Sunday, March 2, 2014

Central Catholic Advances to D-I North Semis

Central Catholic might be located in Massachusetts, but 3 of their starters reside in New Hampshire. Seniors Courtney Walsh (Windham, NH) and Alex Nagri (Salem, NH) and sophomore Madison Borrelli (Salem, NH) all start for a Central team that won the MIAA Division I state tournament last year and went 19-1 during the regular season this year. On Saturday night the Red Raiders continued their pursuit for a second straight title when they took the court at home vs. Peabody Veterans Memorial High in the D-I North Quarterfinals.

Peabody played their hearts out and left it all on the floor, but in the end Central was just too good. Caitlin Dell'Orfano poured in a game-high 18 points, 6-foot forward Amanda Williams dropped 17, and Walsh, Nagri and Borrelli all played vital roles in the win as well. Peabody is a tough team, and they closed to within 4 points of Central in the 4th quarter when it was 44-40. But it was all Red Raiders after that, as they ended the game on a 15-1 run, notching a 59-41 victory.

Nagri had 7 points on the game but what was most impressive about her performance was her outstanding passing ability. Nagri dished out 9 assists, and excelled at driving into the lane, drawing a second defender and then dishing it to the open teammate. She is very unselfish but at the same time is not afraid to take the big shot. During Central's 15-1 run in the 4th quarter, Nagri drove baseline and this time the defense didn't collapse. So instead of dishing it off she kept it and finished in traffic for a clutch basket. That put the Red Raiders up 52-30 with 3:10 left in regulation.

Central kept pulling away, including one play which was a perfectly executed fast break. Walsh got the outlet and immediately zipped a pass ahead to Nagri, who then dished it over to Dell'Orfano for the layup. Williams then made an and-1 to make it 57-40 with 1:55 left. Both teams then began to pull their starters and Central cruised to the win from there.

The points were hard to come by early on. Peabody is definitely a bigger team than Central. They were taller at all 5 positions on the floor, and they have a 6-foot-2 center (Carolyn Scacchi) who was the best player on the court. Peabody came out in a 3-2 zone and with their size and length Central had problems scoring on them early. As the quarter went on Central started getting some good looks but they just weren't falling.

Nagri was playing tough on-the-ball defense, but Peabody went up 7-2 early. But then Central finally started to find some rhythm, as Nagri hit a 3-pointer from the corner which ignited a 10-2 run. It was 12-9 Red Raiders after 1.

Central continued to build momentum in the 2nd quarter. Nagri made a terrific move, driving into the lane and making a great dish once the second defender came over. Central went up 20-13 with 5:34 left in the 1st half. Dell'Orfano had 14 of her team's 20 points - that's right, Dell'Orfano had outscored Peabody by herself so far!

Nagri made another nice drive-and-dish to a teammate for a layup, and it was 28-21 Red Raiders at halftime.

The pace of the game and in the scoring picked up in the 3rd quarter. Walsh pushed the ball quickly up the floor, stopped on a dime and drilled a pull-up jumper from 15 feet. Scacchi got Peabody back in the game though, as she was attacking the rim and hitting shots. Scacchi (will play volleyball at SNHU next year) had a team-high 17 points to go with 12 rebounds. After she scored back-to-back hoops the Central lead was down to just 4, 35-31 with 3:43 left in the 3rd quarter and Central head coach Sue Downer called timeout.

Again Nagri made a great drive-and-dish, this time hitting Williams for a layup. Walsh was all over the place on defense, deflecting one pass on the press and on the next possession making a great steal on the press. After the steal, Walsh threw a quick pass over to Williams for a layup. Peabody called timeout, and then out of the timeout Walsh drove into the lane and hit a floater. The Central lead was back to double digits, 43-33. It was 43-35 Red raiders after 3, and you know how the rest went.

Walsh and Williams were awarded the Merrimack Valley Conference Co-Players of the Year. Nagri made the MVC All-Conference team, and Borrelli was named a MVC All-Star. Walsh will continue her basketball career at Stonehill College next year.

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