LOWELL, Mass. -– Central Catholic sure knows how to make a statement.
Having two of their top three forwards, Doug Gemmell and Nick Cambio, on the bench didn’t matter much in Saturday night’s Division 1 North final against Lynn English. Central (21-5) beat Lynn English(17-6) in convincing fashion, 83-58, behind 25 points from Tyler Nelson, 17 points and 19 rebounds from Joel Berroa, and 21 points and 10 rebounds from newcomer Aaron Hall.
Central set the tone from the get-go, outrebounding English 28-9 in the first half. The Red Raiders’ guards got to the rim nearly at will throughout the game, especially with English star guard Stevie Collins (11 points) on the bench for the majority of the first half with foul trouble. After leading 42-23 at halftime, the Red Raiders slammed the door shut on English and ensured that their ticket would be punched to the Eastern Mass. Division 1 championship game on Tuesday at the TD Garden.
“Everyone was focused before the game, we were really fired up and we had a great gameplan,” Nelson said, “everyone came out and contributed and we did the little things tonight to get the win.”
The title was Central’s first in three years, but Nault said the win may be his most proud coaching job yet, considering the many factors that have gone against his team.
“This was extra special considering what we were up against," Nault said. "A team probably playing the basketball in the state in Lynn English, and us being without two of our top guys, to come in here and win the way we did, start to finish, says an awful lot about that group in that locker room.
"They’re on a mission right now, they really are. We’ll take it one game at a time, but tonight was something special.”
Life without Cambio, Gemmell: Joel Berroa was a monster on the offensive glass—often flying out of nowhere to pull down rebounds and score buckets on ‘easy’ putbacks. With Cambio and Gemmell both out for the rest of the playoffs, it was just the performance that Central needed out of their senior.
“Especially with Nick and Doug out, he’s had to step up, and he has all tournament. He’s such an aggressive player, he does a great job rebounding, he does every little thing for us,” Nelson said of his teammate.
Berroa wasn’t going up against any slouches either, English forward Danny Lukanda has quickly emerged as one of the state’s best rebounders, while 6-foot-6 sophomore Johnny Hilaire is one of the MIAA’s most promising young talents. Despite that though, Berroa never seemed to tire despite his never-ending motor.
Nelson starts strong: Tyler Nelson finished with 25 points, but the way he came out of the gates set the tone for Central Catholic for the rest of the game. Hitting a deep three in the opening minutes and driving to the paint whenever he wanted off the dribble, Nelson constantly got trapped by English’s pressure defense, but he never wavered. Nault said a big part of Central’s gameplan was to pass out of English’s high-pressure trapping press, swinging the ball in order to get an open look down court.
“Right now they’re our two go-to scorers. We depend on Lucas Hammel to kind of be our playmaker," Nault said. "Tyler and Joel are usually the recipient of Lucas’ plays. They have to be consistent for us to win, if Tyler has an off night and Joel has an off night, then we’re going to be in trouble."
Aaron Hall benefited from English’s aggressive press, coming on in Cambio’s absence and giving the Red Raiders another intimidating presence on the block. He picked his spots offensively and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
Nault praised his newly-emerged role players as a whole after the game—mentioning that the Raiders’ hard-nosed practices were direct result.
“There’s no out of bounds, no fouls in our practice," he said. "We play with a lot of physical toughness and we play with a lot of energy. That’s from practice, and it’s kind of carried over into our games."
Everyone’s risen to the occasion with every opportunity that they’ve been given. Aaron Hall had a career night just kind of sitting underneath the hoop and being the recipient of a lot of breakdowns defensively.”
They’ll be back... It’s a safe bet that Lynn English will once again be one of the state’s best teams next year, returning sophomore starters Stevie Collins and Erick Rosario, junior Fred Hogan, Lukanda, as well as role players Brian Redondo and Hilaire -- both of whom will have a chance to make a push into the starting lineup next year given the graduation of forward Ben Bowden.
The cupboard is full for coach Mike Carr, and though his young team ended the season by, in his own admittance, getting “outplayed” by Central Catholic, Carr expressed enthusiasm in what his team learned over the course of their unexpected, impressive run to the Division 1 North final.
“Central Catholic just took it to us. We haven’t been out-toughed all season," Carr said. "They defended better than anyone we’ve seen all season. And that’s what took us out of our rhythm, we’re based on turning people over, and we just weren’t able to do it."