By Jeff Hamrick
---- — ANDOVER — It might still be early-season basketball on the calendar, but the defending state-champion Central Catholic girls appear more than capable of another deep late-season run.
Last night in the Commonwealth Motors Christmas Classic nightcap, the Raiders ran off with their third straight rout, whipping Pinkerton 59-33 despite scoring only four points in the final quarter.
“I’m excited,” senior forward Amanda Williams said about the upcoming campaign after scoring a game-high 21 against the Astros. “I’m excited to start the year and do as well as we did last year. We just have to keep working hard and keep getting better.”
Like they did in victories over Methuen and Haverhill, which were outscored by a combined 80-34 in the opening halves of their respective games, the Raiders broke open the last night’s affair game with a strong first half. Central turned a 13-8 opening-quarter lead into a commanding 31-16 advantage with an 18-point second.
The Raiders assisted on seven of their nine first-half field goals. Although five different players recorded at least one dish, Caitlin Dell’Orfano led the way with three assists.
“What we love to do as a team is to run and use our trailers,” said Williams, who is averaging 17.7 points through three. “So, we love to pass the ball. We’ll make the extra pass to get the open layup or best shot. We love to work as a team.”
Before it was over, Central posted 14 assists on its 21 field goals, including 13 of 19 through the first three quarters.
“I think what we’re looking to do on transition is to execute things,” Central coach Sue Downer said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but I do see some good passing. There are some positives with our offensive game, but it’s always a work in progress.”
Central began pulling away midway through the second quarter. Switching out of its standard man-to-man defense seemed to spur the Raiders, who finished the opening half on a 10-2 tear, building a 15-point lead. CC began the third period once again in the zone and jumped on the Astros, scoring 10 of the first 13 points and 24 in the quarter to open a 55-23 advantage.
“I thought our defense was not great tonight, so I was not happy at all,” Downer said. “I do not like to go to zone. We couldn’t contain, and we weren’t communicating. We were effective (in zone) but I don’t like to do that. It’s an adjustment we shouldn’t have to make.”
The Astros (1-1) halted their game-long slide in the fourth when Marissa Stacy scored eight of her team-high 10 points. Pinkerton also forced 11 turnovers while holding the Raider reserves to four points in the stanza.
“There’s definitely a learning curve, but we’re working things out,” first-year Pinkerton coach Lani Buskey said. “And there were some good lessons for them (last night). And I (learned some things) too, most definitely. We have incredible weapons, and it’s going to be a matter of learning how to use the weapons together.”
The win sends the Raiders into a Saturday-night Jack Stephenson division championship showdown with Westford Academy, which dropped a 60-51 decision to Central in last year’s North Division title game.
“I’m so excited,” Williams said. “I didn’t want to look too far ahead past Pinkerton, but we’ve been excited to play Westford. We played them last year in the playoffs and we want to prove we’re better again this year.”
Central Catholic 59, Pinkerton 33
Pinkerton (33): Kayla Stacy 2 0-0 5, Colleen Fortier 2 0-0 5, Brandi Bonneau 1 1-1 3, Valerie Martin 1 3-5 5, Corina Moore 0 0-0 0, Melissa Martel 0 1-2 1, Marissa Stacy 3 3-4 10, Sara McLeman 0 0-0 0, Faolain Harrington 0 0-2 0, Jaime Caron 1 0-0 2, Andrea Albrecht 1 0-1 2. Totals 11 8-17 33
Central Catholic (59): Courtney Walsh 4 3-3 11, Alex Nagri 1 0-2 2, Amanda Williams 8 5-7 21, Erica Hadad 1 2-4 4, Caitlin Dell’Orfano 4 2-2 11, Madison borrelli 1 2-4 4, Colleen Frey 2 0-1 6, Halle Tierney 0 0-0 0, Natasha Santana 0 0-0 0, Nicole Wiggins 0 0-0 0, Caitlin Lane 0 0-2 0. Totals 21 14-25 59
3-pointers: P — K.Stacy, Cortier, M.Stacy; CC — Frey 2, Dell’Orfano.
Pinkerton (1-1): 8 8 7 10 — 33
Central Catholic (3-0): 13 18 24 4 — 59