HOLDEN, Mass. -- Just because it happens in the regular season, doesn't mean it will carry over to the playoffs.
But that was okay for Franklin, which ditched its slow starts it had seen in the regular season for a very strong one, jumping out to an 11-2 early lead and never looking back on their way to a 56-38 win over Wachusett.
"My assistants were saying yesterday in practice how its been a while since we got out to a good lead early," said Franklin head coach Dean O'Connor. "We came out and shot the ball well early. We knew they'd be in a zone and its important to hit some early so they start coming out on you so you can start getting the ball inside. Getting off to a good start was huge, especially on the road."
Wachusett's zone was no match for Chris Rodgers, who drained 3-pointers in the opening quarter and Dylan Reno and Quenten Harrell each added one apiece. The Panthers jumped out to a commanding 21-8 lead after one.
"We saw them against Brookline and you have to pick your poison with them," said Wachusett head coach Tom Gibbons. "We needed to get off to a good start I thought so them making those shots early, it forced our hand a little bit and we had to change the game plan."
It looked as though Wachusett was going to close the gap, as they twice got the game within two possessions early in the second quarter, but Franklin rattled off 10 straight points to turn a 23-17 lead into a 33-17 lead and Franklin took a 35-20 lead into halftime.
The Panthers really put the game out of reach in the third quarter even though they scored just 12 points. It was their defense that dominated the game from start to finish, limiting Wachusett to just six points in the third quarter, on their way to a 47-26 lead going into the final frame.
"We knew they were good defensively," said Gibbons. "We were not getting any rhythm to say the least. We really struggled in all areas but you have to give them credit. They really get after it defensively and they have nice pieces. They beat us to every loose ball, they beat us on the glass. They're a dangerous team, they could go far."
Though the hot start wasn't something they carried in from the regular season, their strong defense was after giving up just over 55 points a game in the regular season.
"We played well," O'Connor said. "We really pride ourselves on playing good defense. I was really worried about rebounding with their size but I thought we did a good job on that and holding them to one shot. We tried to make it tough to score on us. We played a solid game so I'm happy."
Franklin was held to just nine points in the final quarter (allowing 12 to Wachusett), but all of their points game at crucial times that killed any Wachusett momentum. Tim Prunier hit consecutive three-pointers, beating the shot clock buzzer and the other off an offensive board. Rodgers was able to bury another three too, this one also late in the shot clock.
Rodgers finished with a game-high 16 points but Franklin finished with four players in double figures as Harrell, Prunier and junior Marcus Giese all added 10 points.
"The other guys really stepped for [Franklin]," Gibbons added. "We knew Rodgers was good, we knew he gets the ball to the rim so we tried to provide good help and stop him early, but the other guys stepped up to their credit."
Sophomore Tyler Dion led Wachusett with 11 points while Brad Durkin added nine points and Justin Bowker finished with eight points.
Franklin will now play Worcester South in the D1 Central Semifinals on Sunday at 6:30 at WPI. South upset top-seeded Fitchburg 64-51.