Young Panthers Push On Into Central/West Quarterfinal

Franklin volleyball
Senior hitter Erin Skidmore (12) skies for one of her team-leading nine kills to help Franklin get past Shepherd Hill in the first round of the tournament. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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FRANKLIN, Mass. – When the season began for Franklin, expectations were limited for a young roster that was hoping to earn enough wins just to get into the postseason. The younger players developed quicker than even Franklin coach Kate Horsmann could have hoped and not only did the Panthers reach the tournament but on Thursday night hosted Shepherd Hill in the Div. 1 Central/West first round.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Franklin continued its strong season with a 3-1 (25-22, 20-25, 25-16, 25-17) victory over the Rams and advanced to the sectional quarterfinal for a trip to third-seed Lincoln-Sudbury.

“At the beginning of the year, we had some potential,” Horsmann explained, “but I really thought okay we’ll be lucky if we make the tournament and…we got a home match. They’re a great group of kids and it’s exciting and now we get to go to Lincoln-Sudbury, which is always tough for us.”

The Panthers looked like a young team in the early moments of the opening set, trailing 9-7 and struggling to get into a rhythm, but Franklin turned it around with a 12-2 run, including a 5-0 run with sophomore Maggie Doyle serving a pair of aces. Meaghan Maguire added a pair of kills and Lindsay McGowan had two others to help the Panthers build a cushion.

Shepherd Hill fought back with a 10-2 run of its own to tie the first set at 21-21, but Franklin was able to close it out with kills by Doyle and senior Erin Skidmore and errant shots by the Rams.

The momentum of the first set did not carry over to the second. Franklin struggled to get going again, but could not mount the same comeback that carried it to the one-set lead. The Panthers had five service errors in the set and trailed by as much as 18-9. Although Franklin cut the lead to 23-20, a pair of errors gave the Rams the set.

“We’ve struggled with our serving,” said Horsmann. “All year that’s kind of been our Achille’s heel and I don’t really understand it, we just can’t seem to get the ball over and in the court.”

Just as the positive momentum did not carry over from the first, the struggles of the second did not carry over to the third. Franklin found its serving touch with senior libero Maddy Kuzio, sophomore setter Lauren McGrath, and sophomore Riley Marino all recording aces.

Horsmann admitted that she could not take credit for the turnaround from the service line from set to the next.

“I say the same things to them over and over again,” she quipped. “They all have something to focus on when they serve, whether it’s their toss or not wiping across the ball, and those are points we work on in practice and it’s just a matter of going out and doing those things. Once they hit the court, there’s very little we can do.”

The work on the practice court paid off for Maguire and Doyle, who emerged in the third set to be Franklin’s primary weapon. The middle hitters regularly found room to hit around the Shepherd Hill block and were also a strong presence defensively at the net. Each had three kills in the third and then combined for another five in the decisive fourth set.

“We really have focused on working with them the second half of the year because they’re both really talented and they were getting hits but they were hitting right at the other team,” Horsmann said. “You saw tonight they were really finding spots and hitting the ball harder. They’ve come a long way.”

The third set was closed out by Skidmore, who rose up to smack a kill inside the end line. She had three kills in the set and finished with a team-high nine for the match. In addition, the senior hitter added several strong digs, aces, and leadership on the court.

Horsmann said of Skidmore, “She’s our go-to player. She’s got a nice all-around game, so we count on her a lot.”

The fourth set was a dominating stretch for the Panthers, who jumped out to an 11-4 lead and never looked back. Junior hitter Lauren Lockhart came off the bench and had several important swings in the final two sets, including a shot down the line off a scramble, catching Shepherd Hill in transition and ending a mini-Rams run.

The Panthers did not know coming into the season that they would be a playoff team and Horsmann knows that this run will be a strong building block for the future.

She said, “Because we are young and we’re bringing so many girls back next year, these experiences are invaluable.”

Franklin (13-6), the No. 6 seed, will take on third-seeded Lincoln-Sudbury on Monday at 7:00 p.m.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Steinberg Heroics Salvage Point for Sharon at Gillette

Ally Steinberg
Ally Steinberg (5) scored a pair of goals in the final six minutes to earn a 2-2 draw with Shepherd Hill on Monday night at Gillette. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

Josh Perry, Managing Editor

FOXBORO, Mass. – There was the hint of a smile that played across junior forward Ally Steinberg’s face when the second goal found its way to the back of the net, but rather than join in the raucous celebrations of her teammates she immediately followed her shot, grabbed the ball and ran it back to midfield to get the game restarted.

“I’m not one to really celebrate,” said Steinberg after the game.

The Eagles did not need her to celebrate on Monday night, but they did need her in front of goal, as Steinberg scored twice in the final six minutes to steal a point for Sharon in a 2-2 draw with Shepherd Hill at Gillette Stadium.

When asked how it felt to score at Gillette, Steinberg was willing to admit, “It’s pretty awesome.”

Sharon coach Jon Lavien said, “They’ve been a team all year that has put a two-goal deficit between them and their opponent and fought their way back. From the back all the way up, everyone touched the ball and everybody participated.”

The Eagles controlled play for much of the game with the lion’s share of possession and a number of scoring opportunities that they failed to convert. Despite a strong start, it was the Rams that jumped into the lead in the 12th minute.

A long ball to the forward pulled junior Samantha Rabb into the channel where she conceded a free kick on the edge of the box. The kick was played into the middle and Sharon failed to clear with several attempts allowing the ball to fall to Hailey Demers and she looped it over the head of Sharon keeper Natalie Gray.

As if one sucker punch was not bad enough, the Eagles received another just five minutes later when Rebecca Nguyen slipped a through ball between the defenders to Rachel Bianculli and she made no mistake with her finish to make it 2-0.

“We really controlled the play but just didn’t capitalize,” said Lavien. “I think the wider field kind of confused us. You start going wide and it’s really wide and those corners aren’t going where you want them to go.”

In the 18th minute, Alexandra Filipkowski had Sharon’s first shot after Shepherd Hill failed to clear a cross from Rose Wald. It took another 15 minutes before the Eagles would get another chance and this one Steinberg headed onto the roof of the net from five yards out off a Victoria Zambello free kick.

At haltime, Lavien spoke to his team about continuing to play the way that it started and to keep pushing to try and get back into the game. He also reminded the Eagles that this was a unique opportunity that they needed to make count.

“I told them they have 40 minutes to play at Gillette and you won’t get that again so go out there and enjoy it,” said Lavien. “From there we just talked about we were dominating the game but we weren’t finishing and luck wasn’t on our side.”

The Eagles also adjusted the formation, dropping Filipkowski into midfield, Amanda Klayman to the wing, and moving Steinberg up top along with Zambello. The move worked as Sharon attacked time and again and started to look dangerous each time that it went forward.

Zambello was the primary target early in the half and could possibly have had a second half hat trick with a little better luck. In the 52nd minute she ran onto a pass in the middle, cut pat a defender onto her left foot inside the box and fired a low angled shot that seemed certain to cut the lead in half, until Rams freshman keeper Alyssa Trueman somehow got a fingertip to it and kept it out.

Again in the 21st minute, Zambello was denied. This time she flicked a loose ball over the prone Trueman only to have her shot kicked off the line by Julia Dandridge.

“The main focus was really just keep going and no giving up, play as a team, keep connecting the passes,” said Steinberg, who admitted that she was getting frustrated as the Eagles continued to be shutout. “We knew it was coming, so it was just a matter of getting the first one.”

With six minutes remaining, the goal finally came and it was Steinberg that provided the breakthrough. A cross from the right by Alex Miller picked out Steinberg inside the six-yard box and she found the corner to make it 2-1.

Just three minutes later she tied the game. This time it was Zambello who olayed provider with a cross, again from the right, that was whipped in low on the edge of the six. Steinberg needed only one touch to knock it past Trueman and tie the game at 2-2.

“We have a lot of heart,” said the Sharon hero, “even if we don’t always get the result that we want.”

There was still time for another chance to fall to Zambello, but this was not to be her night to get on the score sheet. The junior knocked it over the bar from close range and then had another chance denied by the combination of Trueman and Dandridge in the final minute.

“I think this will be a good catapult for them,” said Lavien. “You always want two points over one point but you don’t ever want to walk away with with no points.”

“You hate to say a tie is great but in this case…look at where we are and they were down a large portion of the game and they came back. I don’t think it gets better than that.”

Sharon (3-5-1, 2-5-0) travels to Taunton on Wednesday night.

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

Scoring Struggles Continue For Sharon At Gillette

Matt Lowerre
Matt Lowerre (8) goes up for a header against Shepherd Hill on Monday at Gillette Stadium. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

By Josh Perry, Managing Editor

FOXBORO, Mass. – Sharon dominated the ball for long stretches of the second half of Monday night’s non-league matchup with Shepherd Hill at Gillette Stadium but managed only two shots on target and neither shot troubled the Rams keepers.

Frustration mounted on the Sharon sidelines as head coach Bryan Kelly stood with his hands on his head after another attack dwindled away on the sidelines or another free kick failed to make its way into the box.

The Rams may not have had the ball much, but they were dangerous when they did get it with rapid counterattacks and long punts into the Sharon box that created several scoring chances, including one in the final seconds of the first half that produced the winner.

One mistake at the back, one moment of indecision, was all it took for Shepherd Hill to walk away with a 1-0 victory.

“The fact is we make a mistake a game or two mistakes a game,” said Kelly. “We’re solid but the fact of the matter is if we put the ball in the back of the net then we’re not facing these dilemmas.”

He added bluntly, “This team needs to start scoring.”

The first half was a contrast in styles with Sharon looking to keep the ball down and play through the midfield, which is one of the reasons Kelly moved senior Dan Bender into the back four alongside Sam Weidig. The Rams wanted to move it quickly from front to back and looked for long angled balls into striker Mark Wilding.

It only took six minuted for the Rams to show the effectiveness of the strategy when a long pass found Wilding in behind the defense but Andrew Filipkowski got a piece of the shot, which was then cleared off the line.

Chances for either team were few and far between. Sharon forced two saves, but both were comfortable ones on shots from distance.

On the brink of halftime, the game changed. Ben Boudreau sent a long ball over the top and there was hesitation between the back four as well as Filipkowski. Tyler Fagan took advantage to sneak in and then finish it over the top of the keeper for a 1-0 lead with practically the last kick of the half.

“It kind of deflated us,” admitted Kelly. “We knew they were going to just kick and run and that’s where they got all their chances from was kicking it as far as they could and running on to their fast striker. It hurt us.”

“He had one chance, we made a mistake, and they capitalized. That’s the name of the game; that’s soccer.”

The Eagles came out with renewed vigor in the second half and dominated possession and pushed the Shepherd Hill defense back into its defending third of the pitch. It was there that every attack seemed to break down. The ball would cycle to Sonny Somdah down the left touchline or Lucas Allaria on the right and the ball failed to get into the middle where Kelly argued the Eagles are their most potent.

“I think this big, wide field hurt us to be honest with you,” Kelly explained. “We’re a middle of the field kind of team and that’s where our strength is and we kept pushing to the sideline, pushing to the sideline and then we had nothing to do with it.”

“That’s not where we score from – we score in the middle of the field.”

The Eagles kept the ball well with James Dunlea, Matt Lowerre, and Stephen Higgins consistently winning the ball back and getting it back into the attack, but they failed to find openings to take a shot. It was not until the 71st minute off a free kick that Sharon managed to test the keeper in the second half.

“They wanted to keep running straight,” said Kelly. “We talk about making angled runs all the time – looping around your defender, making overlapping runs and we just didn’t do that tonight.”

The best chance of the second half actually fell to the Rams who once again created havoc with a ball over the top of the defense. This time it was Widing that got on the end of it after beating Weidig in the air, but his shot was narrowly over the bar.

Despite pushing to the final whistle, Sharon could not find the chance it needed for an equalizer. The Eagles (4-6, 3-5) will return home to face Taunton on Wednesday

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