LAWRENCE — With several Central Catholic players ailing from the flu, the Raiders caught a break when a snow storm that never materialized postponed their quarterfinal showdown with Cambridge Rindge and Latin a day.
It turned out Central required an extra 16 minutes to find its range.
But once the third-seeded Raiders found their shooting touch, they opened a third-quarter lead they managed to hold onto for a 60-53 victory over the No. 11 Falcons in the Division 1 North quarterfinals.
The win sends Central into the Division 1 North semifinal against Lowell at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Lawrence High School.
Sunday’s matchup was the sixth in the past seven postseasons between the two, and the win snapped Central’s four-game overall losing streak to Cambridge, including the North quarters (2015), semis (16) and finals (17).
“They are very physical, and (6-foot-6) Khai (Smith) in the middle is a monster,” Central coach John Walsh said. “The one thing about us is we don’t have a ton of size. We thought, if we could get the game into the 70s, that would aid us.
“We weren’t able to get it up there, so I’m just happy the kids persevered and got through. … It’s been a tough week, but every team is dealing with sickness.”
Cambridge (15-9) used its size to disrupt Central’s inside attack early as the Raiders missed 13 of their 18 first-quarter shots and 22 of the 31 taken in the opening half. The Falcons opened their biggest lead at 12-5 with 3 minutes left in the first before Central (21-3) battled back to tie entering the second behind Jalen Aquino’s five points in the final 90 seconds.
Aquino continued his hot hand in the second, scoring seven of his team’s nine in the period. He gave the Raiders a 19-14 lead on a nice step-back three from the top with 5:03 left.
That, however, would be Central’s final points of the frame until a scooping drive by Aquino with 49 seconds left helped the Raiders grab a 21-20 halftime lead.
Cambridge stayed close with Khai Smith scoring nine of his 16 points and grabbing six of his nine rebounds before intermission.
“Most of us were sick, so I think the extra day of practice really helped,” said Central forward George Smith. “But after going through walk-throughs (on Saturday) it carried over into the first half. We had the whole first half to get ready and in the second half we picked it up and started to play well.”
After Aquino opened the third with a pull-up jumper and the last of his three treys, it was Smith who picked up his game after being held to five in the opening half. The junior first finished off a 9-2 run with a drive that provided a 30-22 lead at 5:06.
Smith’s pull up and a three offset Khai Smith’s final two field goals of the game, and a Kevin Constant bucket off an inbound play gave Central a 37-27 lead with 2:45 left.
Five Raiders provided early fourth-quarter points and a put back by Aquino with 3:31 left gave Central its biggest lead 52-41. The Raiders also handled the ball extremely well, committing only three turnovers in the second half and 10 in the game.
“We were just trying to get going early on,” said Aquino, who scored a career-high 22, sharing game honors with George Smith. “When things didn’t go our way, we toughed it out. We just kept playing hard to see what happened.”
Cambridge managed to cut the lead to four when a God West drive made the score 55-51 with 1:26 remaining. But Central converted just enough free throws down the stretch (five of 10) while the Falcons were missing five of their final six field-goal attempts and all four of their free throws.
The victory sets up a rubber match with MVC Large runner-up Lowell, which split a pair of games with the Raiders, who won the conference finale to win the regular-season title.
“We’re going to have to play as hard as we’ve ever played before” George Smith said. “It’s not going to be easy. It’s a tied series, and it’s become like a rivalry over the past few years.”
Central 60, Cambridge 53
Division 1 North quarterfinals
Cambridge R&L (53): God West 3 1-4 7, Hakan West 3 0-0 6, Leon Williams 1 0-2 2, Khai Smith 6 4-7 16, Elliot Harris 5 3-3 15, Solomon Hearn 1 0-0 2, Peter Loutzenhiser 0 3-4 3, Harrison Brown 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 11-20 53
Central Catholic (60): Kevin Constant 2 0-1 4, Xavier McKenzie 2 2-6 6, Jalen Aquino 9 1-2 22, Cam Homsey 0 2-2 2, George Smith 8 3-5 22, Anthony Traficante 1 0-0 2, Adrian Rodriguez 0 0-0 0, Nate Godin 0 0-0 0, Jonathan Peguero 0 2-2 2, Jeff Goguen 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 10-18 60
3-pointers: CRL — Harris 2; CC — Aquino 3, Smith 3
Cambridge (15-9): 12 8 12 21 — 53
Central Catholic (21-3): 12 9 18 21 — 60