CANTON, Mass. – The final score was in no way indicative of the type of game it had been, but the end result was the same as last year for Mansfield against Xaverian in the opening round of the Div. 1 South tournament at the Canton Ice House.
The Hawks tacked on three goals in the final 1:02 of the game, including an empty net goal and one with six seconds on the clock, to add gloss to a 6-2 scoreline and knock the Hornets out of the playoffs for the second straight season.
“They played very disciplined hockey and they capitalized on our mistakes,” explained Mansfield coach Mike Balzarini. “It’s been a tough struggle with that all year, but I thought we battled back. I thought we played really well all three periods. We played with the same intensity with the lead and without the lead.”
Mansfield (9-7-5) came into this year’s game as the nine seed and Xaverian as the eight, a reversal of last season, and the game played out as these match-ups typically do. The game was end-to-end, hard-hitting, and tight.
Ryan Pomposelli had the game’s first chance straight off a draw but his point-blank effort was saved by Mansfield goalie Sean McCafferty at the near post. Two minutes later, the Hornets nearly took the lead with a shot from beyond the blue line by Jake Lund that took a slight deflection in front and turned into an awkward blocker save for A.J. Scott, who played at Stoughton last year.
McCafferty came up with a kick save to deny Ross Vona midway through the first and Scott was called upon to stop a backhanded effort by Cullin Anastasia. With four minutes left in the first, the Hornets took advantage of a power play opportunity to take the lead. Tyler Oakley’s shot from the point was tipped in front by Patrick McCafferty, giving Scott no chance.
“One of the things we talked about was getting off to a good start and playing with the lead and we did,” said Balzarini. “They outshot us in the first period but we were able to capitalize.”
The lead was doubled early in the second. Freshman Matty Copponi skated past his marker on the left side of the goal and attempted to saucer a pass in front to Coleman O’Brien but instead, the puck took a deflection and slid under the pads of the Xaverian goalie.
There was a delay before the officials signaled for a goal and then Scott argued that the net had been dislodged prior to the puck crossing the line. After a conversation between the officials, the goal stood and Mansfield had the 2-0 advantage.
“The ref was right there and he called it a good goal,” said Balzarini, “and that seemed to pick us up even more. We played with the same intensity all three periods, but they’re a good team.”
The Hornets could have added a third on two occasions. Dylan Tivnan forced Scott into a shoulder save with a wrister from the left circle after a quick transition and then Anastasia put the puck into the crease where a scrum of bodies was located but no one was able to find the necessary touch to knock it in.
Xaverian had speed to bother the Hornets, but generally, the defensemen, led by Tim Arnold and Oakley, were able to keep the Hawks to the outside and limit their chances. With 1:16 left in the second, Xaverian finally managed to get on the board. Pomposelli got a third bite of the apple from the edge of the crease and managed to lift it over the leg of the sprawling McCafferty, who had already made two saves in the sequence.
The goal gave the Hawks a little energy, but they took a penalty that appeared to give the impetus back to Mansfield. Unfortunately for the Hornets, a mix-up on an offensive zone face-off led to a tying goal. The puck could not be held in at the blue line and Josh Barton was on it in a flash, creating a shorthanded breakaway that made it 2-2 with just 15.2 on the clock.
Balzarini remarked, “It was just a miscommunication. We didn’t get the puck in deep on the first one and they were able to come down through transition in the neutral zone and on the second one we had a lefty on the right point and it got by him but, it happens and they capitalized.”
The momentum carried over into the third period. Xaverian quickly took control again and Austin Ricker was forced to give up a power play in order to stop a breakaway opportunity. On the power play, the Hawks crashed the net and, again after a couple of McCafferty saves, Matt Ryan was able to punch across the go-ahead goal.
Mansfield was struggling to create scoring chances against the organized Xaverian defense, which was clogging the shooting lanes. The Hornets only put five shots on goal in the third, although Patrick McCafferty did have a breakaway chance with six minutes to play that was saved by Scott.
With 1:02 remaining, as people were waiting to see when Mansfield would pull its goalie, Xaverian got a quick breakout of the zone and Matt Talarico scored to seal the win. An empty netter and a goal with barely any time on the clock would make the score far more lopsided than was the action on the ice.
Balzarini said, “They just kept coming and coming, but I thought player for player we hung right with them. It wasn’t a 6-2 game. I’m very proud of them.”
FRANKLIN, Mass. – For the third year in a row, Franklin and Xaverian met in the Div. 1 South tournament but for the first time in this budding rivalry the Panthers entered Sunday evening’s game at Pisini Field as the favorite against the perennial power.
Despite the Hawks entering the playoffs with an 8-10 record, Franklin was not taking the Catholic Conference runner-up lightly knowing the pedigree of its opponent and the fact many of the players are also neighbors.. In fact, Franklin coach Lou Verrochi thought that his team may have been too fired up before the playoff opener.
“I think that they just ratcheted up,” Verrochi said, “and I think they left a lot in the locker room before they even got on the field. Adrenaline-wise, I think it was just flowing so fast and so hard that they sort of had to dial it down.”
Franklin struggled offensively against the Hawks, going scoreless for more than 16 minutes between the second and fourth quarters, and saw a furious fourth quarter rally run out of time in an 8-7 loss. Junior Eric Civetti led the way for Franklin with four goals, all of them in the fourth, but for large portions of the game he struggled to find space against senior Connor Sullivan.
“They had a clamp-down defender on Eric and their goalie came up with some great saves early and we just couldn’t solve that,” Verrochi explained. “I’ve said it before, when Eric gets going the rest of our offense feeds off that and he had a hard time getting going.”
He added, “It was a tough seed and I knew it was going to be a competitive game. They’re a legit program.”
The Panthers jumped out to an early lead three minutes in. Sullivan knocked the stick and ball out of Civetti’s hands but Nitin Chaudhury reacted first, scooped the loose ball, and dodged from the ‘X’ before finishing with a wrap around shot just under the bar.
Xaverian scored the next two goals to take its first lead of the night, but Franklin answered with 5:04 left in the first to tie the game at 2-2. Kyle McEniry fired a pass from behind the goal to a cutting Sam Arsenault and he fired a low angle shot from behind his marker that found the corner.
Sophomore FOGO Jacob Alexander was struggling in the first, being called for two false starts, and Xaverian took advantage to regain the lead at 3-2 on a left-handed finish by Jared Grier. Alexander would win 4-of-7 face-offs in the first quarter, but went on to lose only one more for the rest of the game (the only lost face-off on a disputed false start in the fourth).
The Panthers created chances in the second quarter, but were frequently stymied by freshman goalie Alexander Teagan, who made eight saves on the game, most of them on point-blank chances. Franklin goalie Connor O’Rourke was equally impressive with 10 saves on the night to keep the Panthers in it while the offense tried to find a rhythm.
“I thought their goalie kept them in it too,” said Verrochi. “It could’ve gone either way. He’s only a freshman; we though we could get some early goals against him but he wasn’t rattled at all…Connor is just the real deal.”
Sam Jean scored the first of three goals on the night for the Hawks to build a 5-2 lead, but Chase Tanner unleashed a laser into the top corner six minutes later to cut the Xaverian lead to 5-3. Alexander won the ensuing face-off and raced straight down the middle only for Teagan to stuff him at the end and then O’Rourke came through with a big save to rob Andrew Lee right before halftime.
At the break, Franklin assistant coach Fran Bositis tried to stir the Panthers, who had allowed Xaverian to control the tempo in the first half, but the halftime team talk did not seem to have much effect in the third quarter. The Panthers went scoreless for the full 12 minutes and Grier and Jean (with just one second on the clock) pushed the Hawks lead to 7-3.
Trailing by four goals, Franklin turned to Civetti to try and bring the Panthers back into the game. He finally found the breakthrough two minutes into the fourth, ending Franklin’s barren run, with a long-angle release after bullying Sullivan into a shooting position.
O’Rourke robbed Lee again two minutes later and Civetti made it count with a ridiculous finish. The Rutgers-commit backed into his marker on the left side of the goal and rather than turn to his stronger right side he fired a backhanded, practically underhand shot into the top corner.
“[Sullivan] was bigger, faster, stronger than Eric and they slid to him early,” Verrochi explained. “Sometimes [Eric] has a tendency to hold the ball too long…we don’t move like we should off the ball to give him a look at an open stick, but once he gets his mind set to go to goal there’s no stopping him.”
The Franklin bench was fired up and momentum seemed to be with the hosts. Civetti took that energy up another notch 20 seconds later when he dodged from the ‘X’ to the left and fired a backhanded shot around the shoulder of his marker on the run and again picked the corner.
The finish had the Franklin bench going crazy, but Xaverian got possession back and set out to run the clock. Jean scored a crucial goal with 1:40 remaining to regain the two-goal lead and Franklin could not take advantage of a man-up opportunity in the final minute.
Verrochi said, “Fourth quarter we came to life and made a ballgame out of it. That eighth goal was a bit of a killer. That took the wind out of our sails.”
Civetti tacked on a consolation goal in the final second (another impressive behind the back finish), but it was the visiting bench that was able to storm the field and celebrate the win.
It was the fifth one-goal loss of the season for Franklin (16-5), all of them to teams that are currently alive in the tournament and three of them to teams that earned top seeds in their respective brackets (BC High, Dover-Sherborn, and Walpole).
WESTWOOD, Mass. – Last season, the Franklin boys’ lacrosse team reached its first ever sectional semifinal after upsetting perennial power Xaverian at Pisini Field. On Sunday, a much younger Franklin team faced the same opponent at the same stage of the tournament, but in a different venue and with a much different final result.
The Panthers started well, but once the Hawks clicked on offense Franklin had little answer for a team that has found its footing (and its health) in recent weeks and is once again among the contenders for a Div. 1 title.
Xaverian pulled away in the second half and knocked out the Panthers 18-11, despite five goals and three assists from senior attacker Austin Kent, who was recently selected as the Hockomock League MVP.
“They were flat out better than us,” said Franklin coach Lou Verrochi. “[Sophomore goalie] Connor [O’Rourke] saw a lot of rubber today and…they’re just really good. They’re unselfish, they find the one more, they did all the things we’ve been preaching all year long.”
Verrochi continued, “We caught them at a time in the season when they’re on a roll. Early on, I don’t think they had found their identity, but now they have and I think they’re going to be a really tough team to beat.”
Xaverian jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Peter Thorbahn (four goals) and Nick Shaw, but Kent brought the Panthers back level.
On his first goal, Kent threw a shot fake that sent his marker tumbling to the ground before he unleashed a laser into the bottom corner past Michael Toomey. Two minutes later, Kent spun back to his left side and found the corner with an overhand finish to the far post.
The Panthers took the lead with Kent picking out sophomore Eric Civetti for the first of his three goals, but Xaverian answered right back to tie it again. In the closing seconds of the quarter, Kent fired a pass from the ‘X’ to a cutting Kyle McEniry, who put Franklin ahead 4-3 after one.
The score stayed the same for the next seven minutes before Thorbahn was given all day to line up a rip into the top corner to tie it. That started a 5-1 run for the Hawks that put them ahead to stay. Civetti scored with an overhand finish that make it 6-5 but Xaverian scored twice in the final minute, both on assists by Drew Lee to freshman Sam Jean.
“They spent a lot of time trying to shut off Nick Shaw and Pete Thorbahn and it really opened up room in between once we figured out how to get the ball to the back side to open areas,” said Xaverian coach Tim Gardner.
“When you spend a lot of time on one guy, the back side attack opens up and that’s why Sam Jean had a heck of a half.”
McEniry scored his second of the game, again on an assist by Kent, to open the second half, but another 5-1 run by the Hawks broke it wide open. After a Sean Sperzel goal, O’Rourke (nine saves) came up with the play of the game when he went post to post to somehow deny Lee when he was wide open at the back post. Packie Watson scored on an assist by Chase Tanner, but Xaverian answered with four straight before Civetti ended the run with a goal while being knocked down.
Franklin forced a turnover but a poor clearance was picked off by the Hawks for a dagger goal right before the end of the third quarter that extended the lead to 14-8.
Early in the game, the Franklin defensive unit of Sean Lockhart, Patrick Morrison, Gabe Murphy and Matt Pleshaw was shutting down the Hawks, but as the game wore on the Hawks just had too many weapons and were too good at forcing the Panthers to slide out of position.
“I think we did a good job of taking advantage of the opportunities and pressing our advantage,” said Gardner. “Obviously, they had a great game going on with their attack, but we got a lot of opportunities from the midfield coming downhill.”
Meanwhile, on the offensive side Franklin was stagnating as the Hawks sat on Kent and Civetti and tried to force other players to beat them. Verrochi saw plenty of promise from his younger players to give him confidence that in the coming years that strategy will not be as effective.
“One of the things we need to do is look to get more players involved,” he explained. “Our midfielders are kind of young, three sophomores, a freshman, and two juniors, so next year if these guys improve then we’re going to be able to be more dangerous.”
The Panthers could never mount much of a comeback in the fourth quarter, although Kent did score a hat trick in his final period with the Panthers.
“We’re going to definitely miss him,” said Verrochi. “He’s the real deal. He rose to the occasion today. This was a big challenge; they’re a big strong, physical defense and he sort of shut them up and put them in their place.”
Franklin finished the season with a record of 14-6.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.