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D1 EMass: Central Catholic 55, Braintree 51

BOSTON -– Central Catholic girls' basketball went right after early season state champion favorite Braintree tonight.

The Raiders (21-5) looked for quick counter attacks and a heavy in-the-paint assault to put a tall Wamps' squad in foul trouble. Central handed Braintree (24-3) its second straight Division 1 Eastern Mass. championship loss with a 55-51 win the at TD Garden.

The Raiders will play Central/West champ Holy Name (22-2) in Worcester's DCU Center on Saturday.

“We struggled up until to the last game winning that big game,” said Raiders coach Susan Downer. “We just tried to go at them and try to use our athleticism to break them down a little bit. I think we did a good job of getting them into foul trouble early on.”

Central lead for the final 19:09 as it created turnovers out of its newly instituted 2-3 zone and forced 17 fouls from Braintree. Ahead only 51-49 with 1:19 left in the game, junior Courtney Walsh cut into the lane and underhanded a pass along the to junior Amanda Williams along the baseline for a layup to maintain control. Braintree's Ashley Russell got the throw in quickly to the opposite basket on the rebuttal and set up fellow sophomore Molly Reagan for a 53-51 layup with 51.8 seconds left.

The Wamps had one more chance to equalize, but Williams punched the ball out from behind on a cut by Braintree sophomore Bridget Herlihy as senior Casey McLaughlin settled it.

“(Coach) always yells at me for reaching in and it is always a foul,” said Williams. “She went by me before and I was not going to let it happen again.”

Walsh nailed a pair of foul shots to seal the win at 55-51. Walsh lead the Raiders with 19 points, while McLaughlin buried 18 points and grappled 13 rebounds.

Central was 17 of 22 from the line.

“Never as big as those,” said Walsh. “I just tell myself this is what you play for and just put them in. I had to do it for my team and I had to do it for myself.”

“If your going to get to these games the thing that is going to change the game is free throws,” added Braintree coach Kristen McDonnell.

Trailing by as much as 12 in the fourth quarter, Braintree switched its player alignments on the press and cut the margin to two within the final two minutes.

McLaughlin nailed a 10-foot floater and drew a point from the charity strike to give CC the 51-39 advantage. Scoring the next 10 points, Wamps' Herlihy ducked a defender in the paint and finish a short shot to start the run at 6:07.

Herlihy flicked a down-low pass to Reagan at 1:29 to bring the score to 51-49.

“We were forced to (change up the matchups), because of foul trouble,” said McDonnell. “We did not come out as hard on our man-to-man (and) we tried to pack it in within the three-point line. We tried to take our taller girl Molly (Reagan) off their big other big girl instead of in the middle.”

Tied 26-26 with 4:51 left in the first half, Central pulled ahead for good with a rebound and pair of one-and-one foul shots from Walsh. The Raiders outscored Braintree 11 to two in the next 4:37, including a three-pointer from Walsh assisted by junior Alexandra Nagri for a 37-28 lead early in the third quarter.

“We have never played a 2-3 zone,” said Downer. “We had one day to prepare yesterday. They adjusted (and) they jumped to the ball.”

On a team that boast two girls over six feet tall, 5-foot-9 Russell has been a ball hawk on the boards all season. Russell dropped 17 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, while Reagan scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds.

The Wamps -- who lost 54-39 to three-time defending Division 1 state champ Andover last year at this stage -- will return nine players including its four highest scorers from tonight.

“(Russell) never gives up”, said McDonnell. “The second it leaves her hand she is going to get it again. I never thought we got in a rhythm in the first half.”