---- — WORCESTER — There’s a reason the highly-touted Holy Name of Worcester girls basketball team, before 6,000 fans at DCU Arena, couldn’t get closer than four points the entire night after trailing 6-1 to Central Catholic just three minutes into the game.
Casey McLaughlin wouldn’t let them. Literally.
The Central Catholic senior not only finished her career scoring 27 points in the Div. 1 girls state championship game, more than half of her team’s points in the 53-48 win over Holy Name, but she did it when it mattered most.
“That’s Casey,” said Central’s 5-foot-2 spark plug, Alexandra Nagri, of Salem, N.H. “We have a lot of good players here. Everybody plays a role. On this team, Casey is our go-to player.”
This, though, was bigger than being a “go-to” gal. The was the stuff of legends. This was something we’d expect — and saw — from Andover High great Nicole Boudreau.
Holy Name got within four or five points on seven occasions in the second half — 31-26, 33-28, 36-30, 40-36, 44-38, 46-41 and 48-43.
McLaughlin was seven-for-seven with the dagger. “Clutch” might not be strong enough of a descriptive word.
“What an athlete! What a competitor!” exclaimed Central coach Sue Downer afterward. “I can’t put into words how important she has been to our program. She played her best game when it mattered most.”
It was a repeat performance of sorts. McLaughlin scored 18 points in the win over Braintree, also grabbing 17 rebounds while going against three 6-foot-plus defenders, two of whom are eventually headed to Boston College.
This time, McLaughlin was head-to-head with 6-foot-2 junior Brianna Frias, who is headed to Providence College in September of 2014.
Most of those “clutch” hoops were with Frias on McLaughlin.
“You can see the determination in her face,” said Frias. “You can see that she’s quick on film. But she’s quicker in person. She’s unbelievably quick.”
Holy Name coach Barry Finneron said they talked incessantly the last few days about McLaughlin’s quickness and her special move to the hoop.
“She fakes to the left and then goes hard to the right. She does it all the time,” said Finneron. “We knew it was coming. We practiced for it. But we couldn’t do anything to stop it. That is one special player that McLaughlin kid.”
Against, Braintree last Monday, Downer recalled trying to run out the clock with her team ahead 51-39 in the fourth quarter. Her conservative approach almost backfired as Central’s offense stagnated and Braintree got within two points (51-49) before an Amanda Williams layup and Courtney Walsh free throws sealed it.
Call it a lesson learned for last night.
“I realized that I probably got conservative against Braintree and I wasn’t going to let them happen (last night),” said Downer. “I learned a lesson. That isn’t Casey’s game. She’s attack, attack, attack. That was the difference tonight, Casey kept attacking and they could never get back in it.”
While McLaughlin will forever be lauded for her unconscious scoring in the championship game, a few of her teammates say her biggest gift is her optimism, be it at practice or title game.
“When your best player is also the most positive player, it helps all of us so much,” said Nagri. “When some of us are struggling, she’s the one coming off saying it’s going to be all right. I love playing with her. She’s the ultimate leader.”
McLaughlin, we’ve come to learn at the end of her career, is the ultimate winner, too. Great players do great things when opportunity knocks.
She answered every knock last night.
“I’ve wanted this state title so much,” said McLaughlin, who is headed to Stonehill College in the fall. “I’ve never wanted anything as much as this. I just did my job, like everyone else on this team did. We are a team and I wouldn’t be here holding this trophy without my team.”
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.