In what has been a humbling time for a Charlestown team that missed a chance to defend its Boston City League title after a 16-4 season wasn’t enough to qualify for the city playoffs, the Townies seem to have found their stride.
It started with a win in the Comcast Tournament final against then-No. 1 Brockton and has continued with wins over Andover, East Boston (which won this year’s City championship) and Thursday night with 54-47 win over No. 1 Central Catholic in the Division 1 North semifinals at Reading.
The Townies will face Lexington in the North finals at the Tsongas Center in Lowell Saturday.
“[Not playing in the City playoffs] was a big motivator,’’ said Charlestown coach Edson Cardoso. “We wanted to get our championship back, these guys take the City playoffs more serious than the state tournament, which is great, but not making the [City playoffs] really made us energized and motivated to just keep winning.’’
The turning point Thursday night was a 12-point fourth-quarter run, emphatically capped by a Tyrese Hoxter dunk with just under three minutes to play to put the Townies ahead, 51-41.
Hoxter finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists. Rony Fernandez (12 points, 7 assists) and Tyrik Jackson (10 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks) also turned in solid performances.
From the opening tip it was clear that this was going to be a tight one. The Townies led, 15-12, after the first quarter and, 26-21, at the half, holding the Raiders - who like to shoot from behind the arc (especially Tyler Nelson) - without a 3-pointer in the half.
“With Nelson, every time he caught the ball I wanted my guys to get a hand up,’’ said Cardoso, “when he came off of screens I wanted them to stay on his hip. We actually scouted Central and simulated some of the plays that they run for Nelson in our practice.’’
Charlestown’s Iser Barnes and Hoxter shared the defensive responsibilities on Nelson and stuck with the shooting guard for the majority of the game.
With seven minutes left in the third, Nelson (12 points) took a pass and pump-faked his defender, took a step back, and drilled the Raiders’ first triple to bring them within 30-28.
With 3:20 left in the third Shawn McCoy knocked down another Raider 3-pointer to give Central a 33-32 lead. They held a 36-35 lead going into the fourth. However, a Jackson jumper with 5:20 to play in the fourth tied the score at 41 and started the Townies on their 12-0 run.
Joel Berroa (12 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) and Nick Cambio (10 points, 11 boards) left it all on the court for Central (22-2).
Lexington 51, Acton-Boxboro 50 - Chris O’Keefe scored with 30 seconds to play, and the Minutemen had to sweat out a Colonials buzzer-beater that lipped out, as Lexington won at Lawrence High for its first trip to the North finals since 1989.
O’Keefe (17 points) and fellow senior Chris Lee (17 points, 12 rebounds) led Lexington.
Acton-Boxborough’s final scoring chance came off an in-bounds play under the basket with 1.6 seconds left. The Colonials managed to get a shot off but it lipped out, just in time for the buzzer to sound.
The Minutemen came out strong with dominant defense, which led to a 12-point halftime lead (28-16).
The Colonials staged a comeback in the third quarter, using lockdown defense and crisp shooting to get within 2 points (35-33) after three quarters.
Division 3 North Saugus 86, Arlington Catholic 70 - Joe Bertrand (24 points, 9 rebounds), Curtis Casella (20 points, 5 assists), and Brandan Wladkowski (15 points, 9 assists) helped the Sachems advance.
Division 3 North
Pentucket 53, Swampscott 27 - Junior guard Coley Viselli had 19 points and junior center Tess Nogueira pitched in with 12 points for the Sachems.
Division 1 South
Natick 1, Norwood 0 - Freshman Trevor Kaplan scored a power-play goal at 3:58 of the second period and senior Derek Kwok stopped 24 shots as the Red & Blue advanced to the championship game with a victory at Gallo Ice Arena in Bourne.
After a scoreless first period, Natick earned a power play off an interference call, which brought the faceoff to Norwood’s end. Junior Matt Kustra, who broke his nose earlier in the night on an open-ice hit, took the faceoff and passed it to senior Andrew Newis in the slot, who put a shot on Norwood goalie Jordan Davis.
Davis kicked the shot to his right, but Kaplan was there to backhand it home.
“The whole team has been through so much this year,’’ said Kustra of his decision to stay in the game. “Even talking in between first and second period with my mom and dad, they were saying maybe sit out, it doesn’t look too great. I just kept saying absolutely not.’’
Both Natick and Norwood entered the game playing for much more than themselves, and the energy on the ice showed it.
Norwood was hoping to continue its season in what would have been Matt Brown’s senior campaign. Brown was paralyzed after getting hit during a game in January 2010.
Natick was playing for teammate Justin Bailey, who passed away unexpectedly earlier this season.
Natick will face Milton in the Division 1 South championship game at Gallo Ice Arena Sunday.
Globe correspondent Andrew MacDougall contributed to this report from Bourne.