TEWKSBURY — It took a clutch performance from a freshman for the seniors on Central Catholic’s girls’ basketball team to go out undefeated.
Locked in a tough battle with Andover for the Merrimack Valley Conference Cup, the Raiders received three free throws in the final seconds from freshman Ashley Dinges to force overtime and went on to secure a 36-33 win when the Haverhill resident drained a 3-pointer in the the final seconds of overtime at Tewksbury High.
“We knew as soon as [Dinges] stepped on the court for us this winter, we knew she was pretty special,” said Central coach Casey Grange. “Honestly, I would’ve put any of the five [starters] at the line in that situation, it just happened to be a freshman and I think she knew make or miss we had her back.”
Andover trailed, 28-27, in the final minutes of regulation when Amelia Hanscom got to the free throw line. The sophomore drained her first shot, and missed her second, but secured an offensive rebound, and combined with sophomore Anna Foley to secure four offensive rebounds to eventually create a 31-28 lead with under a minute to go.
Due to COVID protocols, the offense has an unbalanced advantage in the MVC with two rebounders in the lane, plus the shooter.
“It was tough to watch [the Warriors] continuing to get the rebound but every time they got it we stepped up defensively,” said Grange. “That’s a testament to the fight our team has. We didn’t play our best game, but it doesn’t matter, we found a way to win.”
The 6-foot Dinges, who led a senior-laden squad with 16 points and 13 rebounds, was able to draw a foul on a 3-point attempt with 6.5 seconds remaining and calmly knock down each shot. Thanks to her heroics, the Raiders (10-0) finished the last four years with an unblemished 52-0 regular-season record against MVC competition, and a trophy to crown the achievement.
“I tried to forget [the situation], so I would just make them without hesitation,” said Dinges. “I was thinking, this is our last chance, we have to do it for the seniors, this season has been hard enough. We have to get them a win.”
Senior guard Tatum Shaw led Andover (9-3) with 11 points. The Golden Warriors had won nine straight after opening the season with back-to-back losses to Central.