By David Willis
---- — LOWELL — For one period, Central Catholic was flying.
The Raiders were skating with speed and purpose, dishing out hits and pin-point passes, and grabbing their first lead of the series on an Alex Lester score.
Unfortunately, that would be as good as it would be for Central.
“We came out and just played excellent,” said Raiders coach Mike Jankowski. “The first period was a great period. As good as we have played. But we couldn’t put the game away, and starting in the second it was different.”
Taking a one-goal advantage into the second period, No. 5 Central Catholic allowed two scores in the second period and struggled to regain footing from there, falling to Austin Prep 4-1.
The loss eliminated the Raiders from the Super 8 tournament, with the Cougars sweeping the best-of-3 first round series 2-0.
“It’s hard to describe how tough this is,” said emotional Central senior Lloyd Hayes. “We had a great year, but we just couldn’t make things happen in the (Super 8). We had our chances, and we did a lot of things right. But we made too many mistakes and we didn’t finish our chances.”
Austin Prep, led by goalie Elijah Harris of Haverhill and star forward Bobo Carpenter from North Reading, advances to the Super 8 semifinals for the second straight season, taking on top-seeded Boston College High School on Wednesday at the Tsongas Center.
Last night also marked the Cougars’ third win in four meetings with Central this season, a late regular season meeting the the two Super 8 contests. The Raiders took the first meeting 4-1 on New Years Day.
“It is always great to win a Super 8 game and advance in the tournament,” said Harris, who made 19 saves. “Now we are back in the same position we were last year, and that was our goal. Central is a tough team and we are happy with the result.”
For a period, it appeared Central Catholic could be poised to force a winner-take-all Game 3 of the series on Sunday.
Unlike the early 2-0 deficit the Raiders found themselves in on Sunday at the TD Garden, it was Central that jumped out to the lead last night.
With 6:51 to go in the first quarter, Hayes fired a pass to Corey Webber whose shot was blocked by a sprawling Harris. But there was Lester, who hauled in the puck and stuffed it home to give the Raiders their first lead of the Super 8, 1-0.
“In the first period they totally outplayed us,” said Austin coach Louis Finocchiaro. “They were beating us in both zones. They were really playing well. We knew we needed a change.”
That change came 6:58 into the second, when sophomore Jake McKenelley blasted home a slap shot for his fifth goal of the season off an assist from Carpenter. Then, 3:28 later, Central goalie Colin Soucy seemed to come up with a big save with his left pad, but Eric McAdams was able to jam the puck home for a 2-1 Austin Prep advantage.
“We played really well in the first,” said Jankowski. “But once they got that first goal it really got to us. It hurt us, and it was only a matter of time until they got the second goal.”
The third was no better, as Carpenter set up another score, dishing to J.J. Layton for a slapper inside the blue line that found the back of the net. Then McAdams added a second score for the final nail.
“This one hurts and it is going to hurt for a while,” said Jankowski. “It was a very special season. We won 16 games, made the Super 8 again and overcame a lot late in the season. But right now there is a lot of sting.”
For Hayes, it means he has likely played his final game alongside Webber and Lester, who have been his linemates since they were freshmen.
“I told them to keep their heads up,” said Hayes. “We are going to keep in touch and we all plan to keep playing. It’s been the best four years of my life and I have loved every second with these guys.”
Meanwhile, in the opposing locker room, Harris was setting his eyes on BC High, which beat Austin 6-2 in their regular season meeting.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” said Harris. “We lost to St. John’s Prep last year and came back to beat them in the tournament. We are confident and we believe we can win.”
Austin Prep 4, Central Catholic 1
Central Catholic (16-5-3) -- 1-0-0 --1
Austin Prep (15-4-4) -- 0-2-2 -- 4
GOALS: CC -- Alex Lester; AP -- Jake McKenelley, Eric McAdams 2, J.J. Layton
Assists: CC -- Corey Webber, Lloyd Hayes; AP -- Bobo Carpenter 2, Mike Eagan, Cam Russo, Mike Disciullo, McAdams, Andrew Cross
Saves: CC -- Colin Soucy 23; AP -- Elijah Harris 19