Boston High School: Casey McLaughlin
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.”
BOSTON -– Central Catholic girls' basketball went right after early season state champion favorite Braintree tonight.
The Raiders (21-5) looked for quick counter attacks and a heavy in-the-paint assault to put a tall Wamps' squad in foul trouble. Central handed Braintree (24-3) its second straight Division 1 Eastern Mass. championship loss with a 55-51 win the at TD Garden.
The Raiders will play Central/West champ Holy Name (22-2) in Worcester's DCU Center on Saturday.
Central lead for the final 19:09 as it created turnovers out of its newly instituted 2-3 zone and forced 17 fouls from Braintree. Ahead only 51-49 with 1:19 left in the game, junior Courtney Walsh cut into the lane and underhanded a pass along the to junior Amanda Williams along the baseline for a layup to maintain control. Braintree's Ashley Russell got the throw in quickly to the opposite basket on the rebuttal and set up fellow sophomore Molly Reagan for a 53-51 layup with 51.8 seconds left.
The Wamps had one more chance to equalize, but Williams punched the ball out from behind on a cut by Braintree sophomore Bridget Herlihy as senior Casey McLaughlin settled it.
“(Coach) always yells at me for reaching in and it is always a foul,” said Williams. “She went by me before and I was not going to let it happen again.”
Walsh nailed a pair of foul shots to seal the win at 55-51. Walsh lead the Raiders with 19 points, while McLaughlin buried 18 points and grappled 13 rebounds.
Central was 17 of 22 from the line.
“Never as big as those,” said Walsh. “I just tell myself this is what you play for and just put them in. I had to do it for my team and I had to do it for myself.”
“If your going to get to these games the thing that is going to change the game is free throws,” added Braintree coach Kristen McDonnell.
Trailing by as much as 12 in the fourth quarter, Braintree switched its player alignments on the press and cut the margin to two within the final two minutes.
McLaughlin nailed a 10-foot floater and drew a point from the charity strike to give CC the 51-39 advantage. Scoring the next 10 points, Wamps' Herlihy ducked a defender in the paint and finish a short shot to start the run at 6:07.
Herlihy flicked a down-low pass to Reagan at 1:29 to bring the score to 51-49.
“We were forced to (change up the matchups), because of foul trouble,” said McDonnell. “We did not come out as hard on our man-to-man (and) we tried to pack it in within the three-point line. We tried to take our taller girl Molly (Reagan) off their big other big girl instead of in the middle.”
Tied 26-26 with 4:51 left in the first half, Central pulled ahead for good with a rebound and pair of one-and-one foul shots from Walsh. The Raiders outscored Braintree 11 to two in the next 4:37, including a three-pointer from Walsh assisted by junior Alexandra Nagri for a 37-28 lead early in the third quarter.
“We have never played a 2-3 zone,” said Downer. “We had one day to prepare yesterday. They adjusted (and) they jumped to the ball.”
On a team that boast two girls over six feet tall, 5-foot-9 Russell has been a ball hawk on the boards all season. Russell dropped 17 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, while Reagan scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds.
The Wamps -- who lost 54-39 to three-time defending Division 1 state champ Andover last year at this stage -- will return nine players including its four highest scorers from tonight.
“(Russell) never gives up”, said McDonnell. “The second it leaves her hand she is going to get it again. I never thought we got in a rhythm in the first half.”
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.”
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -– It was only fitting that the championship game of the 2012 Greater Lawrence Girls' Christmas Tournament came down to the final shot.
Trailing 44-43 North Andover had the tall task of going the full length of the court with eight seconds remaining in the game. After guard Morgan Lumb received the inbound pass she advanced the ball up the court and found a sprinting Megan Collins, who beat the buzzer and gave the Scarlet Knights a 45-44 tournament championship victory.
“Speechless,” exclaimed an overwhelmed Collins after the game. “I was taking the ball out so I was not really expecting that. I just ran down the middle and was wide open. We really wanted to win this one.”
Tournament MVP Lumb (19 points) proved why she is one of the State’s best guards as the Hartford-bound captain came up with two game changing 3-pointers in the second half comeback. Her first trifecta, with three minutes remaining in the third quarter, gave North Andover their first lead of the second half at 28-27.
“Whoever was open I had to get the ball to,” Lumb said after the game. “ I knew I was probably not going to shoot it that last time but Megan flashed to the middle, I hit her with a pass and thank god she made it.”
“When we play our defense it makes our offense,” Lumb said. “That was our whole goal, to make them turn the ball over and make them get flustered. That is what we did.”
Central Catholic received strong games from their all-tournament stars Casey McLaughlin and Courtney Walsh. The Stonehill-bound McLaughlin scored 17 points to go along with a game-high 11 rebounds. Walsh scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half after the junior point guard got into early foul trouble.
McLaughlin had another stellar game as the 6-foot senior scored eight points in the fourth quarter and hit the go-ahead shot to give Central Catholic the lead with eight seconds remaining.
Lumb scored a game-high 19 points and also did a great job on the defensive end of the court as the hard-nosed guard had four steals and three blocks in the win.
Role Players: Collins was instrumental off the bench for the Scarlet Knights as she scored nine points to go with eight rebounds and countless hustle plays.
Senior point guard Pam Coufos also had a strong game as she provided good ball pressure on Walsh and totaled four steals on the evening.
Senior forward Michaela Mello and her junior sister Mackenzie Mello provided valuable post-defense and much needed rebounding against a taller Central Catholic front line.
“I have to give a lot of credit to my inside players, Michaela and her sister Mackenzie and Megan Collins,” North Andover head coach Susan Breen said. “They did a great job limiting them to one shot and they did a nice job making them work for everything.”
Sophomore Leah Chittick (six points) and junior guard Christina Cataldo (two points) also made plays on both ends for the Scarlet Knights.
Defense wins championships: In their first season as a member of the Merrimack Valley Conference the North Andover Scarlet Knights certainly sent a message that they are a top contender.
North Andover’s ability to defend the post along with strong perimeter play sets them apart from their competition early in the season.
“It was a defensive battle on both sides tonight,” Breen said. “What a great game and I am just thrilled for the kids. This is a game that that they will remember forever.”
All-tournament: Lumb took home the Most Valuable Player honors for the tournament. Collins and Alex Nagri both earned the coaches awards for North Andover and Central Catholic respectively.
The remainder of the all-tournament team consisted of Michaela Mello, McLaughlin, Walsh, Devon Caveney of Andover, and Emily Hickey of Salem (N.H.)
Caveney hit an impressive seven 3-pointers in a 64-44 win for Andover over Salem (N.H.) in the Third Place game played prior to the Championship.
Methuen and Pinkerton (N.H.) also picked up wins in early tournament action on Sunday.
Central Catholic (4-0) led 23-16 at the half in a first half that was dominated by the inside presence of Central Catholic senior Casey McLaughlin and Lowell freshman Alexi Schecter.
“We knew we did not play the way we wanted to play in the first half,” Central Catholic head coach Susan Downer said. “That was the first time we played against Schecter and she is very good. We focused on fronting her and helping from behind and I think we did a lot better job in the second half.”
McLaughlin and Central Catholic came out and turned up the defensive intensity in the second half as they extended their defense and caused numerous turnovers in the third quarter resulting in a 12-point Central lead after three quarters.
“We knew we had to pick it up in the second half,” McLauglin said after the game. “We just breathed and focused in the locker room and came out and turned up the defensive effort.”
McLaughlin, who walks off the bus with a double-double, led Central Catholic on the evening with 18 points and 20 rebounds. Her relentless effort on the offensive glass and on the defensive end of the floor proved to be too much for Lowell (3-1) to handle down the stretch.
The fourth quarter would prove to be the most dominant for Central as they outscored Lowell 16-3 in the final frame to earn their fourth victory of the season.
Central Catholic also received strong games from junior forward Amanda Williams (11 rebounds) and junior point guard Courtney Walsh (nine points, four assists).
Veteran team: Despite just having three seniors on their roster Central Catholic returns their starting lineup and a very experienced veteran group.
“Our intensity has been great at practices and we have worked very hard all pre-season,” Downer said of her veteran team.
The Stonehill-bound McLaughlin, one of two seniors and four-year varsity veteran, echoed her coaches thoughts.
“We have a very strong team this year,” McLauglin said. “I think we have a very fast team and we are always looking to push the ball. We want to win every game, starting with this tournament, as we have never won this one.”
Lowell’s fab frosh: Schecter was very impressive for Lowell in the loss. Reminding many in the gym of former Central Catholic standout Katie Zenevitch (Boston College) Schecter showed a mature post-game to go with an aggressive defensive mentality.
Battling double teams and fighting through physical defenders all night Schecter showed why she will be one of the most talked about players in Massachusetts for years to come.
“She made a huge difference in our game plan,” Downer said. “You have to be very smart when you play against someone like her. She is agile and has a good knack for the basketball.
Schecter finished the game with a stat line of 15 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
In other tournament action: In earlier action Andover defeated Lawrence 60-40. Andover’s win sets up a semi-final match-up with rival Central Catholic. Senior guard Devon Caveney led Andover with 17 points.
North Andover and Hartford-bound senior Morgan Lumb defeated Methuen 52-32 in another semifinal contest. Lumb, who is one of the most explosive guards in Massachusetts, led the Scarlet Knights with 20 points.
Pinkerton Academy (N.H.) and Salem (N.H.) play in the nightcap and make up the final two teams in the annual eight-team tournament.
Check back with us later in the preseason for our first Top 25 poll and our Preseason All-State Teams. But for now, here are the storylines to watch, and our projected Super Teams.
ESPN Boston High Schools editor
Reading Machine Rages On
Had it not been for Andover and superstar Nicole Boudreau, the Division 2 state champ Reading Rockets would have been garnering far more attention last season. The Rockets were one of the state's most dominant forces from wire to wire, going 25-0 en route to the program's first state title. They were one of the state's most explosive offenses (64.3 points per game), and blew out nearly everyone -- their average margin of victory was 27.1, with their only threats coming in the North final (49-46 over Arlington Catholic) and Eastern Mass. Final (71-64 over Scituate, in overtime).
The conversation in Reading starts with Richmond-bound guard/forward Olivia Healy, a two-time ESPN Boston All-State and one of the early favorites for our Miss Basketball award. The 5-foot-10 senior can play any position on the floor, excels on the boards, and is as physical as they come. But every superstar needs a supporting cast, and you can't do much better than Assumption-bound guard Morgan O'Brien in that regard.
With Andover expected to level off following the graduation of one of the MIAA's best ever (Boudreau), we're most likely looking at Reading starting the year at No. 1 in our statewide girls' poll, which will be released later this preseason.
Fierce, Fierce City A
Over the offseason, the Boston City League voted overwhelmingly to split into three tiers for boys basketball, based on competitive balance. And with it, the city's "A" division instantly becomes the state's toughest league. City A is comprised of Brighton, New Mission, Madison Park, Charlestown and East Boston -- all teams expected to start the season in our statewide Top 25 poll -- and with the new scheduling setup, we're looking at appointment viewing in the city nearly every night.
Charlestown-Eastie, Mission-Brighton and Eastie-Madison are the city's three fiercest basketball rivalries. Now, on top of those series, we're getting two installments of Mission-Madison, Brighton-Eastie, Charlestown-Mission, Madison-Brighton, and so forth. Brighton and MP figure to be the favorites here, but this is going to be an absolute grinder of a league. Of the highest degree.
Anyone that watched the University of Kentucky last season can tell you how valuable Anthony Davis was despite an unpolished offensive game. Heck, he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four despite going just 1-for-10 from the field in the championship game.
Last year our Defensive Player of the Year award went to a guard, Stoughton's Marcus Middleton, but I'm looking at a number of frontcourt shot-blockers to contend for the award. Any conversation about swatters in the MIAA has to begin with New Mission's Isshiah Coleman, but keep an eye on Cambridge's Fredens Deneus, a 6-foot-6 junior who is expected to have a breakout season. Rockland's Tyler Gibson, a UMass-Lowell commit, will alter many a shot in the South Shore League. Also keep an eye on Holy Name's Dan Kegbeh, only 6-foot-1 but blessed with some impressive ups.
On the girls' side, Holy Name's Brianna Frias is my early favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. The 6-foot junior committed to Providence over the summer, and averaged six blocks per game last season as the Naps went 20-0 in the regular season and captured the No. 1 seed in Division 1 Central.
Across the state, there are a number of Class of 2015 players to get excited about. Springfield Central's Chris Baldwin has yet to play in an MIAA game, having played his freshman season down the street at Hillside School, but he is already garnering significant hype. Wakefield's Bruce Brown showed freak athletic ability at times during his freshman campaign for the Warriors, and figures to be regarded as one of the state's elite by season's end. Same for Mansfield's Brendan Hill and St. John's of Shrewsbury's Davon Jones.
Central Catholic junior Tyler Nelson is on the short list as everyone's favorite shooter, and deservedly so, but Newton North sophomore guard Tommy Mobley is as automatic as they come. He plays a different role for the Tigers than his older brother, 6-foot-8 Yale forward Greg Kelley, did several years ago. But when you talk about the elite shooters in the state, Mobley has the potential to be in that conversation.
Also keep an eye on Falmouth guard Craig Green, a three-sport star who's already on the radar for track and field. He turned many heads last June, when he placed third in New Englands in the 100-meter dash. He has run as fast as a 10.6 in the event so far in his young career.
On the girls' side, we all know the capabilities of Braintree's Molly Reagan. The 6-foot-1 center was a key cog in the Wamps' run to the Division 1 South title last March, and she already holds Division 1 offers. On the flip side, Archbishop Williams' Jaylen Williams committed to Penn State this past summer despite playing limited minutes for the Bishops.
But the potential speaks for itself. For one, Williams is 6-foot-3 and long. For another, there is plenty of pedigree. She is the daughter of former New England Patriots defensive lineman Brent Williams, and the younger sister of two high Division 1 college football players -- North Carolina offensive tackle Brennan Williams, and Ohio State linebacker Camren Williams.
Open Waters in the North
I'm not sure which will be the more interesting race in the North -- Division 1 girls, or Division 2 boys.
In Division 1 girls, we're looking at a number of contenders in the North. Nobody's counting out Andover in spite of the talent graduated, but it should be an interesting race in the Merrimack Valley Conference with Central Catholic and Billerica figuring to start the year high in many polls. Lincoln-Sudbury will be another contender, led by Lafayette-bound forward Ashley Lutz, as will be Lynn English and reigning Northeastern Conference MVP Catherine Stinson. The ultimate wild card might be Cambridge, led by Georgia Tech-bound guard Donnaizha Fountain. And don't count out Somerville, either, with Indira Evans in the fold.
Division 2 North will be an interesting bracket. New Mission returns a strong core, but so does Brighton, behind returning All-State guard Malik James, forwards Nick Simpson and Prince Unaegbu, and one of the state's best shooters, Daivon Edwards. Ditto Wakefield, with Bruce Brown expected to have a breakout year alongside seniors Kendall Hamilton and Mikol Blake-Green.
G - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
G - Malik James, Jr., Brighton
F - Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central
F - Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland
G - Donnaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge
G - Sarah Hope, Sr., Medway
G/F - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading
F - Ashley Lutz, Sr., Lincoln-Sudbury
C - Molly Reagan, Soph., Braintree
Editor-in-Chief, New England Prep Stars
Can Central Catholic represent Eastern Massachusetts in the state finals this season in Division 1? Central returns a battle tested and veteran group that represented EMass Division 1 as the top seed in last season’s MIAA tournament. Central boasts key returnees Tyler Nelson, Joel Berroa, Doug Gemmell and Nick Cambio.
Veteran Sophomore Talent
Mansfield’s Brendan Hill and Wakefield’s Bruce Brown are two of the top returning players in Massachusetts. They are also only sophomores. Both sophomores started and lead their respective teams deep into tournament play as freshman and we can expect even bigger seasons from both this year.
Massachusetts has a very strong group of point guards this season but the depth in the frontcourt is down in part of the continued flood of players to prep schools. New Mission (Nate Anderson and Isshiah Coleman) and Central Catholic (Gemmell and Cambio) are at the top of the frontcourt ranks but look out for North Andover and Charlestown to also have improved front lines with the development of returning veterans as well as additions of new talent to the mix.
It will be impossible to replace two-time Miss Basketball Nicole Boudreau (Boston College), but Andover does return senior Devon Caveany, and the glue of the squad in top defenders Jackie and Rebecca Alois. Expect some more classic Central Catholic and Andover battles for years to come in the MVC.
Special time for City of Braintree
The city of Braintree boasts some the best young female talent in the state, with Braintree High School and Archbishop Williams sharing city quarters.
Braintree returns Coach of the Year Kristen McDonnell and a lineup featuring returning senior Rachel Norton, and sophomores Ashley Russell, Bridget Herlihy, and Molly Reagan. Archbishop Williams returns Southern New Hampshire commits Olivia Conrad and Sara Ryan along with Alana Gilmer and Penn State commit Jaylen Williams.
G - Bruce Brown, Soph., Wakefield
G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
G - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
F - Brendan Hill, Soph., Mansfield
F - Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central
G - Kayla Burton, Sr., Newton South
G - Donaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge Rindge
G - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading
G - Tajanay Veiga-Lee, Sr., Fenway
F - Saliah Serrette, Sr., Weston
ESPN Boston correspondent
Springfield Central Is Back
Saying that Kamari Robinson and sophomore transfer Chris Baldwin are the best frontcourt in the state is no stretch. Robinson helped lead Central to last year’s division 1 state title, averaging a double double while the Golden Eagles went undefeated against MIAA opponents. The 6-foot-7 Baldwin is already drawing in interest from high major division 1 college programs. A strong, athletic forward who is known for his rebounding and sky-rising dunks, he’ll make quite a duo with Robinson, a member of last year’s ESPN Boston All-State Team.
Senior Cornelius Tyson could be primed for a big year as well. The 6-foot-1 guard made quite a showing in last year’s state championship game against Brockton, knocking down four 3-pointers in the second half to lead Central to the Division 1 title.
Can anyone knock off St. John's of Shrewsbury?
The Inter-High has two legitimate Top 25 teams in Worcester South and Doherty. Will this finally be the year that St. John’s doesn’t run away with the Division 1 tournament in Central Mass.? The Pioneers have won five consecutive Central Mass. Division 1 championships, and return yet another talented core from last year’s team. Sophomore point guard Davon Jones has already asserted himself as one of the best guards in the western half of the state, juniors Charlie Murray and TJ Kelley will be a tough duo on the post, and 6-foot-5 senior Ken Harrington is one of the best shooters in central Mass.
Brighton looking for revenge
Last year’s loss to Mahar in the Division 2 state title game was demoralizing to say the least for the Bengals, but another year of maturity should help Brighton come tournament time this year. Junior playmaking guard Malik James will be one of the very best in the MIAA, and he’ll have plenty of weapons around him with forward Nick Simpson and guards Theo Oribhabor and Daivon Edwards. The Boston City League will be a rock fight this year, but battle-tested Brighton will reap the benefits of a tough schedule come tournament time.
New Mission young, but talented
Sophomore guards Greg Bridges, Randy Glenn, and Juwan Gooding will make for quite a show this year when put together with 6-foot-5 forward Isshiah Coleman and 6-foot-7 forward Nate Anderson. The Titans will be young, with less experience at the guard position than many of their opponents, but when all is said and done this could end up being the most talented team in the state this year.
Who will emerge in D3?
Picking favorites in Division 3 is like splitting hairs. Wareham has Darien Fernandez, a waterbug considered one of the best point guards in the state. Danvers returns four starters from last year’s state title team. Quaboag has one of the best inside-out duos in D3 with Thomas Jankins and sophomore Jake Wisniewski. Hopedale has a deep, versatile lineup. Whitinsville Christian has won three straight central Mass. championships. Out in Pittsfield, St. Joseph Central returns the majority of their core from last year’s state finals team—including scoring guard Taverick "Tank" Roberson. Any of these teams could emerge and make a deep run into the tournament in February and March.
G - Malik James, Jr., Brighton
G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
F - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
F - Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central
F - Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland
G - Kayla Burton, Sr., Newton South
G - Sarah Hope, Sr., Medway
G - Donnaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge
F - Casey McLaughlin, Sr., Central Catholic
F - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading
To whet your appetite for the 2012-13 season, here are my early projections on the state's must-see teams to watch:
Central Catholic - Plenty of talent returning with this squad, which captured the No. 1 overall spot in Division 1 North despite missing Luis Puello (ankle) for most of the season. ESPN Boston All-State guard Tyler Nelson returns as one of the state’s top shooters, but the Raiders also return all three of their regular bigs in Joel Berroa, Doug Gemmell and Nick Cambio.
New Mission – Apparently it’s never too early for bulletin board fodder, because head coach Cory McCarthy is already making some barnstorming rounds, telling ESPNBoston.com this afternoon that if the Titans don’t win the Division 2 state title next year, “I should be fired.” Bold, yes, but it’s hard not to like a lineup of Isshiah Coleman, Nate Anderson, Greg Bridges, Damion Smith and Shaquan Murray. There is some promising talent in those ranks.
Mansfield – Folks are talking about the Hornets being one of the South region’s top teams in two years’ time, between promising freshman Brendan Hill and sophomore Michael Hershman. I’m of the camp that believes with those two versatile parts, paired with a terrific coach in Mike Vaughan, the future is now.
Taunton – Shaquille O’Neal Davis. That’s legitimately his full name, and one you certainly will not forget by this time next year, for reasons that have nothing to do with The Big Aristotle.
West Springfield – Terriers return virtually everyone, including Chris Lipscomb, Paul Bessette, Andy McNulty, Dewey King, and leading scorer Riyadh Asad. West Side is the early favorite next year in Division 1 West.
St. John’s (Shrewsbury) – Junior transfer Tarik Octave was one of the nice surprises of the playoffs, and freshman Davon Jones has shades of former Pioneers great David White all over him (Doesn’t hurt that Jones was also the Pioneers’ starter at safety last fall, too). A boat load of underclassmen return, including Ken Harrington and T.J. Kelley, which should more than make up for the graduation of Matt Palecki.
Danvers – Falcons graduate 6-foot-7 center George Merry, an ESPN Boston All-State selection, but return some terrific guards. Nick McKenna, Nick Bates, Eric Martin and Dan Connors can all shoot the ball, and are perfectly-suited for John Walsh’s four-out offensive system. My early pick to repeat at D3 champs.
BC High – Eagles return what ought to be one of the state’s best backcourts in point guard Charles Collins and ESPN Boston All-State swingman Jameilen Jones. Throw into the mix one of the region’s best basketball minds in Bill Loughnane (he of four state titles) and it’s hard to think of the Eagles as anything but a favorite in the South.
Springfield Central – A plethora of talent graduates, including Chris Prophet, Lee Turner, Jevaughn McMilian, and ESPN Boston Super Teamer Tyrell Springer. But All-State forward Kamari Robinson should have another terrific season, and the way Cornelius Tyson exploded onto the scene in the Division 1 state final makes us all wonder if he’s about to realize the potential that many in the Springfield area have been talking about for so long.
Stoughton – Super Teamer Aaron Calixte and Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Middleton formed the state’s best backcourt in 2011-12. If all goes as planned, they’ll be well-equipped to defend that notion next season.
Wareham – Vikings might not endure an unbeaten regular season again next year. But another year of All-State point guard Darien Fernandez means they’re not going anywhere.
Braintree – Wamps started three freshmen this year: Ashley Russell, Bridget Herlihy, and 6-foot-1 center Molly Reagan. Expect them in conversation for state title contention from now until their time runs out in 2015.
Archbishop Williams – Ditto the Bishops, who have two 6-foot freshmen to look forward to the next three seasons. Add in sophomores Olivia Conrad and Leah Spencer, and their fiery mouthpiece Sara Ryan, and this could be another top-five team come December 2012.
Reading – The Rockets made a flawless run through the Division 2 gauntlet, winning their first Division 2 state title in school history as one of two final unbeaten squads in Massachusetts. Two-time Middlesex MVP and ESPN Boston All-State Olivia Healy returns, as does guard Morgan O’Brien.
Andover – Golden Warriors are expected to come down to Earth with the graduation of two-time ESPN Boston Miss Basketball, Nicole Boudreau, and UConn lacrosse commit Ally Fazio. What might be overlooked amidst Andover’s unprecedented run to a third straight state title is that there were plenty of terrific complimentary backcourt pieces in the underclass.
Central Catholic – Raiders treaded water after some injuries early on. But once junior forward Casey McLaughlin was back to full strength, they made a run all the way to the Division 1 North semifinals. Have to imagine they’ll be in conversation again next year.
“We were concerned with them coming in as the No. 12 seed and playing so well, beating two very good teams in Billerica and Westford on the road,” said Tildsley.
“I am really proud of my kids,” said Tildsley. “There is so much pressure on these kids with everyone talking three-peat, three-peat. They are just taking it a game at a time and coming to every game focused and ready to play.”
Andover (24-0) set the tempo early as they extended their full court pressure defense right off the opening tip. The pressure and aggressive ball denial was effective as Andover held Central Catholic (14-9) scoreless until the two minute mark in the first quarter. Andover led 11-2 until the first quarter buzzer sounded when Central Catholic guard Courtney Walsh drained a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 11-5 after one quarter of play.
“We came out and stymied them with our defensive pressure,” said Tildsley. “That was the whole key to that game. We had to come out during those first four minutes of the game and really play and we did.”
The offensive star on the night was Andover junior guard Devon Caveney, who scored 12 of her 16 points in the first half.
“It is all about confidence,” said Tildsley of his junior guard.
Andover’s Nicole Boudreau saw constant double teams on the evening as Central aggressively tried to take her out of the game with varying gimmick defenses and aggressive ball pressure.
“They were triple-teaming Nicole so one of us had to be open,” said Caveney. “I knew I had to hit those shots if we wanted to get the lead going and I did.”
Caveney converted three separate three-point play opportunities, with the most impressive being a baseline 3-pointer to start the second half that she drained while hitting the floor after contact. She made the free throw, completing the four-point play, which continued the second half momentum for the Golden Warriors and put the game well in hand.
Central Catholic received strong efforts on the night from junior center Casey McLaughlin (10 points, 13 rebounds), sophomore forward Amanda Williams (seven points, 11 rebounds) and sophomore guard Walsh (nine points).
Miss Stat Sheet: Boudreau definitely knows how to fill up a stat sheet as the reigning ESPN Boston Miss Basketball found ways to dominate the game without having one of her typical high scoring evenings.
Boudreau scored a game-high 17 points, pulled down 12 rebounds, dished out five assists to go along with six steals and five blocked shots on the evening.
“Nicole made some great passes tonight.” said Tildsley.
Two of her best passes came in pressure situations with three Central defenders draped all over her. She had the presence of mind and strength to thread the ball, both times, through the entire defense to open teammates under the basket on the opposite side of the court.
Central’s Youth: Central Catholic will only be better when the ball is thrown up for the 2012-2013 season opener. They return all but two seniors and the future looks as bright as the past has for the Raiders.
McLaughlin is only a junior and has been playing regularly since her freshman year. Walsh and Williams are both sophomores. They also return sophomore defensive specialist Alex Nagri, junior sixth-woman Darion Summers and five other underclassmen who all saw playing time at various points in the season.
Another Title Run: The elephant in the room for the Andover girl’s basketball program is their impressive late season undefeated record and their prior two seasons Massachusetts State Championships.
The road to their third consecutive state championship does not get any easier as they will face the winner of Thursday’s other D1 North semi-final match-up between Lincoln-Sudbury and Masconomet. The sectional finals will be played at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Mass. on Saturday as a part of a big day of sectional finals for the North sectional girl’s and boy’s basketball championships.
“Our defense comes off our offense,” said Andover Head Coach Jim Tildsley. “It was just a great defensive effort tonight. Our offense was sloppy but it was also just the intensity of this game. We have not won here in three years so the kids really wanted this one tonight.”
Andover, who also defeated Central Catholic last week in the Greater Lawrence Christmas tournament championship, remained undefeated on the season at 8-0, while Central Catholic drops to 5-2.
Andover led by one point at the end of the first quarter and four points at the half as Central Catholic hung tough behind junior center Casey McLaughlin’s seven point and 10 rebound first half effort.
In the second half, Andover had a couple of opportunities to extend the lead past nine points but Central Catholic fought hard and converted some fast break opportunities to remain close and down by just five points, 39-34, heading into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter it was 2011 ESPN Boston Miss Basketball Nicole Boudreau, who took over as the Andover star hit three 3-pointers and had a nine of Andover’s 14 points in the fourth quarter to help seal the win.
“Central Catholic is a great team and we knew that in order to beat them you have to hold off as many runs as they give you,” said Boudreau.
Andover also got strong games on the night from junior Devon Caveney (10 points, two steals), junior guard Angelice Gonzalez (seven points, three steals) and senior co-captain Ally Fazio (seven points, three assists).
Central Catholic sophomore guard Courtney Walsh had eight points and six rebounds to go along with three steals and three assists for the Lady Raiders.
The two teams will meet again on Feb. 17 at Andover.
Boudreau Reigns in Second Half: Boudreau scored a game-high 23 points, pulled down five rebounds, dished out two assists, and had one steal and one blocked shot in the win.
The Boston College commit had eight points in the first half, including a crucial three point play with 1.3 seconds remaining on the clock to give Andover momentum and a 29-25 at the half.
In the second half Boudreau came out firing as the senior hit five 3-pointers, including three in the crucial fourth quarter.
“An inch of space, I like, especially against this team,” said Boudreau. “Luckily a couple of them fell. It was not falling in the first but my teammates trusted me to make them when they counted.”
Boudreau also settled the offense down the stretch and made all four of her free throw attempts on the night.
“When she hits those threes they are just like daggers for the opposition,” said Tildsley. “My kids look for her and she gets open, somehow, and just sticks them.”
The 5-foot-9 guard also took home her third straight Greater Lawrence tournament MVP last week in the win over Central as she scored 19 points to lead the Golden Warriors on the night.
Alois’ Intangibles: Andover junior forward Jackie Alois played an exceptional second half as she helped play tight post defense on McLaughlin and was also all over the floor making countless hustle plays that do not show up on the box scores.
“We did not have Jackie in the whole first half as she got in early foul trouble,” said Tildsley. “She does one heck of a job defensively and is just so aggressive."
Alois had six second half rebounds to go along with two steals and one block.
McLaughlin Improving: The Central Catholic junior co-captain had 16 points, 14 rebounds and one blocked shot in the loss.
“She is a heck of a player,” said Tildsley.
McLaughlin continues to make big strides in her game in her third year with the Lady Raider’s varsity team. She was also named to the Greater Lawrence Christmas all tournament team last week along with Walsh, Fazio and Boudreau.
G – Nicole Boudreau, Sr., Andover
G – Lexi Sells, Sr., Bishop Feehan
F – Elizabeth Belanger, Sr., Acton-Boxborough
F – Ariel Ward, Sr., East Longmeadow
F – Bri Schnare, Sr., Wachusett
G – Monique Heard, Sr., Holyoke
G – Tianna Johnson, Sr., New Mission
G – Dana Theobald, Sr., West Springfield
F – Jen Narlee, Jr., Medfield
F – Olivia Healy, Jr., Reading
G – Kayla Burton, Jr., Newton South
G – Brooke Stewart, Sr., Masconomet
G – Emma Roberson, Sr., Arlington Catholic
F – Casey McLaughlin, Jr., Central Catholic
F – Jen Gonsalves, Sr., Harwich
Most unbiased observers believed the Division 1 North semifinal between Andover and Central Catholic's girls basketball teams would play a thrilling, down-to-the-wire contest Wednesday night at Methuen High School. When the dust settled, Andover left the gymnasium with a 60-33 victory that left many wondering what happened to the feared Raiders squad.
The two teams played three times prior to Wednesday, with Andover (24-1) winning two of the three. Those were all close games, and was neither team ever won by more than 10 points. Central (18-3) did not lost to any team besides Andover this season.
“We didn’t play on the top of our game the other three times we played them, but it’s a great program and it’s a great rivalry for us for I don’t know how many years,” Andover head coach Jim Tildsley said. “We were fortunate to come out on top.”
With the way Andover’s Nicole Boudreau was shooting, there was no way the game was going to stay close. After struggling from long distance in the first quarter and only recording five points, she had a 16-point second quarter behind a trio of three-pointers and being 7-of-9 from the free throw line. She had almost surpassed her points-per-game average (22.3) in the first half alone.
She also did her part on the defensive end, and finished with 31 points, nine rebounds, and eight steals.
“My teammates got me into great positions to make shots and luckily I had a great shooting night and was able to hit some of those shots,” she said.
Tildsley made a creative defensive adjustment in the first half, recognizing the dominance of Central’s bigs Casey McLaughlin and Melissa Miller. He decided to put the smaller Boudreau and senior Natalie Gomez-Martinez on them, feeling that the matchup was more beneficial to his team even though the pair was giving up several inches to Central’s post players.
“McLaughlin had absolutely killed us the last few games that we played them,” he said. “We figured we had to do something so Nicole said, ‘Let me try.’ I’ve changed my coaching style and I listen to the kids a lot, and they said we need to change these match-ups, so I said okay let’s give it a go. I said to my assistant Dick Miller, ‘You watch these closely, and if this doesn’t work we’ll go back to the old match-ups.”
“At the end of the game they said to me, ‘We told you those match-ups would work.’ I guess you’ve got to listen to the kids once in a while.”
Andover took a 39-19 lead into the half, but Tildsley was still not comfortable.
“I was really concerned coming out in the second half, I said we had to come out hard in that second half and we did,” he said. “My hat goes off to my team. We had a lot of pressure on us to win that game and they did it.”
While Andover was having success with long-range shooting, Central was still trying to work the ball inside to McLaughlin and Miller late in the third period, facing a 23-point deficit. While they each finished with 10 and 11 rebounds respectively, only McLaughlin cracked double-digit points, finishing with 11.
Andover moves on to the Division 1 North final Friday against No. 5 seed Acton-Boxboro at the TD Garden. It earned its way to the championship game with a 44-41 overtime victory over Lincoln-Sudbury Tuesday. The two teams did not play each other in the regular season.
“I love playing at the Garden,” said Boudreau. “That was the first thing I said to Natalie [Gomez-Martinez] and Ally [Fazio] when we came out. I said, ‘We’re going back to the Garden.’ There’s nothing like it.”
DORCHESTER, Mass. -- Down 11 with six minutes to go in the girls' final of the Comcast IAABO Board 27 Tournament, all the usual cliches starting coming out of the Central Catholic huddle -- all that talk of digging deep, all that sermonizing about gut checks.
But to pull off the comeback over previously-unbeaten No. 2 Newton South, it took a little D.I.Y. from the No. 5 Raiders' rock in the backcourt. St. Rose-bound forward Gabie Polce pulled up for a game-tying three-pointer, only to watch it take a high bounce off the front side of the rim. But the 5-foot-9 combo guard came up with her own rebound, flicked it up again, and watched as her bench went into a frenzy with a minute to go and a tie score.
She then put the Raiders ahead for good with a breakaway layup with 80 seconds left in the extra period, as Central completed the comeback with a 73-70 win over the high-octane Lions in overtime.
"I think consciously, all of us were like, 'We don't want to lose to this team'," said Polce, who finished with 20 points (six in overtime) and seven rebounds, and was named to the All-Tournament team. "We heard they were so good, they hadn't lost, and we kinda wanted to prove to everyone we could beat them, and prove it to ourselves. We pulled each other together at one point and said, 'We've still got plenty of time'."
On the possession following Polce's shot, Central forward Melissa Miller got fouled as she came down with a rebound, giving the ball back to the Raiders (17-2). Polce's go-ahead three came up short, and Newton South sophomore point guard Kayle Burton came down with the rebound, prompting Lions head coach Sam Doner to immediately call for a timeout.
The Lions (19-1) had two chances in the last 32 seconds, the last one a three-ball from Brown-bound guard Sophie Bikofsky that clanked as the seconds counted off. Quite a change from the first half, when the 5-foot-11 senior hit 5 of 7 three-pointers, including 4 of 5 in the first quarter.
That early success prompted a more diligent attention to the hot-handed Bikofsky, and to an extent it worked. Bikofsky didn't hit another three until the Lions' first possession of overtime, a walk-up trey that gave Newton South its final lead of the game at 65-64.
"I think we learned that we needed to face-guard (Bikofsky)," said sophomore forward Casey McLaughlin, who took Tournament MVP honors with 19 points this afternoon. "And no helping on anyone else. Just always have a hand up in her face when she shot a three, they won't make it every time."
Said Polce, "She can shoot it, she's got a quick release, and that was killing us. Coach (Sue Downer) said, 'She's going to make them no matter what, you've just got to play her as hard as you can. And she (McLaughlin) did that."
Meanwhile, the Merrimack-bound Miller made up for some mighty struggles in regulation (a pedestrian 4 for 14 from the field) with arguably the biggest play of overtime. Battling her way to the rebound of an errant perimeter shot, the 6-foot senior heaved a 50-foot outlet pass to Polce, who glided in all alone to an easy layup and 69-65 lead with 1:20 left.
"Oh my...if we did not have that, we would not have won," Polce said. "She pushed the ball, that's exactly what coach told her to do. We needed her to rebound, and we needed a long throw. That was a big play. I think that's what determined it."
In all, Newton South made 12 of 26 three-pointers.
Briana Hunt, Sr., Newton North
Emma Robinson, Jr., Arlington Catholic
Sophie Bikofsky, Sr., Newton South
Kendall Burton, Sr., Newton South
Gabie Polce, Sr., Central Catholic
MVP: Casey McLaughlin, Soph., Central Catholic
One of them is a left-handed, quick-triggered sniper.
So with his Andover girls basketball team knotted with rival Central Catholic late in the fourth quarter Friday, he drew up one of his more successful inbounds plays to free up southpaw sophomore Devon Caveney. Starting in the low block, Caveney waited for two screens to push down from the elbows, curled toward the top of key and took a pass without a Raider within five feet of her.
“She’s got a sweet stroke,” Tildsley marveled afterward. “I love lefties.”
Caveney nailed the 3-pointer, her second in less than a minute and fourth of the game, and Andover came up with one last stop with under 10 seconds to play to rally past Central Catholic, 53-52, in what so far is the Merrimack Valley Conference’s game of the season.
On a night when the Golden Warriors lived and died by the outside shot, Caveney couldn’t miss, scoring 22 points to keep Andover (8-0) atop ESPN Boston’s MIAA girls basketball rankings. Junior Nicole Boudreau shrugged off a cold shooting touch for 17 points, 10 rebounds and the game-sealing steal in the waning moments, and Natalie Gomez-Martinez added 11 points.
Andover needed every one. Central Catholic (6-2), ranked fifth by ESPN Boston, led by as many as 11 points early, four by halftime and seemed to have the Warriors at arm’s length throughout the fourth quarter before Caveney tied the game with a 3-pointer with 1:58 left to play.
The teams then traded turnovers -- Boudreau was called for a travel before the Raiders were tagged on a quick five-second violation -- setting up Caveney’s heroics. The 5-foot-8 guard hit four of Andover’s eight 3-pointers, using her size on the wing to find great looks throughout the game.
The Warriors’ first player off the bench as a freshman, Caveney has proven a fantastic complement to Boudreau and Gomez-Martinez this season, and when necessary, a star herself.
“I knew I had to score, so I needed to hit those tough shots,” Caveney said. “We struggled, but we pulled through. We got the win.”
Central Catholic didn’t, but “heartbreaking,” coach Susan Downer said, doesn’t necessarily mean disappointed.
Placing an emphasis inside after struggling down low in their 53-43 loss to Andover on Dec. 21, the Raiders thrived behind senior Melissa Miller’s 18 points and game-high 16 rebounds. Combined with emerging 6-foot sophomore Casey McLaughlin (13 points, six rebounds), the senior helped control the blocks, scooping in a variety of lay-ups and put-backs while keeping Andover’s drivers at bay.
In all, 44 of Central Catholic’s 52 points came inside the paint. Downer said Miller “played the best that I’ve seen her play yet as a high school player.”
“There were a lot of things in the end that we needed to do better and we didn’t,” said Downer, whose team committed 22 turnovers, the majority in the halfcourt. “But I’m proud of them. This is the best game we’ve played this season. I had three freshmen rotating in there. So there were a lot of positives out of this game.”
Momentum swayed throughout the night within Andover’s rumbling, jam-packed gymnasium. Down eight points to start the second quarter, Andover ripped off a 10-0 run to take its first lead. Central Catholic then closed the half on a 10-4 stretch to retake the advantage, only to see it switch hands five times in the third.
Miller’s lay-up with 2:10 to play staked the Raiders to a 3-point lead, which Caveney erased and then handed Andover with back-to-back 3-pointers.
“We know and I know she can stick the 3,” Downer said of the sophomore. “And that’s what dangerous about them. You cannot not play anybody. “
Miller hit another lay-up with 34 seconds left to slice it to one, and after Boudreau missed the front end of one-and-one, Central Catholic called timeout to set up its final play. But in a hectic sequence, Gabie Polce (12 points) pushed the ball over midcourt, only to have it stripped by Boudreau, who -- on her back -- passed upcourt to run out the clock.
Andover players rushed to the center of the court in a wild celebration that Tildsley chose to avoid.
“I’m exhausted,” he said with a smile afterward. “It doesn’t get better than this.”
We’ll see: The teams meet again Feb. 7 in Lawrence.
“One of our goals is to win the MVC championship, and we know to do it we have to beat Central,” Boudreau said. “It’s a key win, and it gives us a little bit of boost, a little more confidence.”
Gomez-Martinez’s senior year is only five games old. But it doesn’t matter if impressive wins like Tuesday’s 53-43 victory over rival Central Catholic come in December or March.
Each one is the last one in its own way. And Gomez-Martinez knows it.
“I’ve been through a lot of these Central games, and now as a senior, knowing these are one of my last games, I’m going all out,” Gomez-Martinez said. “I played the whole game, and I could still play another game. I know this is my last year, and beating Central is the best thing.”
Technically, Andover is. Ranked atop ESPNBoston.com’s MIAA girls basketball poll, the Golden Warriors (5-0) opened up a 14-point lead over second-ranked Central, held strong when the Raiders cut it to one and then exploded late to advance to the semifinals of the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament.
Boston College-bound junior Nicole Boudreau scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and the Marist commit Gomez-Martinez added 12 points. But while it was Andover’s stars providing several of the knockout blows, it was its role players who helped put the Raiders on the ropes.
Junior Ally Fazio shook off a second-half leg injury to score eight points, and sophomore Jackie Alois had as many points (10) as she did floor burns after forcing tie-ups at seemingly every key defensive moment in the fourth quarter.
No small feat for Alois, an under-sized 5-foor-5 forward playing with four fouls.
“I didn’t even realize my knee was bleeding at the end,” said Alois, who also snagged six boards. “Once I see the ball go down, I grab it. I’m a lot shorter than everyone so once they have it up, I don’t really have a chance. So I just try to get down under and be scrappy and get the ball.”
Her contributions aren’t lost on her Andover teammates. The defending Division I champions know a dominant team needs its role players as much as its stars, and between Alois, Fazio and Devon Caveney (six points, five rebounds), the Warriors feel they have the pieces to surround their future Division-I players.
They helped force the Raiders (3-1) into 25 turnovers and for long stretches, contained Gabie Polce (seven points) and Melissa Miller. And when Miller scored all 10 of her points in a three-minute, 17-second span in the fourth to slice a 36-27 deficit to 43-42, it was Alois who laid in a bucket to break the momentum.
Gomez-Martinez’s ensuing lay-up and Boudreau’s back-breaking 3-pointer simply finished it off.
“Everybody on the team knows their role,” Boudreau said. “Jackie knows she has to be a beast down low, she has to get every rebound, she has to get every loose ball. And then we have players like Devon and Olivia (Biles) who can knock down some shots. Me and Natalie need some help out there, so it’s definitely good that other people step up.”
Said Gomez-Martinez: “She (Alois) is a sophomore, but I told her, ‘You have to step up and play like a senior and just play hard.’ She had four fouls and she still played.”
Andover needed her to. Central Catholic is learning what life is like without all-time leading scorer, rebounder and current Boston College freshman Katie Zenevitch.
But it has a promising 6-foot sophomore in Casey McLaughlin (12 points, 15 rebounds) to join Miller and Polce, both bound for Division II schools next season. And despite its sloppiness Tuesday -- a good portion of it self-inflicted -- Central Catholic proved it can respond to adversity with its second-half run.
It just couldn’t “get over the hump,” Raiders coach Susan Downer said. Central Catholic called more timeouts (two) than it scored points (one) in the final 3:48.
“We’re only in game four here,” Downer said. “I’m still learning about substitution patterns, who’s in what position, who can step up in certain pressure situations. … I think the pressure gave us more trouble than I thought it would, so we’ll look at that and incorporate our bigs a little bit more when we play them again.”
And they certainly will.
“Probably three more times,” Andover coach Jim Tildsley said. “We play them twice in the league and we’ll probably play in them in the tournament. It’s such a great rivalry and it’s nice to be on top tonight.”
A few more notes and observations:
-- A drop-dead shooter, Boudreau is adjusting to playing more in the blocks this year. At 5-foot-9, she is the tallest player on the team, and had the assignment of McLaughlin for most of Tuesday’s game. She also had to sit for a spell during the fourth quarter because of foul trouble.
“Not picking up fouls, as we can see” is a big adjustment, Boudreau said. “It’s a different game down low, so I definitely have to adjust.”
-- Polce sang the national anthem before Tuesday’s game.
-- Andover plays Lowell in their semifinal game at 6 p.m. on Monday in Methuen. Central Catholic and Lawrence meet at 2:15 p.m. that day. Earlier Tuesday, Morgan Lumb scored 19 points in North Andover’s 52-38 victory over Methuen.