As the Franklin boys’ basketball team took the court at WPI in the Division 1 Central semifinal Sunday afternoon, the Panthers knew the moment that was in front of them. A win and last year’s state finalist would be back to defend their sectional crown.
From the opening tip, the top-seeded Panthers looked determined to repeat as Central champions, forcing numerous turnovers to take a commanding early lead before holding on for a 68-54 victory over fifth-seed Natick.
Franklin (20-2) will return to WPI on Friday night to face seventh-seed Algonquin in the sectional final.
“Survive and advance,” said Franklin coach CJ Neely. “[It’s] the typical [subject] we always talk about [this] time of year.
“It’s not always going to be pretty. Fortunately for us we were able to make enough shots to kind of survive there in the second half and get out of here with a W.”
For the Red Hawks (16-6), the bright spot came in the play of senior Jahden Erold (22 points, 13 rebounds). Even though he was in foul trouble, the guard willed his team back as his layup early in the fourth quarter cut the deficit to 53-41.
Struggling offensively in the fourth, Franklin’s lead withered to 55-45 on a layup by Natick senior Peter Ryan. Two free throws from senior Will Brodnitzki trimmed it to single digits, 55-47, but Franklin senior Paul Mahon answered on the other end with a 3-pointer with less than four minutes to play.
A few minutes later, Natick pulled within 60-52 as sophomore Alex Cohen came off the bench to drill a 3-pointer. Franklin sophomore Chris Edgehill, though, scored five unanswered, and then his dagger three in the final minute put the game out of reach.
The second half belonged to the Panthers’ junior Jalen Samuels, who finished at a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, but the 6-foot-4, Samuels, impacted the game in more aspects than on the stat sheet that kept Natick at a distance.
Seven other Franklin players recorded points as Edgehill (19 points), Mahon (13 points) and senior Matt Elias (11 points) helped lead the way. Edgehill’s last second three in the first quarter gave his team an 18-10 advantage that grew to 36-19 at the half.
Division 1 North
Lowell 71, Lynn English 63 — Senior guard Alex Rivera scored 42 points to lead the fourth-seeded Red Raiders (18-4).
Division 1 South
Needham 82, New Bedford 48 — Brandon Monheimer led all scorers with 23 points and added five rebounds as the Rockets (19-3) advanced to the South semifinals against Brockton. Thomas Shaughnessy added 13 points, eight assists and five rebounds.
Division 2 South
Hingham 68, O’Bryant 62 — Gray Boyd had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Tyler Murphy added 12 points off the bench for the Harbormen (20-2) as they overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half to advance to the sectional semifinals.
Rivaldo Soares finished with a game-high 31 points to go with 12 rebounds and three assists in the loss for the Tigers (13-10).
Hanover 58, Foxborough 57 — JP Landry scored 25 points and Matt Delahunt (9 points, 12 rebounds) hit a floater with 28 seconds left for the lead as the Indians (19-4) closed the fourth quarter on an 11-3 run for the quarterfinal win over the Warriors (19-5).
NEPSAC Class B
Brooks 65, Rivers 40 — Led by seniors Brian Wright-Kinsey (18 points) and Keigan Kerby (18 points, 10 rebounds), Brooks (26-0) surged in the second half of its NEPSAC Class B Final on the campus of Clark University, cruising over Rivers (20-6) to capture its third straight crown. Brooks extended the NEPSAC’s longest winning streak to a whopping 66 games, dating back to January 2016.
“This group of kids going into the season had been part of that [streak], but on the bench,” said coach John McVeigh. “This is a whole new group. I’m so proud of them. They waited their turn, and they had a terrific season.”
Brooks nearly led wire-to-wire, closing the game on a 22-7 run over the final eight minutes to turn a 10-point lead into a full-on rout, led by Wright-Kinsey.
The Brooklyn native got the crowd off its feet with a tough off-balanced lay-in for a three-point play to put Brooks’ lead past 20. He then put the nail in the coffin a few possessions later by tossing up an alley-oop to Preston Santos with less than four minutes to go.
Kerby, a Hampton, N.H. native, was named MVP of the Class B tournament. This winter was quite a turnaround for Kerby, who came into the season with just 15 career games to his name thanks to various injuries — including, at one point, complications from a badly broken leg that left him wheelchair-bound for nearly four months.
“He’s fought through so many injuries, and I think that’s why you saw he got so emotional when he got the MVP,” McVeigh said. “He’s worked so hard for this moment, and I’m very happy for him.”
Tyler Aronson led the way for Rivers with 16 points, including a 4-for-6 mark from three-point range.
NEPSAC Class C
Dexter Southfield 65, Winchendon 59 — Point guard Noah Kamba tallied 26 points and nine assists to win tournament MVP as Dexter Southfield won the NEPSAC Class C title. Charles Coleman (18 points, 11 rebounds) and Jordan Mason (16 points) also contributed in the win.Brendan Hall reported from Clark University.