WRENTHAM, Mass. – Despite forcing 20 saves out of Franklin goalie Christina Luccini (20 saves) and having a 12-to-3 edge in corners, King Philip went into a timeout with a little under five minutes remaining tied with the visiting Panthers at two goals apiece in Monday evening’s Kelley-Rex rivalry game at Macktaz Field.
KP coach Liz Hathaway brought her players to the huddle to draw up a corner that she hoped would finally break the deadlock that Luccini and the Panthers defense had held for more than 20 minutes.
Nicole Connor played the ball out to the edge of the circle and it was fired into a mass of bodies. The ball kicked around for a few seconds before popping out to Dana Truini and the junior midfielder knocked it past the scrambling defense and into the back of the net for the go-ahead goal.
It would turn out to be the winner for the Warriors, who tacked on one more to beat Franklin 4-2 and rebound from last week’s loss to Mansfield, which was KP’s first of the season. It also ensured a two-point lead over Oliver Ames in the division, as the Warriors go after their first league title since 2008.
“We had so many opportunities,” said Hathaway, “but I’m glad I called that timeout where we drew up a play for the corner that we ended up scoring on because if they feel confident and they know the play then we’re going to be poised and execute.”
KP got off to a quick start, forcing Luccini into eight saves in the first half, including one on Claire Lawler just a few minutes into the game. After the Franklin defense cleared a chance off the line and Alli Meehan watched a shot skip just wide, KP finally found the breakthrough and added a second just 30 seconds later.
The first goal came off a rebound as the ball was kicked into the crease but was quickly pounced on by the Warriors. Connor was officially given credit for the goal, although it was Truini who brought the ball back to midfield.
KP forced a turnover right after the restart and came right back at the Panthers back line. Meehan stick-handled through a couple of Franklin defenders, driving at the goal from the right side, and coolly slid the ball past Luccini (Liz Furfari getting credit for an assist).
“Alli Meehan is just so fast,” said Franklin coach Lisa Cropper, crediting Marissa Canesi for her man-marking job on KP’s leading scorer. “We don’t have anyone that can just straight up match her. “I didn’t want to put two people on her to begin with because then it takes too much away from our team to do what we want to do. Late in the game, when it was tied, I told [Marissa] follow her wherever she goes.”
The game felt fully in the grasp of the Warriors until Franklin earned a corner with 11 minutes remaining in the half. The ball was played out to Cassi Ronan and the junior flicked a looping shot over the stick of KP goalie Abby Campbell (eight saves) and in. The ref initially waived the goal off but after a discussion it stood and cut the lead in half.
“It was huge,” said Cropper of the goal. “When we went down two I could see the whole body language drop and I thought, okay fire it up because this could get ugly if we don’t get one here. Cassi’s scored a couple like that now and she’s doing really well with that.”
The momentum carried over into the second half and Franklin completed the comeback. Regan Paterson had her first effort, set up by Annie Walsh denied by Campbell (her only save of the second half) with a point-blank block, but Paterson knocked in the rebound to make it 2-2.
“They’re very loose,” said Hathaway about her team. “They’re a bunch of goofballs, but they know when they need to turn it on and I think it’s a good lesson against a team like Franklin you can never stop or take a break.”
Franklin’s second goal spurred KP on and the Warriors created chance after chance only to continually be denied by Luccini. She stopped three shots in one sequence off a corner (two saves on Meehan) and then made a diving stop to deny Lawler at the back post. She then stuffed two chances by Lawler again, kicking the shot aside.
Cropper said of Luccini, “She played well against them last year here, so I had a feeling she would play well again. She gets up for them and she was just seeing the ball really well.”
With four minutes left, Truini finally got one past the Franklin goalie, setting off a celebration that was a mix of excitement and relief. With 1:40 remaining in the game, KP sealed the win on another corner. Meehan drove at the defense, forcing it to collapse, and dropped a pass to Christina Hathaway, who blasted it through traffic for the insurance goal.
“Yes, personally and it allowed me to breathe,” said Liz Hathaway. When you’re in first place then everyone is out to get you and Franklin is always a great game. It was a really key win for us to keep the momentum and get back in the win column.”
King Philip (8-1-0, 7-1-0) will play back-to-back games to finish the week with Stoughton on Thursday afternoon and Algonquin on Friday night. Franklin (3-4-2, 3-3-2) will try to bounce back on Thursday against Canton before hosting Chelmsford on Sunday morning.