---- — LAWRENCE — After shadowing Tyler Nelson baseline to baseline for the better part of 32 minutes, St. John’s Prep’s Drex Costello should have been lifeless in the waning seconds of last night’s IAABO Board 130 Classic opener against Central Catholic.
Instead, he was Superman.
With the clock running down and the game knotted at 61-61, Costello corralled a pass, sprinted into the frontcourt, stepped back, rocked, fired and splashed a 28-foot 3-pointer with 6.5 second left to give St. John’s a 64-61 lead and ultimately its second win over the host Raiders this year, 64-62.
“There were a couple defenders around. I just took a dribble left and was feeling it,” said North Andover’s Costello. “I really had no idea how much time was left. I thought it was a buzzer beater.”
For the Prep, that last 6.5 was an eternity — this is Central Catholic after all — and the Eagles found a way to survive … barely. Out of the timeout, Raider coach Rick Nault brought out the old Valparaiso play made famous by Homer and Bryce Drew in the 1998 NCAA tourney upset of Ole Miss.
The Nick Cambio re-direct went perfectly to Tyler Nelson and he looked to hoist the equalizer. Before he could, he was fouled, though.
Nault called for three free throws, thinking Nelson was in the act of shooting. The officials ruled differently, saying the foul was before.
Nelson made one and missed the second intentionally. Raider Joel Berroa got the offensive board, but was stripped of the ball on the way up without a call as time ran out on Central.
For Costello and the Prep, there was elation, a chance to take on Lynn English (tonight, here, 7:15, at Central) for the Board 130 Classic title and an opportunity to lock down the top seed in the Division 1 North tourney.
“We know they are one of the best teams in the state,” said Costello, who finished with 16 points. “But we also know we are right there with them.”
It was a money performance for Costello, who had also put his team up 59-58 with his first triple of the night, with 90 seconds left in the game.
Taking on Nelson in a complete face-guard from the opening tip is a physically taxing proposition.
“It’s hell,” said Costello. “He’s constantly moving, running off screens, trying to stay with him. He had some moments, but I did my best to disrupt.”
Nelson finished with 18 points on the night, but missed significant time in the first half when he was hit with a touch foul and then an off-the-ball, inconsequential push.
“Believe me, anytime he’s out of the game, it’s a huge relief,” said Costello.
For Central, it was a similar case to the last time these teams met in Danvers.
The Raiders put themselves in a deep hole, only to show their grit and make a furious second-half run.
St. John’s put up 40 in the first half, a fact that will definitely haunt Nault. The 17-point intermission lead grew to 21 in the third, until Joel Berroa and the Raiders decided enough was enough.
On Central’s Senior Night, Berroa delivered what might have been his best performance in a sparkling four-year career.
“He was an animal,” said Costello admirably. “He killed us on the boards.”
Berroa finished with 25 points, 15 rebounds and two savage blocks right in the heart of the Raider comeback.
“Joel was amazing. He nearly willed us all the way back,” said Raider coach Rick Nault. “My heart hurts for him right now.”
Central now will face defending Division 1 state champion Springfield Central in the consolation game tonight at 5:30. The Raiders will close out the regular season on Wednesday night at Lowell. A win will give the Raiders sole possession of the MVC Division 1 championship. A loss would mean the Raiders would split the title with North Andover.
Knights’ Bardwell, Haverhill’s Dionne win MVC MVPs
North Andover High senior Chris Bardwell was voted Merrimack Valley Conference Division 1 MVP by the coaches yesterday at the league postseason meeting.
Bardwell, who transferred to North Andover after three years at Central Catholic, helped the Knights to an amazing first year in the conference at 13-2. He led the MVC in scoring at 21.6 points a game.
Dionne, a junior guard, paced the Hillies, who captured the Division 2 title, at 12.6 points a game.
The complete all-conference and all-star teams will be announced later this week.
St. John’s Prep 64,
Central Catholic 62
agateText:SJP (64): Josh Syska 6 0-0 12, Ben Judson 2 0-0 5, Drex Costello 7 0-0 16, Tyler Dooley 4 2-6 10, Quentin Bullen 6 2-2 16, Max Burt 1 0-0 2, Max Butterbrodt 1 1-2 3, Totals 27 5-10 64
CC (62): Jamahl Lopez 1 0-0 2, Mike Barry 1 0-0 3, Lucas Hammel 1 2-2 4, Tyler Nelson 6 3-4 18, Nick Cambio 4 0-0 8, Joel Berroa 10 5-8 25, Aaron Hall 0 2-2 2, Totals 23 12-16 62
3-pointers: CC — Barry, Nelson 3; SJP — Judson, Costello 2, Bullen 2
St. John’s Prep (18-1): 22 18 11 13 — 64
Central Catholic (17-3): 12 11 23 16 — 62