English is the top dog in Division 1 North

Jarnel Guzman (left) tries to make a pass over Central Catholic defenders. (Photo by Katie Morrison)

LOWELL– The Bulldogs are on to TD Garden.

With Saturday’s 67-60 win over No. 3 Central Catholic at Tsongas Arena, the No. 1 English boys basketball team claimed the Division 1 North sectional title. The Bulldogs advanced to Tuesday’s (7:15) state semifinal against South champion Newton North at TD Garden. They’re two wins away from winning the Division 1 state championship.

“I’m just happy for my group,” English coach Antonio Anderson said. “Those kids work hard. They’ve been through it all. We push them to the limit in practices, tryouts. They’re in tip-top shape. Those guys work so hard. I couldn’t be happier.”

Jarnel Guzman led the Bulldogs with 23 points. Alonzo Linton logged a double-double at 17 points and 12 rebounds. Jack Rodriguez added 14 points.

Central’s Kevin Constant led all scorers with 29 points.

The early jitters were present in the first quarter as both teams took a few minutes to step into the flow of the game. Midway through the period, it was Central that held a 6-4 edge. Guzman changed that with a basket and a 3-pointer, giving English its first lead of the night at 9-6. Linton capped the opening quarter with a layup to end a 5-0 Central run. Central and English were locked in an 11-11 tie heading into the second quarter.

“It’s tough sometimes,” Anderson said. “(Central) coach John Walsh is such a good coach. He’s won like three or four state championships. You don’t know what he’s going to throw at you. I just kept telling them ‘keep fighting.’ We had a game plan and we were going to stick to it.”

From there, both teams started to hit their shots. It was back-and-forth through the second quarter with the two matching one another shot for shot. Rodriguez netted a pair of 3-pointers for the Bulldogs but Central held a 34-31 edge at halftime.

Joaquin Crespo swished a 3-pointer two minutes into the third quarter, putting English ahead 38-36. Central’s Cameron Homsey scored the next five points on a pair of freebies and a 3-pointer, and the Raiders reclaimed the lead at 41-38. Trailing 43-41 in the closing minutes of the quarter, and with Guzman on the bench (he picked up his third foul), the Bulldogs put together a crucial 7-0 run. Linton muscled his way to a couple hoops in the post, Calvin Seng hit a long-range three off the bench and English led 48-43 at the end of the third quarter.

“Alonzo’s been playing like a man,” Anderson said. “That’s one thing I’ve been telling him since the beginning of the season, ‘use your athleticism, use your strength and just do what you do best.’ He’s finishing, making his free throws, rebounding like a manchild. It’s awesome.”

Linton pushed the lead to seven (50-43) with a bucket to start the fourth quarter. After Central scored, Seng’s jumpshot helped English keep its seven-point advantage. The Bulldogs couldn’t stretch their lead, allowing the Raiders to climb back in with a full-court press. Central whittled the lead down to a point (57-56) but Mason Jean-Baptiste added a three to give his Bulldogs breathing room at 60-56.

“Guys stepped up,” Anderson said. “Mason, Jack. Joaquin didn’t score much but he hit one big three and he played defense. Calvin came in and made big plays. I tell them all the time ‘you have to be ready. When your name’s called you have to be ready.’ They showed up and earned it.”

That was the spark English needed to put it away for good. Rodriguez followed with a layin and the Bulldogs hit their free throws down the stretch. Trailing 65-60 with 16 seconds remaining, Central needed a quick foul to keep hope alive. Instead, English played keep-away, found a wide-open Guzman for a layup and the Bulldogs sealed their 67-60 win.

The win marked English’s first sectional crown since 2009.

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