WORCESTER, Mass. – Springfield Central is headed back to the MIAA D1 State Championship for the third straight year, but it wasn’t without a hell of a fight from the Franklin girls basketball team first.
The Panthers went toe-to-toe with the three-time West sectional champions, forcing overtime with a late bucket before bowing out of the tournament with a 64-57 loss at the hands of the Golden Eagles in the D1 State Semifinals.
“When you’re this close, you’re a game away, they are definitely disappointed,” said Franklin head coach John Leighton. “For the girls, I think in the next 24 hours, the sense of accomplishment will come back, but right now, it stinks. It’s raw because it just happened and was overtime. It’s one thing if you lose by 20, you know the season is done. But not here when you’re battling until the last 12 seconds. It’ll hurt tonight, but it’ll get better.”
For the second straight game, junior Megan O’Connell scored in the final seconds, this time a layup with 6.1 seconds left to tie the game at 48-48 to force overtime.
“We have a lot of faith in her,” Leighton said of O’Connell. “Her confidence has grown so much. It was a similar play to what we ran the other night, just with Ali or Meg with an inside-out option, and the lane was there so I give her credit. The kids have really grown confidence-wise. We’ve been in a lot of close games and come out ahead and I think that gives them a lot of confidence. We celebrated last game and then buried it but I think that confidence at the end helped us.”
Franklin carried that momentum into the extra period as O’Connell (16 points, 17 rebounds) drove to the basket on the opening possession to give the Panthers the lead, and two trips later, senior Shannon Grey drained a corner three for a 53-48 lead with 2:49 left.
But the Golden Eagles refused to go away, answering right away with a triple from Selenya Gonzalez (21 points). Franklin’s Ali Brigham (26 points, 25 rebounds) converted an offensive rebound to give Franklin a four-point cushion and then blocked a shot to give the Panthers possession back with under two minutes to go.
But a missed three resulted in two free throws for Jaliena Sanchez (34 points, eight rebounds) and then a turnover resulted in two free throws for Rosheda Guthrie, knotting the score at 55-55.
Turnovers hurt the Panthers all night, and their 19th and final one of the game led to one of the biggest plays of the game. After two misses, Franklin came down with another offensive rebound but a pass to the paint was picked off by Sanchez and she raced the length of the court and converted while being fouled, hitting the free throw to put Springfield Central up 58-55 with under a minute to play.
“There’s going to be plenty of swings throughout the game,” Leighton said. “I thought they had a couple of good stops, got us to turn it over a couple of times. And Sanchez was just on fire at the end, she couldn’t miss from the foul line. She did a lot of stuff, she finished strong and I thought she was the biggest difference in the game, especially in the second half and in overtime.”
Brigham answered on the other end with a pair of free throws but Sanchez went back to the line, where she finished 17-for-21, and sank another two to push the lead back to three, 60-57. Franklin was unable to convert its chance and Sanchez added four more from the line in the final seconds to ice the game.
It was back-and-forth for the majority of regulation, with neither team grabbing a significant lead at any point. Springfield Central jumped out to a 6-0 lead to start the game but Franklin settled in and took a 13-11 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Buckets from O’Connell and Brigham midway through the second helped the Panthers build a brief five-point lead at 19-14 but a 7-1 swing from the Golden Eagles put Springfield Central ahead. The Panthers got points from Bea Bonhus and Erin Quaile, plus four straight from Brigham to take a 28-26 lead into halftime.
Sanchez worked her way to the line early and often in the third, hitting five free throws but Brigham answered with a three-point play, a rare shooting foul called against the Golden Eagles while defending Brigham.
A four-point play from Sanchez — a made three plus another foul — gave Springfield Central a 37-33 edge and the momentum but the Panthers stole it back with a 10-0 run to end the quarter. Brigham scored the first four then O’Connell scored three straight baskets for a 43-37 edge heading into the fourth.
Franklin was held to just one point — a free throw from freshman Olivia Quinn — for the first six minutes of the fourth. The Panthers finished the game just 2-for-18 from three-point range.
“We’d love to have a couple more of those [threes],” Leighton said. “And the thing is, I thought we took good shots, we weren’t forcing them, they just weren’t falling. Not that we’ve been living off the three all year, but they were urging us to shoot it and we had to take the open shots. “
Quaile sank two free throws with 1:40 left to get Franklin within one before O’Connell’s tying basket late.
“This team is historic,” Leighton said. “They went further than any other Franklin girls team has ever gone. This is a cohesive group, which is really special. I’d love to take credit for it but I have nothing to do with it. These girls love each other.”
Franklin girls basketball finishes the season at 21-4.
By Joe Clark, HockomockSports.com Student Reporter
WORCESTER, Mass. – When Franklin took on Springfield Central at the DCU Center in Worcester a year ago, Chris Edgehill scored eight points in 20 seconds to tie the game and lead the Panthers to an overtime win to clinch a berth in the state championship.
This year, when the two teams met again on Thursday night, no such heroics were needed.
Franklin played a near-perfect game en route to a 62-43 win over the Golden Eagles, handing Central its first loss of the season.
“This game was a little bit more comfortable than last year, we were watching guys cry as we put ourselves together to come back and win last year, so this game I thought we had a much more complete performance from start to finish, I was pretty confident in what we were doing out there,” said Franklin coach CJ Neely.
Franklin started out the game on a 15-4 run and finished the first quarter up 21-10 behind two threes from Matt Elias (14 points) and a strong start from senior Paul Mahon, who had eight of his ten points in the first frame. Elias hit another just under a minute into the third quarter, putting the Franklin crowd into a frenzy.
“The threes early were great, he’s been big for us all year, and he kind of hit a slump for a couple games and wasn’t spacing the floor the way he has been, and I think that’s what opens things up for Chris [Edgehill], and hitting those early gave him a lot of confidence,” Neely said on the early threes from Elias.
Springfield Central chipped away at the Franklin lead in the second quarter, behind Levi Grady-White (12 points, three rebounds), who came off the bench to give the Golden Eagles a spark with eight points in the second quarter.
With just over three minutes left in the second quarter, Elias, who had already hit three trifectas for Franklin, looked to take an elbow to the head and was removed from the game. He would miss the rest of the quarter, but returned to start the second half. Springfield Central would go on a 7-1 run with Elias out of the game, cutting Franklin’s lead to six at 29-23 heading into the locker room at halftime.
To start the third quarter, Grady-White and Jalen Samuels (13 points, eight rebounds) traded baskets, but after Grady-White cut the lead to four with 5:38 left in the third quarter, Edgehill buried a three from the corner to put Franklin up 34-27.
“The shot looked off honestly, shooter’s bounce is what they call that, but definitely whenever I’m hitting shots I’m always gaining confidence, and my team gains confidence in me,” Edgehill said.
That confidence was on full display, as after being called for a charge, Edgehill (18 points, four rebounds, six assists) had a beautiful spin in the lane and finished with a layup for two points that extended Franklin’s lead to 36-27. A putback by Samuels with just under a minute left in the third quarter put Franklin up 42-30, a lead they held until the fourth quarter.
Springfield Central opened the fourth with a 6-0 run that included a three from Josiah Green (nine points), and a bucket from Anthony Kelley (nine points), who spent most of the game battling foul trouble. With Franklin holding onto a six-point lead, Elias struck again from beyond the arc to put Franklin up 45-36.
The Panthers didn’t look back from there, closing the game on a 17-7 run to finish off a 62-43 win and to clinch a berth to the MIAA Division 1 State Final for the second year in a row.
When they arrive at the MassMutual Center on Saturday night for the state final, it will be a familiar face on the opposite bench, as the Panthers will take on the Mansfield Hornets for the third time this season to renew their rivalry on the biggest stage yet.
“It speaks to the strength of our league, both of us have gone back and forth over the past how many years, splitting games in the regular season, both guys kind of getting things done on some nights and looking much better than the other team, and then going back and having the same thing happen on the other side, so it speaks to the Hockomock and the strength of what we’re bringing to the table every night,” Neely said about playing the Hornets. “It’s kind of like Duke-North Carolina in the National Championship game, you see what you can do, and obviously, we both know each other like the back of our hands, so it will be interesting.”
“It’s a dream come true,” Edgehill said about the state final matchup. “There’s nothing better than in the regular season going then going to that Mansfield gym, and it’s going to be a different atmosphere obviously in that big facility we’re playing in, but it’s the rivalry between Franklin and Mansfield that as a kid you’re just like, ‘I want to be apart of that,’ and it shows how good the Hock is compared to other leagues.”
“That’s going to be a great game, knowing our fans are huge and their fans are huge, it’s going to be a great environment,” Samuels said about facing Mansfield for the third time this season.
Mansfield’s (26-2) road to the state final this year included wins over Newton South, BC High, Newton North, Brockton, and Everett.
Franklin boys basketball (23-3) beat Lincoln-Sudbury, Natick, Algonquin, and Springfield Central on their way to their second straight state final appearance.
By Joe Clark, HockomockSports.com Student Reporter
WORCESTER, Mass. – You had to see it to believe it.
After Springfield Central’s Maickel DeJesus made two free throws to put the Eagles up 51-43 with just 20 seconds left in the game, fans started filing out of the DCU Center in Worcester. It’s a move they’ll likely regret.
On the ensuing Franklin possession, freshman Chris Edgehill (12 points) hit a an off balance three from the corner to cut the lead to 51-46, and then DeJesus immediately stepped out of bounds receiving the inbounds pass. Edgehill got fouled before Franklin even inbounded the ball, and hit both shots and then Springfield Central tipped their inbounds pass out of bounds after initially being deflected by Franklin’s Paul Mahon.
Down three with eight seconds left, Franklin went right back to Edgehill, who buried a three from almost the exact same spot as his first one to tie the game at 51 all.
With no timeout called from either side, Springfield Central hurried down the court to try to win it, and after the initial attempt by De Jesus missed, Jashidi Pressley was there for the follow and hit a floater to give Springfield Catholic what appeared to be a 53-51 win, but while the Eagles stormed the court and pig piled on top of Pressley, the referees conferred and waved off the basket, sending the game to overtime.
“We had to hustle the guys in and be like, look we got a game to play, they can be excited but we have to focus the next four minutes if we want to get it done,” Franklin coach CJ Neely said about the crazy finish.
In overtime, Jashidi Pressley (nine points) started out the scoring by hitting two free throws, but from that point on it was pretty much all Franklin, as Jalen Samuels answered back with a three and after a stop on the other end, Connor Peterson’s putback put the Panthers up 56-53 with a minute left to play.
Ahmad Conner then missed two free throws for Springfield, and Hason Ward went one for two at the line to cut the lead to 56-54 with 24 seconds left, but Franklin captain Paul Mahon — in his first game back from a concussion (12 points, seven rebounds off the bench) — iced the game with two free throws and a defensive rebound down the other end.
Peterson hit two free throws with just six seconds left, and those two would be the final points of the game as Franklin went on to win 60-54 to clinch their place in the D1 State Championship game Saturday against Cambridge Rindge and Latin.
“I actually channelled my inner Julian Edelman [at the end of regulation], I said it’s gonna be a hell of a story, and we just kept saying that at every time out, that it’s gonna be a hell of a story,” Neely said.
Heading into the 4th quarter, with both teams tied at 34, Springfield raced out to a 40-35 lead, but Franklin senior Josh Macchi (eight points, seven rebounds) had back to back conventional three point plays, putting Franklin up 41-40.
Springfield Central responded with a 9-0 run to grab 49-41 behind strong play from Maikel DeJesus (18 points, including eight in the fourth quarter) and Justin Feleciano (16 points, five in the fourth). It was a strong defensive effort from both sides as well, as Hason Ward had six blocks for Springfield Central and Franklin held a high scoring Central team (they put up 100 points in a game twice this year) to just 54 points, their season low, an even more impressive feat considering the game went into overtime.
As if Edgehill’s heroics at the end of regulation could get even more impressive, he wasn’t playing at 100%.
“He woke up yesterday with a 102 degree fever, told me, ‘don’t worry, i’ll be good’ and he always seems to make big plays in big moments, he’s a big time player,” Neely said on Edgehill.
The third quarter were a back and forth affair, as Springfield Central’s 6-0 lead to start the game would be the largest either team would hold throughout the first three frames.
DeJesus scored the first bucket of the game on a fast break immediately after SC won the tip, and Jashidi Pressley (nine points) would score on the next Springfield possession, followed up by another DeJesus bucket. Connor Peterson (15 points) then hit two free throws as part of a nine point first quarter for him which kept the Panthers in the game, as they trailed 14-13 after one.
In the second quarter, backup guard Justin Feleciano would be the only source of offense for Springfield Central, as he had eight of his 16 points in the frame, and with Peterson battling foul trouble, other guys had to step up and they did, as four points from Mahon, three from Samuels (ten points), and two from Macchi would bring both teams to a 22-22 deadlock at the half.
The third quarter too would end at a 34-34 stalemate, as Mahon paced Franklin with six in the quarter off of two threes, and DeJesus would drop in six of his own in the 3rd as the two guards battled back and forth for much of the quarter.
For Franklin boys basketball, they now have to look ahead to Cambridge, the defending D1 State Champs. Cambridge went 22-0 in the regular season and beat Lawrence, Lowell, Central Catholic, and Needham to advance to the state finals this year.