BOSTON — It was no coincidence last night that the poster boy for this Central Catholic season, rugged senior Lucas Hammel, had a tape over his swollen right eye, as if he were a boxer or mixed martial arts fighter.
In essence, that was what he and his teammates were this winter, particularly the final six weeks — fighters.
Realizing that a few basketball towns in the Merrimack Valley — particularly those in Andover and Methuen — feel absolutely no pity for the “All-Star Team on Hampshire Street” after a tough loss on the TD Garden parquet floor, the thing is this Central team represents the game in our region as much as any.
Sure, in December ... heck, even this summer, everyone with a stitch of basketball knowledge in the Merrimack Valley knew Central was loaded with at least five future college basketball players and probably was as good as any team in the state.
Central probably proved that premonition in its first defeat of this winter, when it lost to defending national champion, St. Anthony’s of Jersey City, N.J., 55-51, in Boston just before the new year. It was a game Central easily could have won in the final seconds.
But as the season went on, so did the unexpected. Central first lost 6-foot-4 senior Doug Gemmell to a serious concussion in a game against North Andover High (a loss!). And nearly a month later it lost 6-foot-5 junior Nick Cambio.
Let the losing begin, right?
Not on coach Ricky Nault’s watch. Gemmell and Cambio weren’t the only two players committing to Nault’s “hellish” man-to-man, full-court defense every day in practice. There were 13 other players who competed in the same, painful drills.
And along came the replacements, including and especially, 6-foot-6 junior Aaron Hall, ready, willing and able to keep Central in elite status despite losing two key big men.