(Seventh in a series in which the Globe profiles a varsity high school team from Eastern Massachusetts.)
The Franklin girls’ basketball team has outscored opponents by about 22 points per game this season.
What’s the formula? Simple: a star center, feisty defense, and an experienced coach.
The Panthers are 12-1, the only loss coming in an exclusion game to defending Division 4 state champion Coyle & Cassidy that will not impact seeding for the Division 1 Central tourney.
The foundation for success is built around two-time All-Hockomock junior center Ali Brigham, a 6-foot-3-inch George Washington commit who is averaging 23.3 points and 16.4 rebounds per game. Senior guard Bea Bondhus (11 points per game) and senior forward Meg O’Connell (9 ppg) flank Brigham, and a deep bench rounds out the squad.
John Leighton, the head coach since 2004 and a history teacher at the high school, has led the Panthers to three sectional finals.
“Our motto this year is ‘Team First,’ ” Bondhus said. “We have a really high level of talent on our team.”
Here’s some more things to know about the Franklin girls’ basketball team:
Center of attention
High schoolers don’t usually put up numbers like Brigham.
“It’s like fantasy sports,” Leighton said. “It’s unreal.”
If the numbers don’t convince you, here’s this: Brigham is a finalist for the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award. The junior is following in the footsteps of her father, Bill Brigham, a former Norwood High stalwart who played collegiately at Boston University and then George Washington (with coach Mike Jarvis). The elder Brigham is an assistant at Franklin.
An off-game for Brigham is a career night for others — like when she “only” produced 13 points and 19 rebounds in a 62-36 win over Oliver Ames. While Oliver Ames played a box-and-one on Brigham, O’Connell (18 points) and Bondhus (15) took advantage.
It’s cliché, yes, but defense has also been a key to Franklin’s success this season.
The Panthers are allowing a little more than 37 points per game. Leighton says this is one of his best defensive teams he can remember — but not because of physical talent. While Brigham (43 blocks) is a presence in the middle, Leighton says the entire team bought into preseason training on how to defend ball screens, and that the group as a whole communicates effectively on defense.
“There’s great pride in getting stops,” Leighton said. “We kind of feed off of that.”
Leighton has a reward for players who do the little things, such as diving on the ground for a loose ball, taking a charge or grabbing an offensive rebound. It’s called the Blue Collar Award, and it’s given out to the scrappiest player at each game and practice.
The most consistent recipients of the award are two starting guards — senior Shannon Gray and sophomore Erin Quaile.
“They’re kind of the facilitators,” Leighton said. “They’re really my two best defensive players.”
On the bench
The Panthers will go 10 to 11 players deep on a given night.
Junior guard/forward Breanna Atwood is a defensive spark plug. Sophomore guard Elizabeth Wilson is a microwave scorer off the bench. Perhaps the most intriguing piece is freshman forward Olivia Quinn, who provides a nice inside presence to play in place of — or alongside — Brigham and O’Connell.
“She has a great offensive touch — a lot of energy and potential,” Leighton said.
Having fresh legs, especially when Franklin rolls out its full-court press, is invaluable.
Bondhus called this the deepest Franklin team she’s seen.
“People are able to step up when we need them to,” Brigham added.
Turning things around
Leighton has guided Franklin to the MIAA tournament each year he’s coached —
except one. After a 0-6 start to the 2016-17 season, the Panthers rallied for a 9-11 final record, one game away from a postseason berth.
That run might have been a turning point. Four current starters were on that team. The Panthers have made it a goal not to overlook any team — there could be another sleeping giant in the works each time they take the court.
“That provides us with motivation,” Bondhus said.
Matt MacCormack can be reached at email@example.com.