LAWRENCE — Last night, Central Catholic’s biggest challenges came from within its own ranks.
Starting guard Alex Nagri’s flu symptoms got progressively worse as the Raiders’ Division 1 North opener against Woburn went on, forcing her to the bench in the third quarter. Starters Caitlin Dell’Orfano, Amanda Williams and Courtney Walsh got into deeper foul trouble, forcing injured freshman Madison Borrelli onto the court.
Luckily for No. 5 Central, the 12th-ranked Tanners just didn’t have the horses to hang in the game, especially when Casey McLaughlin touched the ball.
Against some passive defense, the mobile senior went to town, dropping in 34 points to lead the Raiders to a 71-44 victory.
Next up will be upset-minded 13th seed Methuen, which easily ousted fifth seed Peabody yesterday, in the quarterfinals Saturday at 4 p.m. at Memorial Gym. Central (now 17-5) has beaten the Rangers (12-9) twice this season by an average of 22 points.
McLaughlin was a beast in the paint, either driving fearlessly for layups or giving her squad valuable second-chance opportunities.
She finished 11 for 21 from the floor and a perfect 12 for 12 from the line, adding 16 rebounds (11 on the offensive end), 5 steals and 3 blocked shots.
“When Casey is in the zone, she can do some damage,” said Central head coach Sue Downer. “She was finishing on both sides of the basket, she recognized she could slash through the paint ... Casey’s very driven in the postseason.”
Against McLaughlin and fellow front-liner Williams (10 points and 11 rebounds), Woburn could do very little on the inside as the Raiders easily won the rebounding battle, 42-27. Add 12 points from Walsh and the rout was complete.
With Central shorthanded, valuable bench contributions from Borrelli and sophomores Erica Hadad and Toni Joy kept the game well in hand.
“Our game plan is our defense. That will make things easier for us,” Downer said. “We want to work hard, take high-percentage shots, value the basketball, and good things will happen.”