the ball in the fifth set were great. They may have come away with the win but I thought we left all of our heart on the floor.”

Despite a raucous crowd cheering them on, the Scarlet Hawks got off to a tough start to the match. A series of unforced errors handed Natick the edge in the first set, running off five straight points to turn a 13-13 tie into an 18-13 lead that it wouldn’t surrender. Connor Reardon was the main weapon for the Red Hawks, while Milford’s serve-receive struggled to put the ball in good positions to attack.

The second set was back-and-forth, as Milford started to find its groove and find outside hitter Joao Boaventura. The senior had six kills in the set and he was a constant menace that the Natick block had to keep an eye on.

“Our offense has come so far in the last couple weeks that there have been a lot of matches where the ball was spread out a lot,” said Mainini. “[Joao] definitely came out to play tonight, definitely controlled the match and scored some really big points for us.”

Fellow hitter Tiago Filadelfo was also used frequently by setter Josh Orellana, recording four kills of his own, including a blast down the line to seal the set.

While it wasn’t the cleanest set for the hosts, who never led by more than three points throughout, Milford started to show some of its balance on offense. In addition to Boaventura and Filadelfo, Zachary Browne and Clayton Picket also got in on the action to keep the Natick defense honest in the middle of the net.

Natick tried to take the momentum back in the third set and jumped out to a 13-8 lead after three straight errors by Milford. The hosts started to battle back, with the help of a scoring error that kept Natick at 15 points. Despite the protests of the Natick bench, the officials kept the score the same and Milford took advantage to tie it after a pair of violations and a Browne block.

A kill by Filadelfo made it 17-16 but then Natick ensured that the controversy over the missing point would be short-lived by scoring nine of the next 13 points, riding the play of junior Brendan Carroll, to take control of the match.

“Their right side is not a very big guy but man does he play super well,” Mainini said. “We had a really tough time blocking the right side hitter. If we moved inside of the court, he hit outside of the block, if we moved out then he hit inside. To me, he won that match for them.”

With the season on the line, Milford put together its best set of the match. It was as though a switch had been flipped and the defense was better, the passing crisper, and the hits started to find open spots.

Browne snagged a point to bring the Hawks within one and then a block by Gabe Brandao tied the set at 6-6. Filadelfo had back-to-back hits to put Milford in front. Brandao had a block and kill that extended the lead to 11-6. Milford pulled ahead 17-12 on a kill by Boaventura, but Natick chipped away with three straight points. Needing a boost, Orellana set Picket in the middle and he buried his shot for a much-needed point.

As the crowd got louder and louder, Milford was able to hold off Natick in the fourth. Filadelfo with another couple of big hits down the stretch keeping Natick at bay and helping send the match to the fifth set.

“It would’ve been great had it been the final,” Mainini admitted, “but there was something special about it being at home and having the entire Milford community come out. The fan support was awesome. Since I’ve been here, we’ve never had an atmosphere that vibrant and intense.”

It was no surprise that the final set was close throughout. Boaventura had back-to-back kills to put Milford ahead 9-7, the second point coming after a long rally in which libero Tiago Carvalho laid out to make a spectacular dig on what seemed like a sure point for the visitors.

Boaventura added another hit to push the lead to 10-8 but then a net violation got one back for Natick and the visitors tied it on a kill by Will Landry. Browne put Milford back in front 11-10 and the crowd anticipated the completion of the comeback, but it would be the last point for Milford on the night. Natick got the final five points, four of them on errors, to grab the road win.

Mainini said, “The guys were diving everywhere to keep balls in play that I didn’t think could be. I feel like they left it all out there tonight. If a couple balls trickle over the net or are two inches in a different direction, the outcome of the game could’ve been completely different.”

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Franklin Handles Natick, Advances To Sectional Final

Franklin boys basketball
Franklin’s Jack Rodgers is all smiles after being subbed out of the Panthers’ win over Natick. (Peter Raider/HockomockSports.com)

By Joe Clark, HockomockSports.com Student Reporter

WORCESTER, Mass. – All season long, the Franklin boys basketball team has relied on their defense and a balanced scoring attack on their way to the top seed in the D1 Central tournament. On Sunday afternoon at WPI, Franklin stuck to that formula in a 68-54 win over #5 Natick in the D1 Central Semifinals.

The Panther’s defensive effort was in full force throughout the first quarter, as they limited the Red Hawks to just ten points to take an 18-10 lead. Franklin sophomore Chris Edgehill score seven of his team-high 19 points for Franklin, including a three that beat the buzzer to give Franklin an eight-point advantage heading into the second quarter.

After Natick’s Will Bodnitzki (nine points, three rebounds) scored with just over four minutes to go in the first half to cut the Franklin lead to 26-17, the Panthers went on a 10-2 run and didn’t give up a field goal to close out the half. Threes from Paul Mahon (13 points, two steals) and Matt Elias (eleven points) highlighted the run that also included two free throws from Jack Rodgers (six points, eight rebounds, three assists) and a basket from Will Harvey (two steals).

Jalen Samuels (13 points, ten rebounds, four assists), who sat most of the second quarter with foul trouble, scored Franklin’s first five points of the second half as he converted a layup before hitting a three on a nice assist from Rodgers.

“Jalen’s a special player when he’s going,” said Franklin coach CJ Neely about Samuels. “Not having him in the first half, luckily we were able to keep our lead for a while there, and then getting him back obviously, being a guy that can get off you on the dribble and having big guys guarding him, I think it’s hard for them to deal with a guy like Jalen.”

Late in the third quarter after two free throws from Mahon put Franklin up 51-30, Natick came storming back, going on a 9-2 run to close the quarter behind seven points from Jahden Erold (22 points, ten rebounds).

“Not our best performance in the second half, I thought our first half was Franklin basketball, the ball was moving, defense was there, rebounding was there for us, but in the second half we started to get a little careless with the ball and started getting a little whiny about the calls and soft on the glass and on defensive end of the floor,” Neely said about his team’s second half performance. “Fortunately enough for us, we were able to make enough shots to kind of survive there in the second half and get out here with a ‘W.’”

After Alexander Cohen (three points, two rebounds) made a three with 2:15 to play to cut Franklin’s lead to just eight at 60-52, Edgehill erupted for the Panthers, scoring eight points in the last two minutes of the game, including a game-clinching three with 28 seconds to play in what would be the last basket of the game.

“I think he’s certainly never been afraid of a big moment, he’s someone that wants the ball in his hands in crunch time,” Neely said about Edgehill. “He’s a great player, and I think we’re relying on him as a team a lot to get our points.”

Franklin (21-3) will face Algonquin (17-7) Friday night at 6:00 PM at WPI for the D1 Central title. The Tomahawks beat St. John’s Shrewsbury 82-70 on Sunday for the chance to play for their first sectional title since 2001.

King Philip Defense Locks Down to Grind Out Win

King Philip boys lacrosse
King Philip senior goalie Paul Macrina makes one of his 11 saves in the Warriors’ first round win over Natick. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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NATICK, Mass. – As the final seconds of the second quarter wound down in Thursday evening’s Div. 1 South first round matchup at Natick’s Memorial Field, King Philip was tied with the hosts at just a single goal apiece. The Warriors had not only been unable to score in the quarter but had gone nearly the full 12 minutes of the second while registering a single shot attempt.

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Another defensive stand won the ball back for KP with 11 seconds on the clock. The ball moved quickly to Zach D’Amico and the senior LSM fired a strike from more than 50 yards away to the stick of classmate Tim Watson, who was camped out on the edge of the Natick crease.

Watson fired from a tight angle and scored the go-ahead goal just two seconds before the whistle. It was a lead that KP would not relinquish.

“We make a 50-yard pass with two seconds left and he didn’t even have a really good angle and we score, but then a guy throws a ball five yards in front of net and we drop it,” joked first-year KP coach Jamie Stefanini. “These guys are going to give me a heart attack.”

Sophomore Colin DeVellis scored a pair of goals and added an assist, while Watson scored once and assisted on two others, but it was the lock down defense of the Warriors and the play of senior goalie Paul Macrina (11 saves) that led KP to a 6-3 victory and a possible meeting with top seed BC High.

“Our defense is our backbone. They come in and they play hard,” said Stefanini of a defensive corps led by D’Amico, Conor Khung, and Michael Curtin with Macrina smothering the few chances that the Redhawks managed to create.

“They all play hard and if you saw in the game [Natick] didn’t get good shots,” Stefanini continued. “They were always far away, guys pushing them out…and they weren’t coming close to scoring.”

The defensive effort started right from the opening face-off, as KP went man-down twice inside the opening two minutes. On Natick’s first possession, senior midfielder John DeLuca picked off a pass, setting the tone for the type of defense KP would play all game.

While the defense was shutting down the Redhawks, the offense was struggling to find a rhythm and keep control of the ball. A turnover on an outlet pass created the first goal of the game for the hosts when Chris Burnes got free in transition to make it 1-0.

KP would answer back five minutes later. DeVellis created space for himself on the left side and saw his shot ricochet off the crossbar. The Warriors got the ball right back and the sophomore attackers got a second chance and made no mistake with a rip just inches under the bar.

In the second quarter, KP forced one save from Natick goalie John Carr, but then watched almost every offensive possession end in a turnover. Things were just not clicking on that end of the field until D’Amico stepped in with his pinpoint outlet to Watson.

“Guys are getting open and we’re throwing the ball over their head or we’re making the throw and we’re dropping it,” said Stefanini. “We need to clean that up.”

He added, “These kids want it. They want it bad. It’s up to us as coaches and players to correct these things. We need to catch it and finish.”

KP spent almost the entire halftime on the field taking shots and trying to find that groove on offense and it seemed to work. The Warriors added a third within the first minute of the second half when DeVellis picked out Aiden Bender with a inch-perfect skip pass.

DeLuca struck the post with another good KP chance midway through the quarter but then Natick finally found space to get a goal back. Macrina made two close-range saves but the Redhawks continued to snag the rebound and keep the pressure up. Finally, Billy Tinney was able to squeeze a shot past the Drexel-bound Macrina and the post to make it 3-2.

In the final second of the third, KP appeared to score again. Watson flicked a pass across the Natick defense to Ben Palmer and the senior midfielder leapt and finished but the clock read all zeroes. After a quick conversation, the officials ruled the goal was good and KP went into the fourth up by two.

Macrina came through with a point-blank save on Burnes and, after another save two minutes later, he also spearheaded a quick break that was finished off by DeVellis with a nifty move on the edge of the crease for a 5-2 lead.

The game was far from over as Burnes scored his second of the game with 2:21 remaining to cut the lead to two. Natick won the ensuing possession and caught KP’s defense flat-footed with Burnes racing in untouched for a golden scoring opportunity only for Macrina to read the bounce and make another great stop that sealed the win.

“That was a nice save,” Stefanini said. “He’s so passionate and so motivated about the game and this team. He’s not just a good goalie, but he’s also a great leader and he’s always trying to inspire his teammates. You see it when he plays.”

Nathan Minkwitz added an empty net goal in the final minute to give KP the three-goal advantage, but Stefanini admitted that the Warriors will have to take it up a notch against the top seeded Eagles in the likely second round matchup.

He said, “Their first couple goals were dropped balls by us and now we have an unsettled situation in their favor, especially if we’re looking at playing the No. 1 seed.

They’re going to take advantage and be much better on offense. If we play defense the way we can, we can play with anybody, but the offense needs to be more consistent.”

King Philip (13-8) awaits the winner of BC High and Newton South at a time and date to be determined.

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Season Comes to a Close For Rocketeers at Natick

North Attleboro girls soccer
Haley Guertin and North Attleboro gave top seed Natick a battle on Wednesday night before falling 2-0 in the D1 South quarterfinal. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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NATICK, Mass. – It was always going to be a challenge to take on the top seed in the Div. 1 South bracket on the road, but when Natick scored just six minutes into Wednesday night’s quarterfinal matchup, the road got even steeper for North Attleboro.

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The Rocketeers pressed and harried the Redhawks throughout the game and created several scoring opportunities, but were never able to find a breakthrough. Natick added a second with 20 minutes remaining and closed out a 2-0 victory that ends a roller coaster fall for North, which changed coaches midseason in the midst of winning the program’s first league title.

“I thought we played well,” said North coach Bill Wallace. “We knew what they were, we new what we had to do, but they sprung the one kid open and she finished.”

The opening goal came after North had pushed forward into the attack. Ashlyn Gaulin had a chance when the ball was cut back to her in the box but the shot was sliced wide. Just a minute later, Natick broke quickly and decisively with Gwyn Godin starting things with a through ball to Sheila McQuillen who then laid it off to her right for a one-time finish by Julia Adelmann.

North goalie Nina Beauvais> would make two saves in the half but was largely untroubled, as the combination of Emily Chiasson and Rachel Labonte cleaned up most of the Natick attacks as they got near the final third. On the other side, North had several chances to find an equalizer.

Just two minutes after Natick’s opener, Emma Gaulin cut in from the left and took aim at the far corner, but her deflected shot was held by Natick keeper Ashley Bianco. Five minutes later Aine Mendonca, who had a solid box-to-box game for the Rocketeers, intercepted an outlet pass and let fly from 25 yards forcing Bianco into another save.

Ashlyn and Emma Gaulin combined on the left in the 17th minute before squaring to Haley Guertin in the middle of the box. North’s leading scorer tried to lay it off for Kayla Pasquel but the pass had a little too much on it and Bianco was able to smother the chance.

Gaulin and Guertin were a constant thorn in the side of the Natick defense and it started with the work rate on the defensive side of the ball. The forwards started the North pressure, set the tone, and pushed the Rocketeers up the pitch.

“They knew going into it that they were basically going to have to disrupt four at the back and that’s what they did,” said Wallace. “We had some shots, we had some chances. We were first to the ball a lot.”

Labonte nearly evened the score with a ridiculous effort in the 33rd minute as her free kick from the other side of half took one big bounce in the box, sailed over the head of Bianco, and went just wide of the post.

In the first minute of the second half, North’s pressure again created a chance when Emma Gaulin stole a pass on the right and hit an early cross that found Guertin’s head but again the shot flashed wide. North took a different tack in the second half, backing off the Natick back line and allowing sideways passes but keeping the pressure high in the middle of the pitch.

“They play laterally very well,” said Wallace. “In the first we chased a little bit, in the second half we tried to play low pressure up top and press in the middle.” When asked how tough it was to break Natick down, especially after it took the lead, Wallace admitted, “I think they’ve only given up three or four goals all year.”

In the 58th minute, the home team doubled its lead. A free kick was given just in front of the North bench and the ball was played into the box by Rachel Jasinski. Godin rose highest at the back post and nodded it back towards the penalty spot where McQuillen was waiting to side foot the ball home for a 2-0 advantage.

Wallace said, “She got in behind the defense and on free kicks, anything can be dangerous. Rachel was amazing on her free kicks. She was hitting it 50-60 yards.”

Three minutes later Guertin had a quick turn and shot from the edge of the box that went wide and Labonte had a free kick from a dangerous area but could not get it to dip in time. With three minutes left in the match, Mendonca stepped forward and hit a high, looping shot that Bianco watched land on top of the goal.

“We tried to switch the formation with the timeout [in the 67th minute]” Wallace said. “I thought Emily Chaisson handled it really well in the midfield.”

The Rocketeers finished the season at 14-4-2.

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