LAWRENCE — Any prayers of empty tanks or thoughts of a letdown were washed away almost immediately.
With a second straight Christmas Tournament title in their sights, the Central Catholic boys ran the home team off the floor with a near-perfect opening quarter and left no doubt in a 77- 59 championship victory before about 700 fans here last night.
“This team, in terms of mental toughness, is the best group we’ve ever had,” said Raider coach Rick Nault, who now has five Christmas titles in seven years at the helm. “They’ve been through a lot of emotion the last three days, and they’ve handled it brilliantly.”
Tournament Most Valuable Player Doug Gemmell rang the alarm for the Raiders, pumping in their first six points to erase Lawrence’s only lead of the night (2-0).
The senior forward netted 12 first-quarter points and Tyler Nelson hit all four of his first quarter shots — three bombs and a driving runner — helping the Raiders build a 27-13 lead on 10-of-15 shooting. “We played a lot harder (Friday night vs. St. Anthony’s of N.J.) than we did on Thursday and it carried over into this one,” said “Baby Face” Nelson, an all-tourney selection who led all scorers with 22.
“We executed well on offense and had great ball movement, and that created good shots.”
Nelson played a little bit angry last night, having struggled in Thursday night’s 2-point semifinal win over Andover.
“I guess you could say I was in a bit of a mini-slump,” said Nelson, something we hadn’t seen from him in two amazing seasons with the Raiders. “Some days they fall. Some days they don’t. I just got in the gym and put up a bunch of shots. I found my rhythm again, and I started to get much better looks.”