Central Catholic coach Rick Nault ran into the locker room after the game with a huge smile, then stepped out moments later soaking wet. It was simply a celebration for Central Catholic basketball on Saturday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.
With 3:04 left in the fourth quarter of the Division 1 North championship game, Tyler Nelson received a much-deserved standing ovation as he headed to the bench. His night was done, but the game was over way before then.
The junior guard finished with 26 points, leading the Raiders to a 83-58 win over Lynn English, advancing them to the EMass championship against Mansfield Tuesday night at TD Garden.
“To come in here and win the way we did, from start to finish, says a lot about that group in that locker room behind me,” said Nault, whose team hadn’t won a North title since 2010. “They’re on a mission right now. We take one game at a time, but tonight was something special.”
It was indeed a great moment of redemption for the Raiders, who were on the same stage against Lynn English in 2009, but they made sure the results were different this time.
From the opening tip, the Raiders established the tempo as Tyler Nelson and Joel Berroa took over the game. The Bulldogs’ defensive scheme of pressure and trap worked to Central Catholic’s advantage. Once the Raiders got the first few passes to advance the ball down the court, there always seemed to be someone open for an easy layup.
Junior forward Aaron Hall benefited from the breakdowns as he scored 21 points for the Raiders.
“Central Catholic just absolutely took it to us,” said Lynn English coach Mike Carr. “We haven’t seen anything like that all season. They defended better than anyone we have seen all year.”
The Bulldogs showed some signs of life in the third quarter as Danny Lukanda chipped away with 10 of his 14 points, except Central Catholic always had a response. Whether it was Nelson carving his way through defenders or Berroa dominating the boards, the Raiders outplayed the Bulldogs. Mansfield 57, North Quincy 45 — Mansfield, playing the undersized underdog in North Quincy, rode its depth and size to a convincing win at UMass-Boston.
A hot bench, led by Ryan Boulter and Kyle Wisnieski, aided the Hornets (24-2) in controlling the pace of the game and securing the win.
“Depth and team unity helped us get wins all season,” Mansfield coach Michael Vaughn said. “The chemistry on this team is fantastic, they’re a tight group that shares the basketball. There’s not a selfish guy on the team and that becomes a tough matchup for people.”
Mansfield’s ability to control the paint, anchored by 6-foot-5-inch sophomore forward Brendan Hill (13 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks) and Wisnieski (a game-high 17 points off the bench) led to big shot after big shot from behind the arc.
Boulter, who hit four 3-pointers, two late in the fourth quarter as North Quincy tried to rally, finished with 13 points. His ability to hit the three benefited the Hornets; he was constantly in the right spot as Hill and Wisnieski drew the defense inside.
“[Ryan] missed a couple shots early, but stuck with it like a good shooter does,” said Vaughn. “He’s a lights-out shooter and it was just tremendous.”
The Red Raiders duo of the Brothers Gould, Daniel and Patrick, were instrumental in the upset of Newton North on Tuesday, but their speed and quickness couldn’t trump the Hornets.
North Quincy had just two players in double figures (Daniel Gould had 16 points; Efthim Butka had 12).
“Give them credit, they made plays and shot the ball very well,” said North Quincy coach Kevin Barrett. “They didn’t do anything we didn’t expect them to do, so hat’s off to them.”
The Red Raiders (18-6) were playing in the their first sectional final since the 1971-72 season.