Behind a pair of free throws from sophomore TJ Power with 4.9 seconds left, top-seeded St. John’s squeaked out a 56-55 win over the sixth-seeded Panthers in the D1 Central Final.
“Franklin’s got a heck of a team, they’re well-coached, but we’re not bad either,” St John’s coach Bob Foley said after the Pioneers win.
With St John’s leading 52-51 with just over two minutes left to play, Franklin senior Chris Edgehill sunk a free throw to tie the game up, but Power hit a turnaround jumper on the other end to give St. John’s a 54-52 edge.
On Franklin’s ensuing possession, junior Declan Walmsley (eight points, three rebounds) found senior Brayden Sullivan in the corner and the senior knocked down a three to put the Panthers up 55-54. Sullivan then made an outstanding defensive play on the other end to force a backcourt violation by St. John’s.
Franklin couldn’t get a basket on their next possession, but they forced a St. John’s miss to get the ball back with under 30 seconds left. Franklin got to the line with 24.9 seconds left but missed the front end of a one-and-one.
With 4.9 seconds left, Power got fouled shooting from the corner on what at first looked like a three-point attempt, but after some initial discussion from the officials, it was ruled he was inside the three-point line. He made both free throws to put St. John’s up 56-55, and Franklin was unable to score despite having two looks at the basket in the final four seconds.
Both teams got off to a cold start, with neither team in double digits as Franklin led 9-8 after the first quarter on the strength of seven points from Edgehill (game-high 20 points), including a three right before the first-quarter buzzer.
The offenses got going in the second, as Franklin hit five threes in the frame to take a 29-25 lead into the half. St John’s came out hot to start the second half, as Charles Daniels (eight points, 11 rebounds) scored four quick points to tie the game.
Power went 1-2 at the stripe to cap a 5-0 St. John’s run, but Edgehill scored down the other end to put Franklin back on top. After a Malakhi Knight bucket, Edgehill once again found the bottom of the net to put Franklin up 33-32.
A 9-2 St John’s run gave them a 41-35 lead, but Edgehill found Thomas Gasbarro (seven points, five rebounds) and then Walmsley hit a triple to g get Franklin within a point at 41-40.
A Power bucket with just over a minute left in the quarter would be the last basket of the third quarter, with the Pioneers holding onto a 43-40 lead.
The fourth quarter was tight throughout, with the largest lead being at 50-46 for St. John’s with over four minutes to go. Down four, Edgehill sparked Franklin with a three-pointer and then matched a Charles Daniel basket with one of his own before tying the game up at the stripe.
“He’s our all-time leading scorer, he’s been a captain for two years, he’s a guy that always shows up in moments like this, there’s never been a tournament game I don’t think Edgehill hasn’t shown up and not been ready to go and really led us along the way and made all kinds of tough shots,” said Franklin coach CJ Neely. “We’ve had such an unbelievable four years together, it’s gonna be weird going to a Franklin practice or game and not see Chris Edgehill running around out there, it’s been quite a run.”
“This senior class is one of the best senior classes I’ve had since being at Franklin, if not the best,” Neely said. “Basketball players aside, the people that go through practices every day, the type of attitude they brought to practices every day, there was a never that time where you look at it and you say, hey somebody’s being whatever or you have to deal with an attitude problem or not, there’s none of that going on, there’s always just positive people looking to get better for Franklin and nobody looking for themselves…love those guys.”
With the loss, Franklin finishes the season at 18-6. St. John’s will play Springfield Central in the state semi-finals.
By Joe Clark, HockomockSports.com Student Reporter
FOXBORO, Mass. – It nearly had the makings of a terrific comeback.
North Attleboro had just cut the deficit to nine, closing the gap to 35-26 behind junior Brendan McHugh‘s third touchdown of the day. Now the defense was tasked with somehow forcing a turnover against a red-hot St. John’s Shrewsbury offense.
With 5:32 left in the game, on 3rd and 12, St. John’s Shrewsbury quarterback Steve Bucciaglia hit his receiver over the middle for what looked to be a first down, and possibly the play that would end North’s comeback attempt. Instead of a first down though, Thomas Lockavitch ripped the ball free for a fumble, recovering it himself and North Attleboro took over at the SJS 48-yard line with a chance to get back in the game.
After an incomplete pass on first down, Chad Peterson (23-30, 218 yards, two touchdowns) hit Marion Bresko for an 18-yard completion to get down to the St. John’s 29-yard line. On the next play, St John’s pressure resulted in an intentional grounding call and on 2nd and 22, Ian Schade brought pressure and picked up St. John’s first sack of the day, a five-yard loss, which pushed North back to the St. John’s 46.
Then, a false start on the Red Rocketeers pushed them back even further. On 3rd and 32 from their own 49, Peterson found Ryan Gaumond for a nine-yard gain, but North’s fourth down attempt was incomplete and St. John’s took back possession with a nine-point lead and just three minutes to play.
North hung tough and got their first stop on downs of the night against St. John’s explosive offense. Back on offense, they found the end zone on a Peterson 14 yard strike to Nate Pearce, but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by the Pioneers, securing a 35-33 decision over the Rocketeers in the D3 State Final.
The turning point in the game came with 1:39 left in the third quarter, with North Attleboro trailing 28-20. St John’s was facing a 3rd and 12 from its own 26 yard line after back to back negative plays, and North sent a blitz but the offensive line picked it up just long enough for Bucciaglia (17-22, 224 yards, three TD) to deliver a perfect strike down the middle to an open John Brunelle on a post route for a 74-yard touchdown and a 35-20 lead.
“I felt like the momentum had started to swing on those first couple of downs and we had them back on their heels a little bit, and that’s what great teams can do, they come up with big plays in those crucial situations,” North Attleboro head coach Don Johnson said about the play.
“They were in zero coverage, man to man, sent the blitz, and our receivers are just so knowledgeable, they know what to run, and John [Brunelle] just got wide open and made it easy for me, that was all him,” Bucciaglia said about the game-breaking play.
St. John’s no-huddle offense got to work immediately, as their opening drive lasted just 2:32 and was capped off with a ten-yard Bucciaglia touchdown pass to Coleman Drugotch.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve seen an offense with that kind of tempo, ironically I think the last time was the last Super Bowl we were in, against Swampscott, and we came out on top of that one 44-40, but this one I think was even faster in their tempo,” Johnson added about the St. John’s offense.
Despite the prowess of North Attleboro’s defense, the plethora of weapons and up-tempo style that St. John’s ran proved hard to stop. Still, the Red Rocketeers made plays on offense to stay in the game and never let it get out of hand.
North responded immediately, marching down the field before Peterson hit senior Zach DeMattio out in the flat for a three-yard touchdown.
In the see-saw affair, SJS struck again before the end of the first quarter behind a four-yard rush from Colin Deso. But once again, North’s offense was there with an answer as McHugh took the jet sweep to the right for a nine-yard score and a 14-14 score just before the midway point of the second quarter.
“We came in and were fairly confident we could move the ball against them, and I thought the key to the game was going to be could we get a couple of stops on defense, and we just didn’t get enough,” Johnson added.
SJS took a 20-14 lead on its next drive, and North Attleboro ran out of time at half before it could respond. Big Red was unable to get things going on the first drive of the second half, resulting in the game’s first punt. The Pioneers made North pay, taking it down before Eamonn Dennis found the end zone from 15-yards out and a 28-14 lead.
McHugh got his second touchdown of the game, a three yard-rush, late in the third quarter to make it 28-20. Just over a minute later, Bucciaglia had his 74-yard touchdown.
“The defensive game plan going in, we knew they could run the ball, they have a couple 300 pounders up front so we were worried about that, but there’s only so much you can do to commit to that run game because those guys can throw all over the place,” Johnson said.
North cut it to nine with 6:38 left int he game when Peterson threw a pass to Nick Raneri behind the line of scrimmage, and the junior running back and backup quarterback floated a pass to McHugh right on the goal line for the touchdown.
For St. John’s Shrewsbury, the win caps off an undefeated 13-0 season that saw Bucciaglia have a record-setting season at quarterback. The Pioneers beat Doherty Memorial, Shrewsbury, and Springfield Central on their path to the state title game. It marks their first state title since 2010, when they were in Division 1.
WORCESTER, Mass. – For the past three seasons, the Franklin Panthers have had their season come to an end at the hands of St. John’s Shrewsbury.
Not this year.
The Panthers clawed back from an early deficit, took their first lead in the fourth quarter and came up with a big defensive stop in overtime to get the 67-64 win to claim the program’s first ever D1 Central Sectional title.
“It feels great,” said Franklin head coach CJ Neely. “A lot of people were saying we can’t beat St. John’s, we hear it everywhere. I down play it as much as possible, we didn’t want to focus on one team too much. We waited until we had them on the schedule then we focused on them. I think every year it’s been a pretty good battle, I don’t think we were ever dominated but it’s nice to be on the right side of things for once.”
Franklin will play Springfield Central (West sectional champion) on Tuesday, March 14th at the DCU Center at 7:30.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said senior Josh Macchi, who was apart of the team’s last two losses to the Pioneers. “Coming off those two losses, they stung a lot. We felt like in both games we didn’t play our best and we thought they were both games we could have won. Tonight, to have to come in and grind it out and get it done, even having to go into overtime and play to the last second. It was unbelievable.”
After missing on a chance at the end of regulation, the Panthers headed to overtime with the Pioneers tied at 60-60.
SJS took the early 62-60 lead before Macchi (18 points, 11 rebounds) hauled in an offensive rebound and converted the put back halfway through the overtime period.
Franklin grabbed a defensive rebound after a missed three from the Pioneers, setting up Panther freshman Chris Edgehill (16 points) for a big moment. The rookie took a pass from Macchi, pulled up and drained a three late in the shot clock, giving Franklin 65-62 edge with just over a minute to play.
Sophomore Jalen Samuels (15 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) came away with a steal but Edgehill’s transition three came up empty with 40 seconds to play.
SJS answered with a pair of free throws to get within one and then fouled the Panthers. However, Franklin missed the front end of a one-and-one to give the Pioneers possession, down 65-64, with 13.8 left.
“I told them this game is about stops and defensive rebounding,” Neely said of the timeout before the next play. “I told them I was wicked excited that we’re in a one point game and all we needed to do was get a stop and a rebound and this game was ours. We talked about it all week, we talked about that being the game plan so let’s see if we can do it. The kids got it done.”
Samuels came up with a big block at the rim when St. John’s drove to the basket to try to take the lead. On the ensuing play, with 5.9 seconds to play, the inbounds pass went over the head of its intended target, with Edgehill tracking down the loose ball. He was fouled with 1.4 to play.
The freshman then hit both free throws and SJS’s last second chance – a heave to just over half court and a turnaround three – came up short, giving the Panthers the win.
“The moment just came to me,” Edgehill said. “On the three, teammates found me the ball. I think I got lucky on the turnover. I was in the right spot, someone just tipped it and read it and went and grabbed it. Those are the moments I like to be in. I like to be at the free throw line, up one, with just over a second to play.”
While the finish was want Franklin wanted, the start of the game was far from ideal for the Panthers.
St. John’s Shrewsbury raced out to a 9-0 lead just over two and a half minutes into the contest. Franklin was able to cut the deficit to five — 16-11 — by the end of the first quarter.
“We knew it was obviously a letdown to go down 9-0 but we just stuck with it,” Macchi said. “We knew that both teams would have their runs, that was theirs. We just had to play together, get tougher on the defensive end and we just came out and grinded. This team’s unity is unlike any other teams and that’s not a jab at the past teams, it’s just this year is on another level.”
The Pioneers quickly stretched the lead back to nine early in the second quarter (20-11) but a 10-3 run from Franklin brought Franklin right back into the contest (23-21) midway through the second quarter.
However, SJS rattled off a 7-0 run to get back up 30-21. Franklin hit back with a 6-0 run to make it a one possession game but an errant pass was picked off and SJS converted a layup at the halftime buzzer to take a 32-27 lead.
“Our team motto focuses a lot on hard work,” Neely said. “I think the resiliency of the guys showed, going down 9-0 early. But the kids don’t go away. They care about each other deeply, beyond the basketball court. It’s more than just coming in and playing basketball for a couple of hours, they’re friends with each other, they care about each other. When they went down, they talked to each other and they figured it out. We knew it’d be loud and I wouldn’t be able to call plays every time so the five guys on the court had to figure it out. They stayed true to each other and I’m proud of them.”
The Panthers trailed by either three or five points for the majority of the third quarter. Finally, with two minutes to play a drive from Samuels tied the game at 40. Hunter Gorgas put SJS back ahead but Connor Peterson (eight points) responded with a basket of his own. Robert Duquette drained a three to put the Pioneers back ahead but Franklin senior James Hanlon came off the bench to score off a nice post move, cutting the deficit to one (45-44) heading into the fourth.
Gorgas hit two free throws but Edgehill responded with a triple to tie the game early in the final period. The Panthers’ first lead came with 6:35 to play in regulation on a three point play from Macchi, who went up and under and converted while being fouled. He hit the free throw to make it 50-47.
SJS’s Alex Bradley cut it to one but Peterson got one right back. After a miss from Franklin, Steven Bucciaglia drained a three to tie the game with four minutes to play.
Two free throws from Edgehill preceded a missed three from SJS and then two points from Peterson to make it 56-52.
Tyler Mola (22 points) responded with traditional three point play for the Pioneers, who got the ball back after taking a charge. Mola then drained a three with just over two minutes to play to put SJS back up 58-56.
Franklin missed on the other end but Macchi was there for the offensive rebound and hit the put back to tie the game at 58.
Mola once again came up big for the Pioneers, hitting a tough layup to make it 60-58. Franklin had a turnover but forced a double dribble by the Pioneers to get the ball back.
Samuels used a strong take to the left to tie the game with just under a minute to play.
“If you didn’t see it in the book before the game, you probably wouldn’t think Chris is a freshman and Jalen is a sophomore,” Macchi said. “They’re playing at an upperclassman level right now and they’re helping us a lot right now. We trust them with the ball at any time and that’s how this team is, we have a lot of trust in each other.”
The duo of Edgehill and Samuels combined for 28 points in Franklin’s playoff opening win over Acton-Boxboro, 20 points against St. Peter Marian and then 31 points in the section final against the Pioneers.
“Those two guys have been huge all playoffs,” Neely said. “All three games that we’ve played, it’s really been those two guys taking the lead. Both games before this they hit the big shots. You can see Chris isn’t afraid of the big shot, which is what we talked about in the locker room. We told them if they wanted to win the game, they had to take it…no one is going to give it to you. You can’t wait for missed shots, you have to go find it.”
Edgehill, who started the season on the bench, was quick to credit a teammate for how far he’s come this season.
“The team definitely helped me through the season, going from the bench to the lineup,” Edgehill said. “I want to thank Jack Rodgers, he works me every day in practice and makes me a better player. Props all to him, he makes me better every single day and that’s what teammates do.”
Franklin boys basketball (21-4 overall, 21-2 tournament record) will tip off against Springfield Central on Tuesday at 7:30 at the DCU Center.