LAWRENCE — It had become a worst-case scenario for Central Catholic.
Playing without superstar Tyler Nelson, who left the game with an ankle injury, and with key big men Nick Cambio and Aaron Hall both limited due to foul trouble, the Raiders saw a lead that once stood at 17 points dwindle to a 55-55 tie with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
But Central was not about to surrender.
“We have come back before,” said Raider senior Nick Cambio. “We have come back to beat St. John’s Prep and BC High, so we knew we had the composure and the state of mind to rally.”
Following the tying bucket, junior Pat Sullivan hit a free throw and then a possession later took a pass from Cambio for the hoop that gave Central a three-point edge. A.J. Pettway and Sullivan then combined to go 8 for 8 from the free throw line in the final minute to seal the Raiders’ 66-57 win over Cambridge Rindge & Latin in the title game of the Presidents Day Round Ball Classic.
“This was a big win for us,” said Pettway, a sophomore guard. “It is huge in (the race) for the top seed in Division 1 North and they were tough.”
Pettway, who scored just one point in the first 31 minutes of last night’s game, proved to be the star as the clock ticked down.
After Cambridge scored to cut the lead back to one point with just over a minute to play, Pettway swished a pair of free throws, and was perfect on two more trips to the line to close out the victory.
“Those were the biggest (free throws) of my life,” he said. “I had a feeling that they were going to foul me, and I was a little nervous. But I just tried to clear my mind of everything and just focus on the free throws. I just wanted to keep my composure.”
Early on, it looked as if Central was going to run away with the contest.
The Raiders cruised to a 16-point lead in the second period, with Nelson scoring 11 quick points. But late in the half, the All-Scholastic crashed into an opponent and fell to the ground holding his ankle.
He briefly returned in the closing seconds of the half, hitting a jumper, and after sitting out the third played one possession of the fourth, sinking a 3-pointer before being pulled from the game.
“We wanted to give him a shot in the fourth,” said Central coach Rick Nault. “He went in and was struggling. I tried to call a time out, and before I did he hit the 3-pointer. But we got him out after that because he was hurting.”
With Nelson on the bench, Cambridge employed an aggressive full-court press that gave the young Central backcourt fits. Several turnovers turned into Falcon points and suddenly, with two minutes left in the game, the score was tied at 55-55.
“We had to relax,” said Cambio. “For a while, we were scrambling and not playing in control. But we stayed closer together and had to be fearless and it worked out.”
The Raiders regained their confidence with a press-breaking gem, as Pettway fired a pass down the court to Cambio, who swung it to Sullivan under the basket for two points.
“That was definitely a big play,” said Sullivan, who also had 12 rebounds. “When guys went down, others have to step up and contribute and a few of us did late.”
With a trio of defensive stops and Pettway and Sullivan perfect from the line in the final minute, the Raiders closed out the win.
Cambio and Nelson each scored a team-high 14 points while Sullivan added 13.
The Raiders now set their focus on archrival Andover, which comes to Central for the third game of the seasons series tomorrow at 7 p.m. Nelson is questionable for the contest.
“It will be a tough game,” said Cambio. “And it is tough without Tyler, but we have been able to win games without him before, and we can do it again if we have to.”
Central Catholic 66, Cambridge 57
Cambridge R&L (57): Isaiah McLeod 4 6-6 14, Fredebs Deneus 3 2-3 8, Eric Smith-Sokol 2 0-0 4, Diandre Shouder-Williams 3 0-0 6, Marcus Collins 1 0-0 2, Jakigh Dottin 3 0-0 6, Tevin Charles 8 1-3 17. Totals 24 9-12 57
Central Catholic (66): Nick Cambio 7 0-0 14, Aaron Hall 3 0-0 6, Pat Sullivan 4 5-6 13, Tyler Nelson 5 3-3 14, Brian Triglione 1 0-0 3, Kevin Fernandez 3 0-0 6, A.J. Pettway 0 7-8 7, Alex Parent 1 1-3 3. Totals 24 16-20 66
3-pointers: CC — Nelson, Triglione
Cambridge: 10 10 18 19 — 57
Central Catholic (17-4): 16 18 12 20 — 66