METHUEN, Mass. -- Well, that wasn't supposed to happen.
Most unbiased observers believed the Division 1 North semifinal between Andover and Central Catholic's girls basketball teams would play a thrilling, down-to-the-wire contest Wednesday night at Methuen High School. When the dust settled, Andover left the gymnasium with a 60-33 victory that left many wondering what happened to the feared Raiders squad.
The two teams played three times prior to Wednesday, with Andover (24-1) winning two of the three. Those were all close games, and was neither team ever won by more than 10 points. Central (18-3) did not lost to any team besides Andover this season.
“We didn’t play on the top of our game the other three times we played them, but it’s a great program and it’s a great rivalry for us for I don’t know how many years,” Andover head coach Jim Tildsley said. “We were fortunate to come out on top.”
With the way Andover’s Nicole Boudreau was shooting, there was no way the game was going to stay close. After struggling from long distance in the first quarter and only recording five points, she had a 16-point second quarter behind a trio of three-pointers and being 7-of-9 from the free throw line. She had almost surpassed her points-per-game average (22.3) in the first half alone.
She also did her part on the defensive end, and finished with 31 points, nine rebounds, and eight steals.
“My teammates got me into great positions to make shots and luckily I had a great shooting night and was able to hit some of those shots,” she said.
Tildsley made a creative defensive adjustment in the first half, recognizing the dominance of Central’s bigs Casey McLaughlin and Melissa Miller. He decided to put the smaller Boudreau and senior Natalie Gomez-Martinez on them, feeling that the matchup was more beneficial to his team even though the pair was giving up several inches to Central’s post players.
“McLaughlin had absolutely killed us the last few games that we played them,” he said. “We figured we had to do something so Nicole said, ‘Let me try.’ I’ve changed my coaching style and I listen to the kids a lot, and they said we need to change these match-ups, so I said okay let’s give it a go. I said to my assistant Dick Miller, ‘You watch these closely, and if this doesn’t work we’ll go back to the old match-ups.”
“At the end of the game they said to me, ‘We told you those match-ups would work.’ I guess you’ve got to listen to the kids once in a while.”
Andover took a 39-19 lead into the half, but Tildsley was still not comfortable.
“I was really concerned coming out in the second half, I said we had to come out hard in that second half and we did,” he said. “My hat goes off to my team. We had a lot of pressure on us to win that game and they did it.”
While Andover was having success with long-range shooting, Central was still trying to work the ball inside to McLaughlin and Miller late in the third period, facing a 23-point deficit. While they each finished with 10 and 11 rebounds respectively, only McLaughlin cracked double-digit points, finishing with 11.
Andover moves on to the Division 1 North final Friday against No. 5 seed Acton-Boxboro at the TD Garden. It earned its way to the championship game with a 44-41 overtime victory over Lincoln-Sudbury Tuesday. The two teams did not play each other in the regular season.
“I love playing at the Garden,” said Boudreau. “That was the first thing I said to Natalie [Gomez-Martinez] and Ally [Fazio] when we came out. I said, ‘We’re going back to the Garden.’ There’s nothing like it.”