By Bill Burt
---- — WORCESTER — The best boys basketball team in Massachusetts, Putnam Tech of Springfield, won its second straight state championship last night at the DCU Center, 74-70, before 6,500 fans.
But the toughest team in the state, Central Catholic, which won three state tournament games coming from behind in the final seconds, almost did it again.
Putnam fought off several eight-point leads, with Central eventually cutting the deficit to two points on three different occasions. In fact, Central had a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left.
“That’s one of the best teams I’ve seen in about four years,” said Central coach Rick Nault, of Putnam, which has won 34 straight and 49 of 50 over two years.
“They not only were athletic and ran the floor,” said Nault. “But they defended as well as any team we’ve seen. That was a great, great high school basketball team.
“We were really good in 2008 and 2010. This Putnam team was right there with our teams.”
Still, because of another “career” game from Nick Cambio, who scored 27 points for the second straight game, Central almost pulled off the upset.
So many times it appeared that Putnam was ready to pull away and make this a double-digit victory, but so many times Central answered back, particularly on offense.
“We’ve sort of been used to beating teams by double digits,” said senior guard Dizel Wright, who had two steals in the last three minutes. “But they were so fundamentally sound. They set a lot of picks. They run their plays. And they shoot the lights out. (Central Catholic) is one, tough team.”
Tyler Nelson (17 points) had a highlight lay-in while being fouled, to close it to 67-65 with 2:51 remaining and sending Central’s student section into a frenzy.
But five seconds later, Tyron Malone took a long pass and dunked the ball to send their student section into a frenzy, too.
Central freshman Kevin Fernandez answered that with a driving layup over a Putnam defender to make it 69-67 with 1:49 remaining.
Putnam’s Ty Nichols calmly swished four straight free throws, on two possessions, before Cambio hit a deep 3-pointer in the corner near Central’s bench with 50 seconds left.
Two missed free throws by Putnam set up Nelson’s 3-point attempt with nine seconds, which just missed. A quick foul sent Putnam to the line for clincher, but both were missed.
Nelson took the rebound, dribbled about 15 feet before throwing a long pass to a wide open Central sophomore Alan Pettway for a last second 3-point attempt.
But the attempt never happened, as he couldn’t handle the pass.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” said Nault. “I learned a lot about my team this year. I learned that despite some tough times, they fought until the end. I loved where we were, with Tyler having a shot to tie the game. I’d take that any time. A lot of people would.”
In the end, Central suffered from foul trouble all game with its second big man, Aaron Hall, and Putnam’s penchant for hitting 3-pointers, six in all.
“The fact that we were around to the end is a testament to our guys,” said Nault. “We got beat by a great team. And we almost pulled it off. We have nothing to feel bad about. Nothing.”
Putnam 74, Central Catholic 70
Division 1 State Final
Putnam Tech (74): Dizel Wright 4 0-1 8, Ty Nichols 2 8-8 14, Jon Garcia 5 2-4 14, Ki-Shawn Monroe 3 0-0 8, Ty Malone 3 0-0 6, David Murrell 7 8-14 22 Davidson Pacheco 1 0-0 2, Totals 25 18-27 74
Central Catholic (70): A.J. Pettway 2 0-0 5, Tyler Nelson 6 3-3 17, Kevin Fernandez 2 2-2 6, Aaron Hall 1 0-0 2, Alex Santos 4 2-4 11, Nick Cambio 11 4-4 27, Pat Sullivan 1 0-0 2, Totals 27 11-15 70
3-pointers: P — Nichols 2, Garcia 2, Monroe 2; CC — Pettway, Nelson 2, Cambio, Santos
Putnam (25-0): 22 16 16 20 — 74
Central Catholic (22-6): 17 14 21 18 — 70