Courtney Walsh calmly drained two free throws with 7.8 seconds left to seal Central Catholic’s dramatic 55-51 win over Braintree in the Division 1 EMass championship game at TD Garden Monday.
Central Catholic will play Holy Name for the state title on Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester.
Trailing by 12 in the fourth quarter, Braintree (24-3) fought back. The Wamps forced a 24-second violation after pulling to within 53-51 with 51 seconds left, but Raiders senior Casey McLaughlin (18 points) came up with a huge steal.
“I just did not want anyone getting that ball, I just wanted to end the game,” McLaughlin said.
The Wamps put together a 12-2 run in the final minutes to create a dramatic finish.
“They definitely stepped up the defense in the fourth quarter, so it was a tight game,” McLaughlin said. “They’re a great defensive team, so we just need to relax and get back on our defensive end and not let them get second opportunities.”
Tight games are nothing new to Central Catholic (21-5). The Raiders suffered some close losses during the regular season, but came up with the victory when it mattered most.
“Our theme going into this tournament has been to fight and we talked about that at every timeout, that you got to keep fighting,” Central Catholic coach Susan Downer said.
“I think getting over the hurdle last game that we won, when it was a tight game, was big for us. We lost in the Christmas tournament; we lost to Billerica in tough games. And you know, I think we struggled up until the last game winning that big game. I know I learned as a coach some things I need to do better. I know these kids, we addressed some things we needed to do better. I think that that prepared us for these moments that we’re in now.”
Central Catholic opened up the third quarter with 5 quick points: Alexandra Nagri’s 3-pointer and McLaughlin’s basket after a Braintree turnover.
The teams spent most of the second quarter trading baskets before Central Catholic opened up its largest lead of the half at 34-28 when McLaughlin went baseline for a layup as the final seconds of the quarter ticked off.
The game was knotted at 19 after the first quarter. Walsh led the offensive charge for the Raiders with 10 points in the quarter.
The Wamps got a big game from sophomore guard Ashley Russell, who had a team-high 17 points. Bridget Herlihy and Brianna Herlihy chipped in 10 points each.
Senior guard Rachel Norton limped off the court at halftime after hitting a 3-pointer and was never able to get back into the flow of the game.