ANDOVER — Man for man, Andover High ran step for step with Central Catholic, from the opening tap to the final horn.
The Warriors simply had no answers when the Raiders shifted gear and went zone.
Twice in the second half, Central coach Rick Nault flipped the switch. The results were runs of 12-1 and 8-0 by the Raiders, who latched on to at least half of the Merrimack Valley Conference Division 1 title with a 60-54 victory here at a packed Dunn Gymnasium.
“We knew they’d go zone, you know, great coaching over there. We just have to be a little more confident against it,” said Warrior coach David Fazio. “We just got a little spooked, a couple brain cramps, that was it. We were just too sloppy with the ball.”
The late miscues were particularly agonizing, with the Raiders nursing a 46-43 advantage. Three straight Andover turnovers resulted in six points in a row by Tyler Nelson, pushing the margin to 52-43.
“The zone just changed the pace of the game,” said Nelson, who played all 32 minutes and led all scorers with 27 points on the night. “It slowed them down, and we got the turnovers we needed.”
Andover found an elixir, going inside out and scoring with back-to-back David Giribaldi threes, but it was too late, what with Nault basically handing the game over to his junior assassin.
Nelson would answer Giribaldi’s athletic, fast-break, catch and score layin with two free throws inside the final minute. One more from the stripe would make it a 17-point second-half for The Eagle-Tribune Super Teamer.
“I think Tyler showed the type of player he really is tonight,” said Raider coach Rick Nault. “He was immense. Joel (Berroa) and Nick (Cambio) have been stepping it up lately, but they were in foul trouble. So we did all we could to keep the ball in Tyler’s hands.”