WORCESTER — There was some by-the-minute scoreboard watching in the bowels of Worcester State’s gymnasium Monday as the Franklin Panthers wondered if one of the Bay State’s most intense rivalries would get its dream billing on the MIAA’s biggest stage.
And finally, told his archrivals had a lead in hand, Chris Edgehill lit up.
“It’s a dream come true,” said the sophomore guard, hero once again as Franklin beat Springfield Central, 62-43, to punch a second straight ticket to the Division 1 state final, where the Panthers will face Mansfield.
“There’s nothing better in the regular season than going into that Mansfield gym,” said Edgehill. “It’s gonna be a different atmosphere with that big facility, obviously, but it’s the rivalry between Franklin and Mansfield that, as a kid, you want to be a part of that.
“It’s crazy right now, I can’t even think. Awesome feeling.”
The Panthers (22-2) were flammable to start, jumping out to a 10-2 lead on the Golden Eagles (22-1) with back-to-back 3-pointers. They were part of a first quarter in which the Panthers led, 21-10, on nearly 60 percent shooting — including a 5-of-8 mark from 3-point range.
And after a cold spell in the second quarter, Edgehill awoke with vigor in the third to spring Franklin comfortably ahead. He followed his first three of the game with a pretty drive and spin to the lane, then found Jalen Samuels (16 points, 8 rebounds) on a back-door cut to bring the lead back up to a dozen.
“The kid [Edgehill] can score in bunches,” Panthers coach C.J. Neely said. “Once he gets that first one to go, once he feels like he’s gonna move, the swagger starts to come out a little bit.”
Fourteen of Edgehill’s game-high 18 points came in the second half, including 9 in the final frame to ice the win. Seeing well-scouted defense on Central stars Jorge Torres-Vizcarrondo (10 points) and 6-foot-9-inch rim protector Hason Ward, Neely called the win “a much more complete performance” than last year’s installment, when the Panthers rallied from down 9 with a minute left to win in overtime.
“Jalen was true to himself, he stuck to the scouting report [on Torres] the whole time, he bought in,” Neely said.