METHUEN, Mass. -- The blare from the final horn still fresh, Natalie Gomez-Martinez celebrated like she meant it. She jumped atop the home team bench, pumped her fist and cheered with her teammates. She even jumped down and gave a male fan a playful slap on the shoulder.
Gomez-Martinez’s senior year is only five games old. But it doesn’t matter if impressive wins like Tuesday’s 53-43 victory over rival Central Catholic come in December or March.
Each one is the last one in its own way. And Gomez-Martinez knows it.
“I’ve been through a lot of these Central games, and now as a senior, knowing these are one of my last games, I’m going all out,” Gomez-Martinez said. “I played the whole game, and I could still play another game. I know this is my last year, and beating Central is the best thing.”
Technically, Andover is. Ranked atop ESPNBoston.com’s MIAA girls basketball poll, the Golden Warriors (5-0) opened up a 14-point lead over second-ranked Central, held strong when the Raiders cut it to one and then exploded late to advance to the semifinals of the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament.
Boston College-bound junior Nicole Boudreau scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and the Marist commit Gomez-Martinez added 12 points. But while it was Andover’s stars providing several of the knockout blows, it was its role players who helped put the Raiders on the ropes.
Junior Ally Fazio shook off a second-half leg injury to score eight points, and sophomore Jackie Alois had as many points (10) as she did floor burns after forcing tie-ups at seemingly every key defensive moment in the fourth quarter.
No small feat for Alois, an under-sized 5-foor-5 forward playing with four fouls.
“I didn’t even realize my knee was bleeding at the end,” said Alois, who also snagged six boards. “Once I see the ball go down, I grab it. I’m a lot shorter than everyone so once they have it up, I don’t really have a chance. So I just try to get down under and be scrappy and get the ball.”
Her contributions aren’t lost on her Andover teammates. The defending Division I champions know a dominant team needs its role players as much as its stars, and between Alois, Fazio and Devon Caveney (six points, five rebounds), the Warriors feel they have the pieces to surround their future Division-I players.
They helped force the Raiders (3-1) into 25 turnovers and for long stretches, contained Gabie Polce (seven points) and Melissa Miller. And when Miller scored all 10 of her points in a three-minute, 17-second span in the fourth to slice a 36-27 deficit to 43-42, it was Alois who laid in a bucket to break the momentum.
Gomez-Martinez’s ensuing lay-up and Boudreau’s back-breaking 3-pointer simply finished it off.
“Everybody on the team knows their role,” Boudreau said. “Jackie knows she has to be a beast down low, she has to get every rebound, she has to get every loose ball. And then we have players like Devon and Olivia (Biles) who can knock down some shots. Me and Natalie need some help out there, so it’s definitely good that other people step up.”
Said Gomez-Martinez: “She (Alois) is a sophomore, but I told her, ‘You have to step up and play like a senior and just play hard.’ She had four fouls and she still played.”
Andover needed her to. Central Catholic is learning what life is like without all-time leading scorer, rebounder and current Boston College freshman Katie Zenevitch.
But it has a promising 6-foot sophomore in Casey McLaughlin (12 points, 15 rebounds) to join Miller and Polce, both bound for Division II schools next season. And despite its sloppiness Tuesday -- a good portion of it self-inflicted -- Central Catholic proved it can respond to adversity with its second-half run.
It just couldn’t “get over the hump,” Raiders coach Susan Downer said. Central Catholic called more timeouts (two) than it scored points (one) in the final 3:48.
“We’re only in game four here,” Downer said. “I’m still learning about substitution patterns, who’s in what position, who can step up in certain pressure situations. … I think the pressure gave us more trouble than I thought it would, so we’ll look at that and incorporate our bigs a little bit more when we play them again.”
And they certainly will.
“Probably three more times,” Andover coach Jim Tildsley said. “We play them twice in the league and we’ll probably play in them in the tournament. It’s such a great rivalry and it’s nice to be on top tonight.”
A few more notes and observations:
-- A drop-dead shooter, Boudreau is adjusting to playing more in the blocks this year. At 5-foot-9, she is the tallest player on the team, and had the assignment of McLaughlin for most of Tuesday’s game. She also had to sit for a spell during the fourth quarter because of foul trouble.
“Not picking up fouls, as we can see” is a big adjustment, Boudreau said. “It’s a different game down low, so I definitely have to adjust.”
-- Polce sang the national anthem before Tuesday’s game.
-- Andover plays Lowell in their semifinal game at 6 p.m. on Monday in Methuen. Central Catholic and Lawrence meet at 2:15 p.m. that day. Earlier Tuesday, Morgan Lumb scored 19 points in North Andover’s 52-38 victory over Methuen.