LAWRENCE -- Is it the constant drama, an air of mischief, or just a bit of his dad’s Westchester County swagger showing through?
Love him or hate him, he is Central Catholic senior Lucas Hammel and for some reason, your eyes always find him.
By many accounts, Hammel was the deciding factor in the two clashes between the Raiders and North Andover.
Two weeks ago, all Hammel could do was sit in sweats, tend to his bruised-up thigh and watch his teammates spiral to late defeat without him.
Last night, he was back here in the trenches, knocking down triples, pestering anyone in a Black Knight uniform and backboning a nasty Raider second-half defensive effort.
“Lucas made all the difference in the world,” said Central coach Rick Nault. “He’s our leader on the floor out there. He really gets after it. We challenged him tonight, putting him on Derek Collins an awful lot out there. He certainly proved how important he is to us.”
The elation Hammel and his mates shared after last night’s 70-60 win can only be fleeting. A trip to the dungeon (Dunn Gym in Andover) looms Friday night, followed by an IAABO Board 130 tourney laden with three of the state’s top 10 teams and finally an MVC-title deciding trip to Lowell.
But you can forgive the excitement, considering how low Hammel was just 15 days ago.
“It killed me to have to sit there and watch it all happen,” said Hammel of Central coughing up a second-half, 18-point lead to the Knights back on Jan. 29. “You’re sitting there helpless, with a giant pit in your stomach. Nothing has ever hurt me so much.”
Hammel found a way to net a positive out of the Raiders’ only conference defeat that night in the Crozier Fieldhouse. Through all the bluster and that contagious flurry of North Andover 3-point bombs, Hammel found a flaw.
“We broke down because our defensive pressure in the backcourt went away,” said Hammel. “I remembered that, and this time around we weren’t going to make it that easy for them. I remember seeing that Derek Collins had something like 19 second-half points. I made sure that didn’t happen again, either.”
Hammel picked up three huge steals in the second half as the Raiders simply choked off the Knight attack. But, of course, that was expected.
“All hustle plays in the second half,” said Raider Nick Cambio of the defensive onslaught.
“We love that (swagger) from Lucas, especially when he’s taking charges. He gets all hyped up. It gets us going and we feed off it.”
Clearly, Hammel has grown into that inspirational backbone a top level team needs.
“Yeah, I’m emotional, but that comes from Central Catholic,” said Hammel. “I feel like my passion is contagious.”
Contagious, like when Joel Berroa bellies up and hits the hardwood for a loose ball at half court in the third quarter.
“To me, a play like that by Joel is the turning point of the game,” said Hammel. “It showed them how much we wanted this.”
Hammel himself punctuated the statement brilliantly, taking the handoff from a prone Berroa and unselfishly eschewing the layup.
He curled a sweet, no-look wrap-around pass to a charging Cambio, who soared and electrified the house with the layin.
The Raiders are by no means done, not with the road they have left before the state tourney seeds are even drawn.
That two-loss week (first North Andover, then St. John’s) is behind them for good, at least in Hammel’s eyes.
“It was a tough week, but we’re completely up for what lies ahead,” said Hammel.
“We’ll be going 110 percent every day, until we reach the state title game, and then we’re going to win it.”
Could a little swagger carry the Raiders that far?
Watching Lucas Hammel do his thing on the floor will make it enjoyable as we ultimately find out.