LOWELL — It wasn’t until Lowell’s Alex Rivera extended his point total to 18, just over midway through Friday evening’s second quarter, that Central Catholic coach John Walsh deemed it wise to send multiple defenders at the senior.
So Rivera adjusted, initially hitting open teammates, then finding other, more creative ways to score. With 24 seconds remaining in the first half he zipped his way into the paint, drew contact, and calmly drained both ends of a 1-and-1. Far from satisfied, the 6-foot guard made his presence felt on the defensive end, swiping the ball from Central’s unsuspecting Bret Edwards, again incurring a foul on his way to the hoop, again taking full advantage at the charity stripe.
Rivera’s opening-half 22 points helped propel the ninth-ranked Red Raiders past No. 6 Central Catholic, 72-58, to establish supremacy in the Merrimack Valley Conference.
“We lost to Lawrence; they beat Lawrence,” said Rivera. “They beat St. John’s [Prep]. We had to come out hard and beat them. We know they’re a good team.”
Lowell (13-1) came out with a vengeance, opening on an 11-3 run thanks to much in the way of second-chance opportunities.
“[We] did an excellent job, offensive rebounding anyway, especially in the first half,” said Lowell coach Bob Michalczyk. “[We] got second, third, fourth opportunities. It certainly helps.”
Eventually, Rivera (30 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks) began down his path of domination, his silky smooth jumper and quick ball-handling a combination for which Central Catholic (12-4) simply had no answer.
“He did a little bit of everything,” said Michalczyk. “The scoring was probably the highlight of it but [he did] a good job of getting guys involved, making the extra pass. He’s underrated rebounder so that helped the cause, too.”
Though Rivera was the primary focus, the Red Raiders’ supporting cast was equally important in the statement win. Sophomore Carlos Nunez (14 points) and junior Justin Villanueva (8 points, 11 rebounds) were especially dynamic, flustering Central Catholic when it had the ball and making the Raiders pay when they didn’t.
Senior forward Colin Bradanese notched 22 points and 10 rebounds in the losing effort.
“We’re a small team and we have to work hard,” said Rivera. “We run a lot in practice and play hard. That’s how we win: we play hard.”Owen Pence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.