FRANKLIN, Mass. -- The Franklin girls' basketball team is fortunate enough to have a defense it can rely on until its shots start falling at the other end.
Led by guard Kristi Kirshe, who had eight steals, the Panthers forced 27 turnovers (including 17 in the second half) and Catie Phelan hit three of her four 3-pointers in the second half, as Franklin held on for a 33-32 victory over Oliver Ames last night at the Franklin High Field House.
The Panthers' (7-0) defensive effort was the spark that got them back into the game. The Tigers (6-1) opened the fourth quarter with baskets by Asia Mitchell and Candace Steadman, pushing its lead to 32-24.
Franklin switched to a full-court press and promptly forced three straight turnovers, with Phelan drilling a pair of threes around a Kirshe bucket to tie the game at 32-32 with 3:10 left to play.
"I think defense is probably always our strong point," Kirshe said. "We work a lot on our defense and we’re always more worried about our defense than our offense. If we can stop them then we can attack."
Added Phelan, "I just think we were panicking the whole game. We finally started slowing down in the fourth quarter. Our offense always has a person on the opposite three open so when we just calmed down in the fourth quarter, we were able to do what we do best I think."
Kirshe made one of two free throws to bump the Panthers in front by a point, but OA had a chance to win it after consecutive timeouts and possession with 13 seconds remaining. The Tigers swung the ball around the perimeter until it reached Steadman on the block. As she turned to shoot, the Panthers defense collapsed around her and forced a tough shot that didn't fall.
"We got a last shot off, but I think it was just a tremendous defensive effort and ultimately I think the thing that was so costly to us were those turnovers," said Tigers coach Elaine Clement-Holbrook. "I think we were up 19-16 and we had five consecutive turnovers and we kept giving them the ball back. We didn’t take advantage of that. There was another opportunity I think in the fourth quarter where we had a couple of runs going and we just couldn’t finish."
Steadman led all scorers with 15 points and also had five assists for OA, while Asia Mitchell grabbed a game best eight rebounds. Phelan led Franklin with 13 points, five rebounds and five steals. In all, the Panthers recorded 21 thefts.
"They were able to frustrate us and I have three captains and they brought it up at halftime," said Franklin coach John Leighton. "We just had to play together better and I thought that the defense we put on, it was just teamwork. One kid pressuring, one kid looking to anticipate the next pass, tip, whatever it is. They communicated great and that really got it going."
The other thing that got the Panthers going was Phelan, who rewarded her teammates with two clutch threes during the game-deciding run.
"Catie has ice water in her veins," praised Leighton. "She’s worked tremendously hard and she has a good shot and she’s confident in it when it’s there. She doesn’t force it when its not. They gave her a couple of opportunities in transition and she knocked them down."