WORCESTER, Mass. --- Senior forward Casey McLaughlin was in eighth grade in 2009 when Central Catholic defeated Shepherd Hill 67-62 to win the Division 1 state championship. After three straight years of watching Merrimack Valley Conference rival Andover hoist the state championship trophy McLaughlin and her Central Catholic teammates seized their opportunity on Saturday night at the DCU Center in Worcester.
The Stonehill-bound McLaughlin scored a game-high 27 points and pulled down 14 rebounds to lead Central Catholic (22-5) to the MIAA Division 1 state championship as they defeated Holy Name (23-3), 53-48.
“I wanted it so bad,” McLaughlin said after the game. “We all wanted it. None of us had been this far in the playoffs ever. This was my senior season and I just wanted to go out with a bang.”
McLaughlin, who never stops working on both ends of the court, found her angles to the basket as she repeatedly beat the Holy Name defense to the right and finished at the basket.
“She is so quick,” Holy Name head coach Barry Finneron said of McLaughlin. “She catches it and gives you that little head fake to the middle and then she is down the lane.”
Central Catholic jumped out to an early 17-8 lead after one quarter of play as the tandem of junior point guard Courtney Walsh (13 points) and McLaughlin accounted for 13 of Central’s 17 opening quarter points.
Holy Name, led by junior point guard Aryauna Perez (12 points), fought back in the second quarter as they cut the deficit to six and gained momentum with under 10 seconds remaining in the first half.
With less than 10 seconds on the clock Central Catholic junior guard Alex Nagri would come up with one of the biggest plays of the game. The 5-foot-2 Nagri stole the ball and found junior forward Amanda Williams (10 points, 10 rebounds) for a successful And-1 conversion with 6.7 seconds remaining in the half. The play helped shift the momentum and give Central Catholic a 31-22 lead at the half.
“I know that I am obviously short,” Nagri said. “They had some shot blockers and some big people so after the steal I saw Amanda and I knew my job was to get it to her and she did a great job of catching and scoring it.”
Holy Name junior center Brianna Frias (six points, 11 rebounds) came out of the half time break and showed why she is one of the top talents in the state as she was aggressive on the glass and sparked the Holy Name effort on the defensive end of the floor. The staunch defensive effort by the Naps would help cut the Central Catholic lead to six points at 42-36 heading into the fourth quarter.
Holy Name sophomore guard Gabrielle Guenther (11 points) nailed two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter but Central would answer back as Walsh, McLaughlin and senior guard Darion Summers made big plays down the stretch to ensure the victory.
Summers scored her only two points of the game on two clutch free throws down the stretch to help seal the win.
“I don’t even know how to put it into words,” Central Catholic head coach Susan Downer said. “I am just so proud of them. They dug, made plays when we needed to, stuck to our game plan, we switched some things up in the third quarter, it is just amazing.”
Arms distance: As hard as Holy Name fought throughout the game they could never cut the Central lead to under five points. Each time the Naps would hit a big shot to shift the momentum Central would stay poised and answer back with a basket of their own.
“I think our transition play is the best part of our game,” Nagri said. “I think that we just stuck with our plan, got key defensive stops and pushed the ball in transition and that is what ended up helping us keep the lead.”
The future: It may not be too far fetched to think that we could see this match-up again in next year’s final. The future is very bright for both Central Catholic and Holy Name as each team graduates only three players from their current rosters.
Central graduates one of the state’s best forwards in McLaughlin, along with Summers and guard Allison Tierney. They return four starters in Walsh, Williams, Nagri, and guard Caitlin Dell’Orfano, who are all veteran juniors.
Holy Name also returns four of their starters in Frias, Perez, sophomore forward Lauren Willard and junior guard Ama Biney (11 points, four steals).
Holy Name graduates starting forward Malissa Saad (eight points, eight rebounds) along with center Megan Thornton (two blocks) and guard Eva Katana.
“Malissa Saad is just awesome,” Finneron added. “She just carried us at times and as a senior she played great for us, especially in the third quarter.”