---- — Central Catholic should feel much more comfortable entering the Division 1 North tourney this winter than it did last year.
The 2012-13 regular season was a strange one for the Raiders who boasted so much talent but lost to Andover once, North Andover once, Billerica twice and then Pentucket in the finale.
Those five losses didn’t matter, though, after Central played with tremendous urgency during the playoffs, winning six straight contests by an average of 18.2 points per game on its way to winning the Division 1 state title.
This time around, the Raiders enter the tourney fresh off a much better regular season. They went 19-1 with their only defeat against Westford Academy, 49-42, in the Commonwealth Motors Christmas Classic.
Since then, the Raiders have dominated while Westford — which has been moved to the Division 1 Central bracket — has lost four games.
“Last year, we didn’t have the best record going into the tournament but honestly, as this point, the regular season is over ... and our record doesn’t mean anything,” Central senior Courtney Walsh said.
Central, the No. 2 seed, earned a first-round bye and plays the winner of Peabody/Reading at 7 p.m. Saturday at home.
“If we play our best game, I think we should really be able to take on anyone,” said Walsh.
Casey McLaughlin, then a senior, willed Central to the title last year, averaging 23.2 points in six tourney games.
This year, Central has multiple scorers, including Walsh, Amanda Williams, Caitlin Dell’Orfano and Alex Nagri, who could step up and will the Raiders to a win on any given night.
Anyone on Central has the chance of being the hero this postseason. There probably will be multiples heroes. That’s why Central is in a fairly strong position to repeat as Division 1 champs.
Walsh, who will play at Stonehill with McLaughlin next year, netted 23 points in Central’s first win over Billerica, 19 points in another win over the Indians, 23 points against Lawrence and 21 points at Andover.
Williams, who will play volleyball at St. Anselm next year, has dominated down low all year. She had a stretch midseason when she produced four straight double-doubles and averaged 25.5 and 14 rebounds per game. She hasn’t let up since and just won the IAABO tourney MVP by averaging 20.5 points in two games.
Dell’Orfano, a senior who will play at Southern New Hampshire, is yet another scoring threat. She has boasted some standout offensive performances, including 22 points in a victory over Andover.
Nagri, meanwhile, known more as a pesky and quick defender, has averaged 11.0 points over her past eight games.
“Everyone has stepped up this year,” Walsh said. “Hopefully, it continues ... Amanda’s been huge. She’s been scoring at least 20 points a game so that’s helped us out a ton. But really, we have a lot of scorers. Everyone can put up points.”
But No. 2 seed Central will have its work cut out for it as it tries to repeat as Division 1 North champs.
Top-seeded Lynn English (22-0), third-seeded Masconomet (19-1) and fourth-seeded Woburn (18-2) all are ranked in the state’s top 20 along with the Raiders.
The bracket also includes sixth-seeded Andover (15-5), eighth-seeded North Andover (11-9) and ninth-seeded Billerica (11-9).
GAME OF THE WEEK
Eighth-seeded North Andover, which moved up this year from Division 2, and ninth-seeded Billerica play Wednesday at 7 p.m. at North Andover High.
These MVC rivals played two incredibly close games during the regular season. North Andover won 37-35 over Billerica at home Dec. 13 and edged out the Indians 51-49 at Billerica on Jan. 28.
“It’s always tough to see a team that you’ve played twice in the regular season but it’s also exciting because we know each other well,” North Andover coach Megan Ryan said. “We do have a home game and that really is a huge advantage in the tournament.”
North Andover relies heavily on sophomore Abbie Karalis and freshman Aralee Bogar.
“Aralee Bogar has really stepped up and Abbie Karalis at the point guard position, it’s her first year doing that job as a sophomore,” Ryan said. “Our leadership has been phenomenal. Mackenzie Mello and Christina Castaldo have really developed in their roles as captains.
“And our two leading scorers, Leah Chittick and Megan Collins, have really grown and accepted their roles and have figured out what they need to do and how many shots they need to get every night for us to be successful.”
PENTUCKET A CONTENDER?
Pentucket, in its first year in the Division 2 North bracket, earned the sixth seed with a 16-6 record. The bracket includes second-seeded Bedford, which pounded Pentucket 59-40 on Feb. 17.
That said, the Sachems, under coach John McNamara, are known to make strong adjustments and play better against teams the second time they face them.
Pentucket, which plays a first round game at home vs. No. 11 seed Danvers (11-9) Thursday, has been involved in several close games this winters and that might help.
“Playing close games when it’s crunch time can be really difficult,” Pentucket’s Kelsi McNamara said a couple of weeks ago. “Staying composed and being calm are the most important things and I think that helps later for when we play in the tournament.”
Watertown (19-1) earned the top seed. Arlington Catholic (17-4) is seeded third, Wilmington (16-4) is seeded fourth and Hamilton-Wenham (15-5), which the Sachems split with during the regular season, is seeded fifth.
FENWAY FEELING FINE
With five super juniors (Samnell Vonleh, Michaela Martin, Kayla Riley, Andrea Terranova, and Dominique Ortiz), sixth-seeded Whittier (14-6) has a chance to win the Division 4 North bracket.
The Wildcats lost in the North final last year.
But top-seeded Fenway (16-2) is fresh off a tremendous regular season and will be a tough out. Fenway has earned a 49-47 win over Division 1 Westford Academy, which bested Central Catholic in the Christmas tourney.
Whittier plays a first-round game at home against No. 11 seed Shawsheen (12-8) tomorrow at 7 p.m.
No. 8 seed Greater Lawrence (13-7) and No. 9 seed Notre Dame of Lawrence (8-5) play tomorrow at Greater Lawrence at 7 p.m. The Reggies won both matchups against ND during the regular season.
DIVISION 3 NORTH
North Reading is the only local team in the Division 3 North bracket. The seventh-seeded Hornets (11-9) play a first round game at home against 10th-seeded Latin Academy (9-9) tomorrow at 7 p.m.