By Dave Dyer
METHUEN — Andover showed off its survival skills in dramatic fashion last night in the Division 1 North semifinals at Methuen High School.
Thrown off track just three and a half minutes into the game when star sophomore Nicole Boudreau picked up her third foul and went to the bench for the next 12 1/2 minutes, the Golden Warriors stayed close to aggressive Westford Academy the rest of the half, trailing just 36-33 at intermission.
"When Nicole went to the bench, I was sick to my stomach," said Andover coach Jim Tildsley. "But, when we went into the locker room only down by three, I was skipping in there."
Then, thanks partly to the return of Boudreau, the Warriors took an 11-point lead in the third quarter, but they were forced to survive again as Westford mounted a furious comeback and even took the lead, 65-64, with 48 seconds remaining in the game.
But five clutch free throws in the closing seconds allowed Andover (22-3) to survive with a 69-67 victory to advance to Friday's North finals at the TD Garden against archrival Central Catholic, tentatively scheduled for 2:30 p.m..
"Our goal was to get to the Garden, and we've got Central and that's what everyone wanted," said a relieved Tildsley. "But let's just enjoy this for awhile. This was a great high school basketball game."
When Boudreau left the game, the score was tied, 6-6, but no one was feeling good at that point, particularly Boudreau.
"It was the worst feeling ever, just sitting there thinking I could be helping the team," said Boudreau. "But my team hung in there the first half. I was really proud of them."
Boudreau was particularly proud of freshman Devon Caveney, and with good reason. She came off the bench and led the Warriors with 11 of her 16 points in the first half, nine coming on three 3-pointers.
"She (Caveney) really saved us," said Tildsley. "We would have been in big trouble without her."
That's largely because Westford was limiting Andover to one shot and getting inside scoring from Stonehill-bound Asia Ewing, who scored 12 of her game-high 26 points in the first half, and Aly Boyle (15).
But Boudreau would come back to the court to start the third quarter, and the Warriors suddenly looked like a different — and better — team.
Trailing 41-37, Boudreau scored her first basket of the game two minutes in, to make it 41-39. A Natalie Gomez-Martinez 3-pointer gave Andover the lead, 42-41, and Boudreau followed with two long 3-pointers, a steal and layup. That fueled a 15-2 run that put Andover in front, 56-45.
"We told them that the first five minutes of the third quarter was going to make the difference and the girls really played well," said Tildsley.
In addition to Caveney, Boudreau and Gomez-Martinez (game-high 19 points), Dianna Bill was instrumental in the Andover comeback, scoring 13 points and coming up with several big rebounds, including the final one of the game.
Still, despite the brilliant third quarter, Andover wasn't home safe. Trailing 63-57 with 2:41 left, Westford put on its full-court press and seemed to rattle the Warriors, forcing a pair of turnovers and going on an 8-1 run to take the lead.
But two free throws by Gomez-Martinez, one by Bill, and two by Boudreau with 9.8 seconds left accounted for the final score. Ewing had one last attempt at tying the score, but the shot was off the mark and Bill got the ball to end the game.
"We showed our inexperience there at the end, and we panicked a little, but we hung in there," said Tildsley. "That's what counts."
Andover 69, Westford Academy 67
Division 1 North Semifinal
Andover (69): Fazio 1-2-5, Gomez-Martinez 6-5-19, Caveney 6-0-16, Bill 4-5-13, Boudreau 4-2-12, A.Alois 1-2-4. Totals 22-16-69
Westford (67): Scrist 1-0-2, Parker 1-4-6, Gallant 2-0-5, Wright 2-0-4, Malboeuf 3-1-7, Boyle 5-4-15, Ewing 12-2-26, Webb 1-0-2. Totals 27-11-67
3-pointers: A — Fazio, Gomez-Martinez 2, Caveney 4, Boudreau 2; W — Gallant, Boyle
Andover (22-3):13âÇ20âÇ23âÇ13 — 69
Westford Academy (20-3):17âÇ19âÇ11âÇ20 — 67