By Hector Longo
---- — DANVERS – The Central Catholic boys basketball team enters the first full week of February, truly in unchartered territory.
Losers of two games, including yesterday’s 55-52 defeat at St. John’s Prep, and without their returning Eagle-Tribune All-Star forward Doug Gemmell in the last six days, an air of uneasiness has the Raider faithful in collective head-shake.
“It’s definitely a position we’re not used to being in,” said Raider coach Rick Nault. “Having three regular-season losses is something that’s new to us.”
On the floor yesterday here at the Prep, Nault had to be proud of his charges, who fought off fatigue and willed their way back into the game after trailing by as many as 14 in the third quarter.
“We knew up 10, 12 and 14, there was no way the game was over,” said Prep coach Sean Connolly. “It was only a matter of time for Central to come back at us. But we’ve got a little toughness here too you know.”
Twice, the Raiders had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead – down 53-52 and 54-52. Both times the Prep forced Central turnovers.
It was in those two possessions where the loss of Gemmell, who suffered a head injury in Tuesday night’s loss at North Andover, was felt most.
The Raiders clearly appeared a bit rattled without their senior leader.
“We’re still not sure if (Gemmell) is going to be back this year,” said Nault. “He does so much for us. He’s our emotional leader.
“But we’re a tough group. We were down seven (53-46) with 1:45 left, and we got ourselves in a position to win the football game.”
Moral victory or not for the Raiders, who basically went six deep all day, it was the Prep that dictated terms in this non-leaguer.
“We’ve learned from playing Central over the years what toughness means in games like this,” said Connolly. “When these teams play each other, you have to be tough. If you’re not, Central abuses you.”
The Prep showed plenty of grit, led by the dynamic backcourt of North Andover’s Tyler Dooley (12 points) and Drex Costello (11).
Costello’s best work came on the defensive end, where he shadowed harassed Raider Tyler Nelson (1 for 12) most of the afternoon.
“You try to not let (Nelson) get rolling, and Drex did a great job on him,” said Connolly.
Another Prep Turkey Towner, Max Butterbrodt, added 11 points in the paint.
Joel Berroa led Central, which went a perfect 14 of 14 from the line, scoring 18 points. Nick Cambio added 14, and Nelson chipped in 10.
The Raiders now have to find a way to rally the troops as they face the pivotal stretch run. Tied with North Andover at 10-1, the Raiders face a four-game gauntlet of Lawrence, North Andover, Lowell and Andover.
Nault is faced with a tough situation. His club’s style is physical, relentless defense to ignite their fast break.
It might be impossible to keep up their usual frenzied pace with only six men in the rotation. Fatigue clearly played a factor yesterday.
“Maybe that’s on me,” he said. “My job is to get the other guys ready, and it’s something I haven’t really done yet.”
St. John’s Prep 55,
Central Catholic 52
agateText:Central Catholic (52): Lucas Hammel 2 0-0 4, Tyler Nelson 1 8-8 10, Jamahl Lopez 3 0-0 6, Nick Cambio 5 4-4 14, Joel Berroa 8 2-2 18, Mike Barry 0 0-0 0, Totals 19 14-14 52
SJP (55): Tyler Dooley 3 4-6 12, Drex Costello 5 1-3 11, Ben Judson 1 1-2 4, Josh Syska 4 0-1 8, Max Butterbrodt 5 1-1 11, Max Burt 1 0-0 3, Jake Burt 3 0-0 6, Totals 22 7-13 55
3-pointers: SJP — Judson, M. Burt, Dooley 2
Central Catholic (13-3): 12 12 14 14 — 52
St. John’s Prep (15-1): 16 16 14 9 — 55