State Tournament Roundup
Hopedale’s Bri Frongillo drives to the basket for an easy lay-up during a game against Uxbridge when she scored her 1,000th point.
State Tournament Roundup
By KEN HAMWEY
Staff Sports Writer
The Hopedale girls basketball team was treated like royalty after it defeated Hoosac Valley, 55-45, in the Division 5 State playoffs at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.
“We had both a police and fire department escort around town,’’ said Hopedale coach Jason Rojee. People were out on their front lawns waving. The route covered the whole town and everyone was happy and excited.’’
Third-seeded Hopedale won its first State championship in girls basketball and the star of the show was no surprise — Bri Frongillo, a 2,000-point scorer for the Blue Raiders who’ll be playing for Bryant University next winter. The point guard scored a game-high 23 points, had five assists and grabbed three rebounds.
The 5-foot-3 senior co-captain, who scored 48 points in the tourney’s quarterfinal-round game against Lee, calmly scored nine points in the final quarter. She controlled the tempo that enabled the Blue Raiders to fend off one Hurricane surge after another.
“We’d get ahead by 8-9 points, then Hoosac Valley cut our lead to 2-3 points,’’ Rojee said. “They play with tenacity, they’re always around the ball and they’re physically tough. We took a 5-0 lead and held onto it from start to finish.’’
The Blue Raiders led 21-15, and had a 41-34 advantage after three stanzas. They took their first double-figure lead midway through the fourth quarter and were up 11 after Frongillo hit a jumper to make it 47-36.
When the see-saw contest ended, history was made. This 2021-22 team now has given the school its first State title in girls basketball. The Blue Raiders’ appearance in the final was its best showing ever. Previously, its deepest advance came in 2012 when it lost to Sutton in the Central Sectional final.
“I’m very lucky,’’ said Rojee, who’s in his first year as Hopedale’s coach. “I was in the right spot at the right time and blessed to be along for the ride. It’s great to see the kids have this kind of success, especially the seniors who displayed lots of leadership and character.’’
The 48-year-old Rojee previously coached the Medway High boys and he had success at that venue, qualifying for tourney play 11 times in 12 years.
“I lived in Cumberland, R.I., but moved to Hopedale five years ago,’’ he noted. “My family and I love the town. When there was a coaching vacancy, I applied knowing that the program was established and didn’t need any rebuilding. The town loves its sports teams.’’
Rojee said that he and his squad had only one goal at the start of the season and that was to improve every day, in practice and in games. “They all bought in and understood what it would take to get to the final,’’ he said. “Everyone had to step up in practice and guard Bri ery day. She’s got a high hoop IQ, she’s instinctive, she can shoot, pass, read the game and process it. She’s a generational talent.’’
Frongillo was quick to credit her teammates and the coach for Hopedale’s success.
“We couldn’t have won the title without my teammates,’’ she emphasized. “They were all super contributors. And, coach Rojee did a great job, coming in and letting us be ourselves. The transition to a new coach was smooth.’’
Calling the ending to her playing career at Hopedale “perfect,’’ Frongillo said: “It felt great going 22-2 and winning a State championship. It was just a perfect ending.’’
What helped Hopedale capture the tourney crown were the key attributes it relied on throughout the season.
“The girls have a high basketball IQ, they’re athletic, they’re composed, mentally tough and resilient,’’ Rojee emphasized. “They never let the moment get too big.’’
Hopedale’s other four starters all played key roles in the victory. Senior Lilah Casey, an off-guard who can play in the frontcourt, scored 14 points and had 10 rebounds. Eighth-grader Phoebe Carroll had a double-double, getting 11 points and a whopping 23 rebounds.
“Lilah is like a Swiss-army knife,’’ Rojee said. “She always covers our opponents’ top scorers. She’s an emotional leader. Phoebe controls the boards, plays great defense and finishes well.’’
Rojee is quick to credit his two senior forwards for their contributions — Nora Hodgens and Caroline Hurley. “Nora is steady,’’ he said. “She rebounds, gets steals and can hit crucial three-pointers. Caroline is a phenomenal team defender who can pass, block shots and create deflections.’’
Averie McGrath scored 16 points and Rylynn Witek added 15 for the Hurricanes, who were eyeing their third straight title.
Hopedale, however, weathered the storm, prevailed and now has elite status in Division 5.
Hopedale rolled to easy victories over Bromfield (71-39), David Prouty (69-40) and Lee (72-44) before facing Springfield International in the State semifinal game.
All-star point guard Bri Frongillo led the advance into the State semifinal by pouring in 48 points against Lee. The senior, who’ll be playing for Bryant University next winter, managed to connect on 10 three-pointers.
“The margin of victory over Lee was surprising,’’ said coach Jason Rojee. “Bri’s ability to hit open teammates, see the entire court and score at will are great assets and a formula for victory.’’
A co-captain, Frongillo averaged 37.3 points through the team’s first three playoff encounters.
The Hopedale girls basketball team has a flair for the dramatic.
The Blue Raiders defeated Springfield International, 58-56, to advance to the State final championship but they took a difficult route to accomplish that goal. After leading by 13 points with just under seven minutes to play in the final quarter, the Bulldogs heated up and went on an 18-7 run to cut their deficit to two with a minute to go.
A Hopedale turnover gave Springfield possession with 17 seconds remaining and an opportunity to tie the score. Alicia Mitchell scored to tie the contest.
With 10 seconds left, Bri Frongillo went coast to coast, getting fouled by Mitchell on a lay-up attempt. The 5-foot-3 guard, who plays like she’s got ice water in her veins, calmly sank both free throws.
“I told myself to stay calm, take a deep breath and make them,’’ she said.
The Bulldogs’ in-bound pass with three seconds left was stolen by Caroline Hurley and the Blue Raiders had their ticket punched for a date with Hoosac Valley in the finals.
“We did well, staying composed,’’ said coach Jason Rojee. “We didn’t get rattled when they rallied. We didn’t let the moment get too big.’’
Frongillo led all scorers with 31 points and co-captain Lilah Casey registered 13.
Norwood Girls Lose To Oliver Ames
Disappointment and sadness are two emotions that take over when a basketball team enters a game at 24-0, then loses its final encounter and sees an undefeated season and a State championship drift away.
That’s what the Norwood High girls quintet experienced after third-seeded Oliver Ames defeated the Mustangs, 53-48, to capture the Division 2 championship. Norwood, which was aiming for its first State title in the program’s history, never led but was in a close battle throughout.
“The girls are feeling a lot of emotions now but eventually they’ll take a step back and realize all that they accomplished,’’ said Norwood coach Amy Quinn. “The seniors were Tri Valley League champs three of the last four years and their efforts gave me, the school and the community lots to be proud of.’’
Sophomore Jasmyn Cooper led the Tigers with 22 points, Sarah Hilliard added 15, and Anna Murphy added 12. Senior captains Meg Olbrys and Erin Reen scored 21 and 14 points, respectively, for Norwood.
The Tigers led, 15-10, after one quarter but the Mustangs cut their deficit to 24-21 at halftime as Olbrys and Reen got into sync, relying on pick-and-rolls that produced more high-percentage opportunities.
The Mustangs continued to threaten OA, tying it at 28 midway through the third quarter. Starting the final stanza up 38-35, OA’s Hilliard, Murphy and Hailey Bourne scored and played solid defense to extend the lead. Reen sank an inside shot to cut it to one with 26 seconds left.
Ahead by three with three seconds remaining, the Tigers’ senior captain, Caroline Peper, calmly sank two free throws to clinch the outcome. OA ended its season with a 22-3 record.
“Oliver Ames outplayed us,’’ Quinn said. “They’re strong and athletic and they finished at the rim better than we did. They made enough plays when it mattered and hit more shots.’’
One could make an argument that Norwood lost the game at the free-throw line. The Mustangs connected on only 10 of 21 attempts. The Tigers were 18-for-21. Where Norwood excelled was limiting OA to only one three-pointer.
“I think if we played them 10 times, we’d both be 5-5,’’ Quinn offered. “Losing in the State final, however, definitely hurts but OA was better.’’
Norwood’s 24-1 record was the result of having players with a variety of strengths. “Our kids were versatile, played strong defense, and had a high basketball IQ,’’ Quinn said. “They also were mentally tough. The kids kept battling in spite of trailing the entire game’’
Quinn had high praise for her starters, beginning with Olbrys, who’ll compete for Villanova next year.
“Meg got off to a great start as a freshman and she just kept getting better,’’ Quinn noted. “Erin was the soul of the team, the hardest worker who controlled the tempo. Ally Steeves showed she’s a good shooter, getting 18 points in the playoff game with Amherst-Pelham. She also played solidly on defense. Tricia Wladkowski is only a sophomore but she hit big shots, is so athletic and is effective in transition.’’
Quinn isn’t sure what the future holds for the program because they’ll be no seniors on the squad. “We could be in rebuild mode,’’ she said. “However, our freshmen and sophomore classes are strong.’’
Norwood and North Quincy entered quarterfinal action in a matchup that featured a pair of unbeaten teams — Norwood was 22-0 and North Quincy was 24-0.
When the final whistle sounded, the top-seeded Mustangs prevailed, keeping them undefeated and giving them a berth in the State’s Final Four where they would face the fifth-seeded Whitman-Hanson Panthers.
Norwood’s offense was balanced and the Mustangs managed to score up close or outside. That combination propelled the top-seed to a 57-39 victory. Norwood was effective down low as Olbrys led the attack with 16 points. Wladkowski scored 15 points, and Alexa Coras had 13 (three 3-pointers).
Norwood scored first and never trailed, obviously helped by the Raiders going scoreless in the game’s first five minutes. North Quincy fell behind 14-5 early, but the Raiders rallied and got to within 21-18 late in the second stanza. The Mustangs, however, ended the half on a 5-0 run as the Mustangs headed for intermission ahead by 26-18.
“I don’t need to say much about Megan Olbrys,’’ Quinn offered. “The best part about Megan is that she probably could have scored a lot more. She’s so unselfish. She has so much confidence in the rest of her teammates and their ability to do their jobs, and I think that really lifts them.’’
The Mustangs took control in the third quarter — Wladkowski and Olbrys each scored five points and Coras hit a three-pointer at the end of the quarter, widening their lead and preventing the Red Raiders from going unbeaten.
The Norwood girls basketball team remained unbeaten after a close 51-46 triumph over Whitman-Hanson in the semifinals. Coach Amy Quinn’s squad is now 24-0 as it prepares for a title matchup against Oliver Ames.
Norwood has met the playoff challenge head-on by defeating Dartmouth, 54-34; Amherst-Pelham, 52-40; and North Quincy, 57-39, before eliminating Whitman-Hanson. The Mustangs are aiming to become the first girls basketball team to win a state final as an undefeated squad. The last time that occurred was in 2014-15 when Braintree achieved it. Franklin also was undefeated but it had to share the 2019-20 Division 1 championship with Andover when the final game was canceled because of Covid-19.
Quinn’s approach and her team’s thoughts on their unbeaten status boil down to one comment. “We don’t really talk about it much,’’ she said.
Against Whitman-Hanson, Olbrys led the Mustangs with 18 points and Wladkowski scored 15. Seniors Abby Martin and Megan Stone finished with 14 each for the Panthers.
Norwood built a 24-19 halftime advantage then employed an 11-0 run to hike its lead to 35-28 after three. The Panthers, however, surged back when Martin and Megan Stone drained key three-pointers down the stretch. Stone’s second three of the quarter sliced the deficit to 49-46 with 15 seconds left, but the Mustangs sank two free throws to clinch the outcome.
Norwood Boys Bow In State Final
Tony Felder scored 38 points as the top-seeded Malden Catholic’s basketball team rolled to the Division 2 State championship by dominating No. 7 seed Norwood, 95-40. The triumph gave the Lancers their first State crown in the program’s history.
Felder was dynamic throughout the contest, connecting on the Lancers’ first field goal, then proceeding to convert 12 more baskets.
The victory enabled Malden Catholic to finish its season at 23-2 and provide coach John Walsh with the fourth State championship of his career. Walsh won three State crowns as the coach at Danvers.
There’s no doubt that Felder was the Lancers’ go-to guy. The only senior on the squad, he’s been a four-year starter and was the focal point of Malden Catholic’s rise in the rankings. Thanks to him, the Lancers gained momentum and became playoff contenders.
Dynamic throughout the contest, Felder connected on Malden Catholic’s first field goal, then proceeded to convert 12 more baskets.
“Their entire starting five is like a small-college all-star team,’’ said Norwood coach Kristen McDonnell, who’s in her third year at the helm. “That’s a compliment. They’re a powerhouse team, both on offense and defense. We went cold on offense, unable to find a rhythm, but they defended well.’’
After the first quarter, the Lancers led, 22-6, buoyed by eight points from Felder. Norwood guard Joey Steeves, however, sparked a 6-0 run for the Mustangs to begin the second quarter, cutting the Lancers’ lead to 22-12. Malden Catholic countered with Nick Martinez scoring on a pair of three-pointers followed by nine points from Jahmari Hamilton-Brown. And, when Matthew Gaffney swished a three-pointer to give Malden Catholic a 44-17 halftime advantage, the outcome no longer was in doubt.
“Our kids stayed determined and there was no drop in their compete level,’’ McDonnell said. “They never backed down. We grinded out games and got to the State final.
“I told them how proud I was and that the school and the community felt the same way. They played all year, relying on athleticism, a high basketball IQ and mental toughness. They developed their skills in the off-season and the players were accountable to each other. There definitely was a buzz around the school about the team.’’
McDonnell has a capable corps returning from a team that was Tri Valley League Large Division champions. “We also had a good jayvee team but we’ll miss the seven seniors who’ll graduate. They’ll be tough to replace.’’
Norwood trounced Fitchburg, 68-43, and Salem, 78-63, before it survived a double overtime encounter against Mansfield that enabled the Mustangs to advance to the Final Four against Burlington.
The 57-51 defensive gem, played in a packed gym at Mansfield, was a thriller that featured both teams getting key stops and field goals at crucial junctures. Norwood junior forward Noah Beaudet connected on two jump shots and sophomore Matt Maloney scored on a driving lay-up to pull away and eliminate the Hornets.
Norwood qualified for the semifinal in coach Kristen McDonnell’s third year at the helm. The Mustangs’ date in the Final Four was its first since 2001.
“We expected a close game but I was proud of the way we fought,’’ said McDonnell, who led the Braintree girls to four State titles in her 10 years on the job. “In the second overtime, you have to hope the stars align and they did for us. It could have gone either way.’’
In that extra session, Beaudet, who finished with 16 points, connected on a lay-up and sank a mid-range jumper for a 51-47 advantage that propelled Norwood into a comfort zone with a minute left.
The Norwood boys basketball team showed it’s all about mental toughness and resiliency. And they’ve got experience when it comes to competing in pressure-packed games, especially matchups in post-season tournament play.
After subduing Mansfield in a double overtime quarterfinal contest, the Mustangs, who were seeded No. 7, edged third-seed Burlington, 69-66, in the Division 2 State semifinal at Worcester State University.
Trailing, 62-58, in overtime, the Mustangs got a huge lift from junior guard Noah Beaudet (20 points) who raced up court and connected on a three-pointer on the right side.
The clutch shot was his first three-pointer of the game. Then, soph Matty Mahoney stepped into the spotlight, getting two steals in a row that led to two free throws and a hoop in transition, giving the Mustangs a 65-62 advantage.
Down the stretch the teams swapped free throws for field goals and with a second remaining, Burlington’s Eric Sekyaya attempted a three-point shot but it struck the backboard and bounced off, providing Norwood with a ticket to the championship final against Malden Catholic.
Norwood coach Kristen McDonnell lauded her players and put an exclamation point on the program’s culture for the team’s success.
“I believe there’s a formula for success and it’s kids who work on their skills, kids who hold each other accountable, and kids who have a blast with each other,” she noted. “When you have all those things together, it’s something special.”
Norwood trailed for most of the game, but caught fire in the fourth quarter, starting the stanza with nine straight points for a 55-46 advantage.
Burlington guard Shane Mahoney, however, stepped up, registering four points and two assists. Mahoney then found Sekyaya (21 points) on the right wing and the junior guard connected on a three, giving Burlington a 57-55 lead with a minute left. Beaudet hit a pair of free throws to force the overtime session. Mahoney finished with 20 points.
Medway Girls Ousted By Rockland
The fourth-seeded Rockland Bulldogs put on a defensive clinic against No. 1 seed Medway in the Division 3 State semifinals, rolling to a 48-22 victory over one of the best basketball teams in the Tri Valley League.
Rockland’s defense was solid in the first quarter, taking a 9-7 lead. But, the Bulldogs best was yet to come. Medway felt the full brunt of the Bulldogs’ tenacity as it managed only one field goal (lay-up by Anna Longval) in the second stanza. Rockland was in total control, outscoring the Mustangs, 17-2, and taking a 26-9 advantage at intermission.
The Mustang offense showed some spark in the third quarter, going on a pair of 4-0 runs, but Medway never cut its deficit to less than 13 points. In the final quarter, the Mustangs garnered only three points.
“The combination that beat us was Rockland’s great defense and our poor shooting,’’ said Medway coach Joe Iannone. “They’re a really solid team, so give them credit. When we got a few stops, our shots didn’t drop. It just wasn’t our night.
“Our kids kept trying and were resilient. I’m proud of their effort. They gave 100 percent all season long. We finished with a 21-4 record and it’s not easy to win 20 games.’’
With senior captain Julia Elie guarding the paint, the Bulldogs’ Maddie Murphy, Maggie Elie, Charlie Kelleher, Sydney Blaney and Maddie Heremenau combined to thwart Medway’s perimeter offense. The Mustangs did not convert a three-pointer.
Amy Johnston and Shannon Mejia were the top scorers for the Mustangs, with six points apiece. Blaney’s two-way efforts for the Bulldogs personified her poise and confidence. She finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
After defeating Arlington Catholic and Dedham, Medway advanced to the Final Four by subduing East Bridgewater, 48-38, thanks to senior captain Amy Johnson who led the way with a team-high 23 points. The senior forward also had 14 rebounds and 5 blocks.
“Amy gave us a versatile, all-around effort in a game that was a defensive battle for both teams,’’ said coach Medway coach Joe Iannone. “Every time we went ahead by 10 points, East Bridgewater cut its deficit to three. They showed lots of resilience. The environment at our gym was amazing, crowded with about 750 fans having fun and being respectful.’’
Iannone said after the game that the Mustangs have a motto and it’s all about “overcoming adversity.’’
“Our motto at the start of the season was to overcome challenges and adversity,’’ said Iannone. “We beat a really good team, and nobody including myself, thought we’d be going to the Final Four early in the season. It’s amazing, just fantastic.’’
Natick Girls Eliminated In Hockey Semifinals
Ninth-seeded Canton ended Natick’s march through the Division 2 girls hockey tournament, defeating the Redhawks, 2-1, in a semifinal game at Gallo Arena in Bourne. The Bulldogs faced No. 10 Algonquin in the championship final and lost in overtime, 2-1.
The fifth-seeded Redhawks earned their matchup against Canton by posting triumphs over Lincoln-Sudbury, 5-0; Barnstable, 4-3 in overtime; and Archbishop Williams, 3-2.
Junior forward Audrey Koen scored Canton’s first goal on an unassisted shot in front midway through the first period and sophomore Anna Lehane notched the eventual game-winner with 6:27 to play in the second stanza. Natick’s only goal came a minute into the second period when leading scorer Colleen Quirk got free and fired a wrist shot that beat junior goaltender Carolyn Durand, tying the game at 1-1.
Leading 2-1 with less than a minute to go, Natick positioned itself in the Bulldogs’ end and fired away. But Durand, who got a big lift from her defense, thwarted the Redhawks. And with 8.5 seconds left to play, the Bulldogs’ defense held off Natick until time expired.
“We all knew Canton was going to be a tough opponent because of its disciplined defense,’’ said Natick coach Bruce Ihloff. “We just ran out of time. Hockey is a game of mistakes and unfortunately we made a few more than Canton did.’’
Ihloff called the season “special.’’
“It was truly a special year,’’ he said. “I’m so proud of the effort the girls put forth.
It didn’t end the way we were hoping, but when we look back at the playoff games at home, the overtime win (Barnstable), and the game against Archbishop Williams (two goals with under a minute), those are the things we’ll remember most about this season. It was a well-deserved, fantastic ride.’’
Natick had only 13 girls on its roster. “Freshman goalie Ellie Beigel was truly amazing,’’ said Ihloff. “She kept us in every game and stepped up in the biggest moments. And, captains Colleen Quirk, Hadley Green and Caroline Gates provided the senior leadership we needed.’’
Natick saved its best for last against Archbishop Williams in the quarterfinal round. The Redhawks scored two goals in the final minute to eke out a 3-2 win. Emma Tavilla scored with 52.7 seconds remaining to tie the game at 2-2, and then scored again on a tip-in with 27 seconds left to clinch it for Natick.
“Emma has been an offensive threat all season,’’ Natick coach Bruce Ihloff said. “She’s always been crafty in front of the net. In the playoffs she had five goals — two huge goals against Barnstable and another two huge goals against Archbishop Williams. There’s something to be said for scoring big goals, especially in the closing minutes of a game.
She was able to do it in back-to-back playoff games that kept our season going.’’
In the first period, Colleen Quirk scored to give Natick a 1-0 lead, her 28th goal of the season, which set a school record. Karaline O’Toole then scored twice for Archbishop Williams, the second giving the Bishops a 2-1 lead early in the third period.
“Our kids just keep pulling out victories in huge moments,’’ Ihloff said. “The girls are just about resilient to everything.’’
The triumph over Archbishop Williams was the Redhawks’ second straight come-from-hind win. Before beating Archbishop Williams, Natick defeated Barnstable, 4-3, in overtime.
“Our game against the Archies was one of the most thrilling and exciting victories I’ve ever experienced,’’ Ihloff said. “These moments are so special and rewarding. As a coach it makes it all worthwhile.’’
Close But No Advance
Basketball teams that finished a victory short of the Final Four were Franklin, which lost, 61-42, to Springfield Central; and Millis, which bowed to Taconic, 47-39.
Hockey squads that were a game away from advancing to the Final Four included: Norwood, which was eliminated by Gloucester, 6-4; Medway was ousted by Hanover, 2-1; and Hopedale/Milford, which lost to Lynnfield, 2-0.