LOWELL, Mass. -– After going scoreless until the 3:52 mark in the first quarter, Lynn English picked up the pace outscoring Central Catholic 29-13 for the remainder of the first half to take a 29-18 lead at the break.
Against most other high school teams, they would be able to ride their momentum and run away with a win, but not against the defending MIAA Division 1 state champions.
Central came storming back and even took a one-point lead on two occasions in the fourth quarter before the Bulldogs locked down on defense, enabling them to escape with a 52-49 win in the MIAA Division 1 North final.
“We watched Central Catholic comeback three times the same way and we said to the girls, we’re up 11 or 12, but it’s not safe with Central Catholic,” Lynn English coach Fred Hogan said. “We didn’t change our defense until the very end when we decided to go man-to-man, which was a staple for us. We shut them at the end and we made some free throws down the stretch.”
Central Catholic outscored Lynn English 20-11 in the third to trail by just two points entering the fourth, setting up a tremendous finish. Central senior Amanda Williams gave the Red Raiders their first lead since early in the first quarter on an and-one to make it 43-42 with just over five minutes remaining.
After trading basket with the score tied at 48 and 50.1 seconds left, Lynn English senior Catherine Stinson hit 1-of-2 free throws to give her team a one-point lead. The Bulldogs then bared down on defense, getting four consecutive stops and then making their free throws as Stinson hit 1-of-2 again with 25.2 ticks left, then senior Deidra Newson hit two with 11.5 seconds left to send Lynn English to the D1 Eastern Mass. final.
“I think they made some big defensive stops when they needed to and we didn’t rebound the ball when we needed to,” Central Catholic coach Susan Downer said.
Central Catholic was able to climb back into the game by solving English’s 2-3 zone, which gave them fits in the first half. They hit eight total three’s -– led by senior Courtney Walsh with three, and senior Alex Nagri with two.
The Red Radiers were led by their seniors, Williams, Walsh and Nagri who finished with 14, 14 and 11 points respectively to end their careers at Central.
“I just can’t speak enough about them, just amazing young women,” Downer said. “It’s just a tough way for me to see them end their careers.”
Lynn English was led by Stinson who finished with a game-high 22 points and Diondra Woumn with 11.
“Senior captains came through today,” Hogan said. “These kids work so hard and wanted it so bad. I’m just so happy for them, very happy for the kids.”
For Hogan and his team, they were finally able to beat a Merrimack Valley team and make it to the Garden for a EMass final.
“The last four state champions have come from the MVC (Merrimack Valley Conference),” he said. “Central Catholic ended our season two times....That team is a fighter over there in Central Catholic and they have a special, special group of kids in there.”
The Bulldogs will now play Braintree in Monday’s D1 EMass final at the TD Garden –- a place the Lynn English seniors have dreamed about since they were freshman.
“Ever since these kids were freshman we said we wanted to play in a big building,” Hogan said. “They got that big building, now they are going to a real big building and we’re the home team because we’re undefeated. We get to sit on the Celtics bench and they are going to love that too.”
BRAINTREE ON TAP
Lynn English (25-0) will now move on and play Braintree (22-1) in Monday’s D1 EMass final. The Bulldogs will only have one day to prepare, but that isn’t anything new as they did the same thing before playing Central.
“We got one day. Just like for Central Catholic, we only get one day to get ready,” Hogan said. “We’re not going to do much at practice, just go over names and numbers. At this point in the season everyone has bang ups, the kids were tired. They just worked so hard.”
Hogan knows how good Braintree is and is ready for a dogfight.
“Braintree is an unbelievable basketball team and that’s what happens in the state tournament,” he said. “You have to move onto the next game and Braintree is the No. 1 team in the state. They are big. They are tall. They have everything. We’re going to have to bring our 'A' game again.”