LAWRENCE — Desperate for some help, Rick Nault dared someone on his bench to step up and assuage the pain of Doug Gemmell’s loss.
A pair of juniors, Aaron Hall and Austin Perry, answered the call — at least for one night — helping Nault’s Central Catholic Raiders to a dominating 60-43 win over intra-city rival Lawrence High.
Central now keeps pace with North Andover at 11-1 in the conference with three games left. Lawrence tumbles to 7-8 – after a 5-0 start – and will need a 3-2 closing kick to sniff the Division 1 North Tournament.
“It’s no secret, with Dougie out, we need some help,” said Nault, who hinted that Gemmell most likely isn’t coming back this year. “To play our way and do what we like to do on the court over the long haul, you just can’t do it with six guys.
“Both guys have worked so hard, and they offer different, valuable talents for us. With his length, Aaron can play with the bigger guys, and Austin is an athlete. He’s an excellent defender, and can really hurt teams with his athleticism. They did a very nice job tonight.”
More importantly, they offered Nault a chance to rest his top five early without a precipitous drop.
Ironically, both athletes had their chances earlier in the year, but they were left out of the rotation when Nault carved things down to seven.
Neither junior was slowed by the snub.
“You keep playing hard, you’re going to get your minutes. That’s how I looked at it,” said Hall. “I’m just trying to up my game to help try and fill in for one of the great players in our league.”
That great player Gemmell wouldn’t allow either guy to grow soft as the year rolled on either.
“Doug pushed us both in practice,” said Perry. “He kept us motivated. He wouldn’t allow us to do it any other way.”
Both Hall and Perry should continue to see significant time as the Raiders press on in the fight for their seventh straight league title.
“It’s pretty good,” said Hall. “We both get to play big parts on a great team in a really competitive league.”
Added Perry, “But I don’t see us changing. I like our mindset right now. We’re just going to keep working and fighting for those minutes.”
For the Lancers, who tumbled below the .500 mark for the first time all year, it was a frustrating night, an uphill race on skates.
Now 7-8, they absorbed scoreless binges of 3:09 to open the game and 7:39 from mid-first quarter into mid-second, yet somehow trailed by just three at half, 24-21, after closing with a 17-6 flurry.
But halftime chilled the Lancers and their hopes for the upset on the road.
And the remaining Raider big men — Joel Berroa and Nick Cambio — slammed the door on the visitors, combining for 22 points and 14 boards in the second half as the Central simply delivered a vicious hook to the Lancers’ state tourney chances.
Berroa, unstoppable on the right block, led all scorers with 16 points on the night, and Cambio had 14.
Tyler Nelson, who literally had a Lancer draped on him all over the court for 30 minutes, finessed his way to 15 points.
Kevin Fabian had 10 points to lead the Lancers, who need three wins from the remaining five with Methuen, Andover, Lowell, 15-1 Mansfield and 10-6 Dighton-Rehoboth.
Central Catholic 60, Lawrence 43
Lawrence (43): Esmelin Romero 2 2-3 6, Tre’von Farley 2 0-1 4, Johnathan Paulino 1 2-2 4, Kevin Fabian 4 0-0 10, Julius Martinez 1 0-0 3, Luis Torres 1 2-2 4, Roberto Speing 1 1-2 3, Dantae Neal 1 0-0 2, Carlos Padilla 2 0-0 5, Juan Cabrera 1 0-0 2, Totals 16 7-10 43
CC (60): Lucas Hammel 2 1-4 5, Joel Berroa 7 2-3 16, Nick Cambio 6 1-2 14, Tyler Nelson 5 4-6 15, Austin Perry 1 0-0 2, Aaron Hall 1 2-3 4, Jamahl Lopez 1 1-2 3, Mike Barry 0 0-0 0, Ryan Barry 0 1-2 1, Totals 23 12-22 60
3-pointers: L — Fabian 2, Martinez, Padilla; CC — Cambio, Nelson
Lawrence (7-8): 4 17 10 12 — 43
Central Catholic (14-3): 9 15 22 14 — 60