LAWRENCE, Mass. -– In a Merrimack Valley Conference showdown featuring two of the premier teams in the state, you knew it would come down to the end, and possibly the last possession.
That is exactly what happened as No. 6 Billerica (8-1) was able to sneak away with a win over No. 9 Central Catholic (7-2), 57-55 on the Raiders’ home court.
Central Catholic trailed 56-55 with 13.2 seconds remaining and the ball at half court. The Raiders got the ball to their leader, senior Casey McLaughlin, on the right block. But Indians center Joslyn King was up for the challenge, blocking McLaughlin’s shot attempt, giving her team a hard-earned win.
“I didn’t want to foul her, but I knew I needed to do something. So I figured I just needed to try and get a hand on the ball,” said King, one of the Indians’ five seniors.
King’s block was almost as dramatic as the possession prior down the other end of the court. Billerica had the ball under their own hoop trailing 55-54 with 17.2 seconds to play.
Although the play didn’t go as planned, the ball ended up in junior Shannon Hayes’ hands under the basket, and her lay-in gave the Indians their first lead of the game since early in the first quarter.
“The play was designed to go to (Brittany) Lamanno on the outside for a jump shot or if she could, get to the basket," Billerica coach Chris Doneski said. "Our second option was a dump down to our center Joslyn (King), but I’ll take it anyway we can get it.”
Billerica’s last lead before the basket was just over four minutes into the game at 6-4. The Indians battled back all game long, cutting the lead to one three times during the final quarter until Hayes’ hoop in the final seconds gave them the lead for good with Lonanno adding a free throw in the final seconds to seal the win.
“I thought they showed a lot of resiliently as we were down virtually the whole game,” Doneski said. “They kept fighting until we clawed it out there at the end.”
Despite being down virtually the entire game, King had an inkling her team would somehow pull out a win.
“In the back of my mind I thought we were going to win, but there was always a little doubt,” she said. “We played hard and came out with a win. That’s all that counts.”
The Raiders led 17-11 after the opening quarter, 33-25 at halftime and 43-40 entering the fourth, but finally poor rebounding caught up to them and too many second chance points allowed the Indians to climb back into the game.
“The bottom line is we gave up way too many second chances tonight,” said Central Catholic coach Sue Downer. “The boards absolutely killed us. You can’t do that. Those were some crucial points we gave up in the game. Those can’t happen.”
It was a balanced attack for the Indians as seven players recorded points. Leading the way was senior forward Danielle Nickerson, who finished with 15 points, followed by Hayes who had 13.
The matchup was a rematch of last year’s first round of the MIAA tournament where Central beat the Indians 63-57. Billerica wasn’t necessarily looking for revenge, as they just wanted to get a win.
“It’s great for us, I mean we had a great season last year,” Doneski said. “We weren’t thinking about payback, we were just thinking of going out there and getting a win against a good team. We’re tied for first place right now, so we knew how important it was to steal one on their home court.”
Downer and Central Catholic knew coming in it was going to be a hard fought battle.
“A lot of these girls play together and know each other so we knew it was going to be a battle,” she said. “It’s two good teams fighting. I’d like to think we’d play multiple times and my team would win multiple times, but it’s going to be a battle every time we play them. There were some things down the stretch we didn’t do well. We have to do better to learn how to win these games.”
Judging by how well both teams played Friday night, one shouldn’t rule out a similar outcome next time around.
MCLAUGHLIN LEADS CENTRAL
Senior captain Casey McLaughlin had a tremendous game for the Raiders despite the loss. She finished with a game-high 23 points, 10 coming in the final stanza. McLaughlin recorded all but nine of Central’s points in the second half.
“She’s very determined this season to do everything she can to win,” Downer said. “She is extremely upset in the locker room and she has every right to be. She is very emotional, and I cannot say enough how hard she works and the leadership she gives us every game. She wants to win so bad and we have to learn from these and figure out what we can do better.”
Junior guard Caitlin Dell’Ordano contributed 11 points (all in the first half) in the loss.
Although Joslyn King only finished with eight points, she battled all game long, going toe-to-toe with McLaughlin. She even took an elbow to the mouth early in the fourth quarter, forcing her to the bench until the bleeding stopped.
She didn’t sit for long as she was right back in the game, eventually blocking McLaughlin’s last second shot, sending her team home with a win.
"It was hard (going back in), but I knew my teammates needed me so I had to be in there,” she said.
This is King’s fourth year on varsity and her toughness is something her and the coaches have been working on since her freshman season.
“She started out on varsity as a freshman and the biggest thing for her is we tried to install a little more toughness in her and she really showed that tonight,” Doneski said. “She played really hard and got banged up pretty good there at the end, but she really helped us down the stretch.”