Panthers Find the Range in Second Half to Reach Final

Franklin girls basketball
The Franklin bench celebrates one of the team’s five three-pointers in the second half that allowed the Panthers to pull away from Concord-Carlisle. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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WORCESTER, Mass. – When the ball swung around to Franklin guard Shannon Gray right in front of the Panthers bench, her teammates started to rise in anticipation of a shot. But Gray hesitated and passed it back up top. Franklin coach John Leighton urged the senior to let it fly when she gets the chance.

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Gray heeded that advice and she knocked down a pair of threes on back-to-back possessions to stretch the Franklin lead from just four points to double digits. She knocked down three of her team’s five shots from beyond the arc in the second half, helping the Panthers pull away for a convincing 59-43 victory over No. 2 seed Concord-Carlisle in the Div. 1 Central semifinal at WPI’s Harrington Auditorium.

“We talked at halftime, start like it’s 0-0 and play like we do and the key is to keep reversing the ball,” Franklin coach John Leighton explained. “In the second half, they were just packed in so when we reversed it the kids were just wide open to take the shot and once one goes in that confidence starts coming.”

At halftime, Franklin held a slim, two-point lead over the Patriots and that was entirely because of two players, junior center Ali Brigham and her classmate Megan O’Connell.

The Panthers opened the game with a 10-0 run, as O’Connell took advantage of the attention on Brigham in the paint to find driving lanes. Brigham added an and-one off an offensive rebound and had four points in the first, but O’Connell was the aggressor in the paint and on the glass (13 rebounds), scoring 10 of Franklin’s 14 in the first. She finished with 19 points in the game.

“I had a pretty bad game last time and I really just wanted to get back to where I know I can be,” said O’Connell about her aggressive start. Leighton added, “I’m so happy for her because she’s been so patient all year. They were so hyper-focused on Ali that the lane just kept opening up. Early on everyone was a little tentative and she was aggressive.”

The Patriots crept back into the game, trailing by just six after one and then getting as close as two at several points in the second quarter. Franklin was determined to get the ball into the paint and Brigham (game-high 22 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks) scored all of her team’s nine points in the period, twice scoring on put-backs and twice getting baskets at the rim thanks to O’Connell assists.

While Franklin had the lead at the break, it was hard to envisage a trip to the final with only two players getting on the scoresheet, especially as the Patriots threw a variety of different defenses at Brigham in the post, almost daring the Panthers to shoot from the perimeter. That strategy worked for a half, but Franklin made the Patriots pay in the second half.

After an O’Connell drive for two, Bea Bondhus knocked down Franklin’s first three, and her only shot of the game, to make it 28-21. Concord-Carlisle, which came into the game with only one loss on the season, cut the lead back to just four points but then Gray stepped up and knocked down a pair to suddenly make it a 10-point edge.

“She’s our captain and she leads us in every way,” Leighton said of Gray. “She’s the most selfless kid. She makes us run, her composure…so for her to get a little bit tonight was really nice.”

Leighton added about the team’s outside shooting, “It broke what they were doing. They went into that triangle-and-two to look to pack the paint hoping we wouldn’t make any threes. I think it was vital to break their confidence in what they were doing.”

Again the Patriots rallied with back-to-back buckets, but Brigham answered with a rebound and score and then Teagan Collins finished a break with a scoop shot off the glass. As the clock wound down on the third, Erin Quaile put a punctuation mark on the quarter by drilling a three at the buzzer to give Franklin its largest lead at 43-31.

The Panthers scored nearly as many points in the third quarter as in the first two combined. That offensive barrage continued in the fourth. Brigham got a three-point play on a rebound and then finished off another rebound to make it 49-31.

Corcnord-Carlisle hit back with five straight points, but then the Panthers put the game out of reach. Gray snagged an offensive rebound and made a nice dish underneath to a wide open O’Connell for two. Gray then stepped back outside and nailed her third three-pointer of the afternoon and O’Connell added two more with yet another rebound.

“We just needed to slow down really,” said O’Connell. “We were getting ahead of ourselves and trying to make the perfect pass, but we just needed to make the easy pass and we’d get layups.”

Franklin (20-4) is making a second appearance in the D1 Central final, its first since 2015, and will face the top seed Wachusett.

“It’s definitely a big deal,” said O’Connell. “We’ve been working really hard every day in practice and we’re just trying to get as far as we can.”

Leighton praised his team for meeting its high expectations. “Two years ago, we started 0-6 and I brought the team that year to watch the finals at Worcester State,” he recalled. “We were like, this is where we want to be. This is what lays ahead, if we do what we need to do.”

He added, “For this team, hard work has been the key.”

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Brigham, Bondhus, Defense Lift Franklin in Comeback

Franklin girls basketball
Hockomock League MVP Ali Brigham scored 33 points, pulled down 15 rebounds, and blocked three shots to lift Franklin to a come from behind win against Westford Academy in the opening round of the playoffs. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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FRANKLIN, Mass. – Franklin head coach John Leighton was not pleased when he called timeout with his team trailing by 10 points in the third quarter of Wednesday night’s Div. 1 Central quarterfinal against Westford Academy. The Grey Ghosts had just knocked down their third triple of the quarter and eighth of the night and Leighton urged his team, which has allowed less than 40 points per game this season, to find another gear on the defensive end.

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The Panthers responded and then some. Franklin gave up only 10 more points the rest of the way, turning a 10-point deficit into a 10-point, 63-53 win that sends the Panthers into the quarterfinal. Franklin closed the game on a 30-10 run to earn its first playoff win since the team made a run to the Central final in 2015.

“We really communicated far better on defense, communicated the switches, communicated how we had to rotate far better at the end of the third quarter and especially the fourth quarter,” Leighton explained. :When we were in better position, then we rebounded better, which kept them to a lot of one-and-done’s.”

Out of that third quarter timeout, Franklin went on a 7-0 run that instantly got the hosts back into the game. Olivia Quinn set up Ali Brigham for a basket to get things started and then Quinn added her only basket of the night off a Shannon Gray dish. Westford got two back, but then Brigham snatched one of her 15 rebounds and scored to make it only a three-point game heading to the fourth.

Erin Quaile completed the comeback for the Panthers when she buried a three-pointer from the left wing, her only points of the night, to put Franklin ahead 46-45. It was Franklin’s first lead since the second quarter. Jennifer Martin answered for the Ghosts with a step-back three, her fourth of the night, but momentum was with the Panthers and they answered with a long inbounds pass to Brigham under the basket to tie it.

Brigham, who was recently voted the Hockomock League MVP, was dominant throughout and she grabbed another offensive rebound to put Franklin back in front. She finished with a game-high 33 points.

She also got some help from senior guard Bea Bondhus, who scored seven of her 15 points in the fourth quarter to secure her first win in the playoffs and make sure this was only her final home game, not the final game of her career. Bondhus drained a three on a kick out from Brigham that put the Panthers up 53-51 and then she followed it with a pump-fake and drive to the basket that extended the lead to four.

“In our timeout we were talking about reversing the ball side to side,” Bondhus said. “And so me and Ali were talking and I said, my girl is running in and doubling so look opposite and she said I’ve got you next possession and it happened exactly as we said it would happen.”

Leighton said of Bondhus, who is one of just three seniors on the roster, “Bea’s been a great three-point shooter forever, but she raised her game up. How many times did she ball-fake, drive, and create. She defended, boxed out, rebounded. She’s really expanded her game.”

A pair of free throws by Brigham was followed by a jumper from Megan O’Connell, who had a rough shooting night up until that point, and the Franklin bench and the home crowd sensed that the Panthers were moving on.

“It took a lot of mental toughness there,” Bondhus said. “We wanted to focus on our defense because we gave up five threes in the first half and we wren’t closing out. Once we started getting defensive stops that transitioned into offense for us.”

Three-point shooting had put Franklin in an early hole, as the Grey Ghosts knocked down four from beyond the arc in the first quarter alone. Despite Brigham scoring nine in the first, including a spinning pull-up jumper from the free throw line, and Bondhus adding five, Westford held a 16-14 edge.

The Panthers kept forcing the ball into the paint to Brigham, who added another eight points in the second quarter, but on the defensive side of the ball Franklin was allowing Westford to control the boards and get second chance opportunities. The Ghosts extended the lead to 10 at one point in the second, but a mini-run cut that lead in half by the break. Brigham in the paint and Bondhus from three giving Franklin a quick five points.

The threes kept raining down from the visitors in the third quarter until Leighton’s timeout and his insistence that the Panthers lock down the perimeter.

Bondhus said, “I was really happy we pulled it out. This team means so much and we’re all best friends off the court, so it was so nice to have the team win there… It really shows our toughness.”

Franklin (19-4) will take on No. 2 seed Concord-Carlisle on Sunday at WPI at 5:00.

Leighton remarked, “It was big to get back to WPI. These kids have never played there. Now they want to get to the final. They’re not done; hungry for more.”

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Raymond, OA Beat Franklin to Book Playoff Spot

Oliver Ames girls basketball
Oliver Ames senior Kayla Raymond (35) pulls up for a jumper against Franklin. Raymond scored a game-high 29 points to help the Tigers clinch a tournament berth. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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NORTH EASTON, Mass. – Oliver Ames and Franklin had a lot on the line in Friday night’s game at the William F. Nixon Gym. The teams were tied for second place in the Kelley-Rex division and trying to stay within two games of league-leading Mansfield (which has to play both the Panthers and Tigers again this year), while OA was also trying to clinch its spot in the state tournament.

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Behind 29 points from senior forward Kayla Raymond and defensive adjustments strong contributions off the bench in the second half, OA rallied from three points down at the break for a 61-54 come from behind victory and a split of the season series with the Panthers.

In the first half, everything offensively for the Tigers ran through Raymond. The Stonehill-commit scored 12 of OA’s 14 points in the first quarter, twice scoring on three-point plays taking the ball to the basket. She added another four in the second in the second, while Caroline Flynn knocked down a three and Abby Reardon added four.

With Raymond on one side and Katie Flynn or Alex Sheldon giving weakside help, OA double-teamed Franklin center Ali Brigham, forcing the Panthers to find scoring on the perimeter. Junior guard Bea Bondhus stepped right in and drilled four threes in the first half, scoring 14 of her team-high 18 points in the process.

Teagan Collins also nailed one from outside, as Franklin closed the half on an 11-4 run to lead 28-25.

“That was the game plan, don’t leave Bondhus alone,” said OA coach Laney Clement-Holbrook. “We lost her and she had 14 points in the first half. All I wrote on the board at halftime was 21 (Bondhus) [has] 14, that’s all. Defensively, we needed to make a couple of adjustments and I thought we did.”

OA switched to man-to-man and upped the full-court pressure to try and keep the ball out of Bondhus’ hands. After Raymond tied the game with a three, Megan O’Connell (11 points) scored off a Kelsey MacCallum assist. Erin Holmberg (seven points) hit a three to give OA a lead, but Brigham (14 points and 11 rebounds) answered with a three-point play on an offensive rebound.

“They can make it very tough,” said Franklin coach John Leighton. “They made it so other kids had to score by focusing on Ali and Bea. I thought we countered it pretty well and we had some kids step up. We worked tremendously hard.”

Raymond continued to pour in the points, showing off nifty footwork under the basket to go up and under for a layup with Brigham on her back, but OA also started to get contributions off the bench. Caroline Flynn (six points) scored on a putback, while Meg Holleran and freshman Tori Harney also chipped in on both ends of the floor.

“They did a great job,” said Clement-Holbrook of the bench effort. “Honestly, we started see that become a part of who we are against Foxboro. I think from that point forward that’s what we want and I think they’re starting to believe a little more.”

OA caught Franklin in the press and Katie Flynn hit Raymond with a perfect pass over the top of the defense for a layup. It was one of five assists for Flynn, who caused problems for the Franklin defense in the high post. The senior also added four points, six steals, two blocks, and four rebounds.

“It’s not fancy, flashy,” said Clement-Holbrook about Flynn’s contributions. “That was one of the things we keyed on to try and get Brigham away from the rim. We had to come up with a scheme to see if we could get her out or over and Katie did such a great job because she hit some nice backdoor passes.”

OA led 44-39 heading to the fourth and Raymond drained a long jumper to get the final quarter started. Franklin would not go away, cutting the lead back down to four. The Tigers stretched it back out to nine on a basket by Holmberg and a jumper by Ally Scolnick, who came off the bench to score all seven of her points in the fourth.

“Kayla was kind of a one-man band in the first half,” said Leighton, “but in the second they got kids some open shots, especially in the transition when we were pressing.”

Clement-Holbrook explained, “Offensively, we did a reasonably good job of opening things up. The first time we played them with Brigham sitting in the middle like that it kind of took us a little while to figure things out. Because we moved people around, I think it made it a little more difficult for them to defend us.”

Brigham scored plus the foul off a feed from O’Connell to keep Franklin within six, but Raymond found Flynn with a wraparound pass on the baseline for a layup. Shannon Gray answered with a three on the other end, but OA beat the press and Scolnick set up Raymond for an easy basket. Raymond then returned the favor for a Scolnick bucket in transition.

“We gave up too many easy ones at the end,” Leighton said. “I thought we might be able to hang with them, but once they started getting those easy ones then they were able to pull away.”

Oliver Ames (10-4, 9-3) will be back at home on Tuesday to take on King Philip. Franklin (10-6, 8-4) will try to bounce back on Tuesday when it welcomes Taunton.

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