ANDOVER, Mass. -- There are few things Jim Tildsley values more than a quick-triggered sniper.
One of them is a left-handed, quick-triggered sniper.
So with his Andover girls basketball team knotted with rival Central Catholic late in the fourth quarter Friday, he drew up one of his more successful inbounds plays to free up southpaw sophomore Devon Caveney. Starting in the low block, Caveney waited for two screens to push down from the elbows, curled toward the top of key and took a pass without a Raider within five feet of her.
“She’s got a sweet stroke,” Tildsley marveled afterward. “I love lefties.”
Caveney nailed the 3-pointer, her second in less than a minute and fourth of the game, and Andover came up with one last stop with under 10 seconds to play to rally past Central Catholic, 53-52, in what so far is the Merrimack Valley Conference’s game of the season.
On a night when the Golden Warriors lived and died by the outside shot, Caveney couldn’t miss, scoring 22 points to keep Andover (8-0) atop ESPN Boston’s MIAA girls basketball rankings. Junior Nicole Boudreau shrugged off a cold shooting touch for 17 points, 10 rebounds and the game-sealing steal in the waning moments, and Natalie Gomez-Martinez added 11 points.
Andover needed every one. Central Catholic (6-2), ranked fifth by ESPN Boston, led by as many as 11 points early, four by halftime and seemed to have the Warriors at arm’s length throughout the fourth quarter before Caveney tied the game with a 3-pointer with 1:58 left to play.
The teams then traded turnovers -- Boudreau was called for a travel before the Raiders were tagged on a quick five-second violation -- setting up Caveney’s heroics. The 5-foot-8 guard hit four of Andover’s eight 3-pointers, using her size on the wing to find great looks throughout the game.
The Warriors’ first player off the bench as a freshman, Caveney has proven a fantastic complement to Boudreau and Gomez-Martinez this season, and when necessary, a star herself.
“I knew I had to score, so I needed to hit those tough shots,” Caveney said. “We struggled, but we pulled through. We got the win.”
Central Catholic didn’t, but “heartbreaking,” coach Susan Downer said, doesn’t necessarily mean disappointed.
Placing an emphasis inside after struggling down low in their 53-43 loss to Andover on Dec. 21, the Raiders thrived behind senior Melissa Miller’s 18 points and game-high 16 rebounds. Combined with emerging 6-foot sophomore Casey McLaughlin (13 points, six rebounds), the senior helped control the blocks, scooping in a variety of lay-ups and put-backs while keeping Andover’s drivers at bay.
In all, 44 of Central Catholic’s 52 points came inside the paint. Downer said Miller “played the best that I’ve seen her play yet as a high school player.”
“There were a lot of things in the end that we needed to do better and we didn’t,” said Downer, whose team committed 22 turnovers, the majority in the halfcourt. “But I’m proud of them. This is the best game we’ve played this season. I had three freshmen rotating in there. So there were a lot of positives out of this game.”
Momentum swayed throughout the night within Andover’s rumbling, jam-packed gymnasium. Down eight points to start the second quarter, Andover ripped off a 10-0 run to take its first lead. Central Catholic then closed the half on a 10-4 stretch to retake the advantage, only to see it switch hands five times in the third.
Miller’s lay-up with 2:10 to play staked the Raiders to a 3-point lead, which Caveney erased and then handed Andover with back-to-back 3-pointers.
“We know and I know she can stick the 3,” Downer said of the sophomore. “And that’s what dangerous about them. You cannot not play anybody. “
Miller hit another lay-up with 34 seconds left to slice it to one, and after Boudreau missed the front end of one-and-one, Central Catholic called timeout to set up its final play. But in a hectic sequence, Gabie Polce (12 points) pushed the ball over midcourt, only to have it stripped by Boudreau, who -- on her back -- passed upcourt to run out the clock.
Andover players rushed to the center of the court in a wild celebration that Tildsley chose to avoid.
“I’m exhausted,” he said with a smile afterward. “It doesn’t get better than this.”
We’ll see: The teams meet again Feb. 7 in Lawrence.
“One of our goals is to win the MVC championship, and we know to do it we have to beat Central,” Boudreau said. “It’s a key win, and it gives us a little bit of boost, a little more confidence.”