NORTH ANDOVER — The Commonwealth Motors Christmas Classic has its newest freshman sensation.

Tanahj Pettway, a 5-10 guard who commutes with his cousin A.J. Pettway from Worcester, dazzled the sellout crowd and lifted the Raiders to a 55-43 win over Lawrence.

With that commute, he obviously has no problems in traffic. Lawrence learned that the hard way with some exquisite ballhanding and smooth drives to the basket.

The ninth grader took over late, scoring 9 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter as the Raiders (2-3) avenged a Dec. 16 66-59 loss to the Lancers (2-2), who have now lost two straight.

“He’s such a gifted kid,” said coach Rick Nault, whose club will play defending champ Andover Monday here (8 p.m.) for the Licare Division title. “He makes plays with games on the line. And he’s such a coachable kid who just wants to win.”

With his skill set, the Raiders should do plenty of winning. And don’t be fooled by the 2-3 start, which was mainly due to suspensions.

Nault said John Homsey, Kevin Fernandez and David Vidal De Los Santos will be back for the championship game, while he said Pat Sullivan is out for the year with an injury and Alex Santos will remain suspended but be back “later in the season.”

With Pettway’s brilliant drives and all-around floor game, the Raiders were finally able to come through during crunch time. Nault said they had led in all four previous games with under four minutes to play. But the record was just 1-3.

Defense, like it has so many times in this program’s proud history, carried the day.

“It was a real gutty effort,” said Nault, who noted there is no towering Desrosiers, Zenevitch, Cambio or O’Shea on this club.

“This is a different team. We are usually big. We’ve lost four starters. I’m proud of these guys. It wasn’t pretty. But that’s the way we have to play.”

He said the difference this team vs. the early-season LHS meeting was the guards.

“I trust so much in our guards,” he said.

The Pettways are all-stars but don’t overlook junior George Grillakis and sharphshooter Brian Triglione.

Ian Carmichael isn’t a big scorer but the 6-6 junior gets his nose dirty and the Lancers knew he was out there. They certainly knew Jeremy Urena was out there as he came off the bench and was non-stop hustle on the defensive end against Lawrence star Dantae Neal (team-high 15 hard-earned points).

“Carmichael and Sam Lara solidified the paint,” praised Nault.

The Lancers are probably also thinking what might have been as 6-8 bruising big man Franziel Reyes, who had a huge offseason, continues to sit out for disciplinary reasons.

The Raider big guns are back. With Pettway emerging and the big guns returning, the rest of the area had better watch out.

Central Catholic 55,Lawrence 43

Licare Semifinals

Central Catholic (55): A.J. Pettway 3 1-2 7, George Grillakis 3 1-3 8, Brian Triglione 2 0-0 5, Victor Mwaurah 1 0-1 2, Jeremy Urena 0 1-2 1, Sam Lara 0 2-4 2, Tanahj Pettway 8 7-11 24, Colin Bradanese 2 0-0 4, Ian Carmichael 1 0-0 2, Steven Hajjar 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 12-23 55

Lawrence (43): Miguel Ponce 0 0-0 0, Gregory Trinidad 1 1-3 3, Dantae Neal 6 3-7 15, Darryl Munoz 3 3-4 9, Julio Vicente 1 0-0 3, Kenny Castro 1 3-3 5, Andy Henriquez 1 1-2 3, Chen Chen 2 0-0 5, Marcos Germosen 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 11-19 43

3-pointers: CC — Grillakis, Triglione, T. Pettway

Central Catholic (2-3): 12 11 14 18 — 55

Lawrence (2-2): 10 14  9 10 — 43

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