NORTH ANDOVER — In the pre-season, the Billerica girls basketball team was considered a legitimate Merrimack Valley Conference contender.
But, loaded with talent, including four-year starter Shannon Hayes, the Indians didn’t play nearly as well as head coach Chris Doneski had expected.
Until last night, when they surged past North Andover, 53-38, in the first round of the Division 2 North tournament. That’s the same North Andover team that had beaten them twice during the regular season.
“We just didn’t play as well as we were capable of playing,” said Doneski. “We couldn’t put two good halves together. I guess we were going through growing some pains.”
Billerica’s inconsistency came to an end last night as it outscored the host Knights 31-13 in the middle two quarters, combining good teamwork offensively, excellent defense and far superior rebounding while improving to a modest 12-9.
The performance did not surprise first-year North Andover coach Meg Ryan, whose club ended its season at 11-10.
“Billerica is an excellent team and their defense was really good,” said Ryan. “They did a good job of clogging up the middle and we didn’t hit the shots we usually do. That combination was too much to overcome.”
The game started promising for the Knights as Megan Collins drove to the basket for a field goal and Abbie Karalis followed with a 3-pointer, providing a 5-0 lead. Billerica then regrouped but, after a wild opening eight minutes that saw eight lead changes, North Andover still led 15-13.
But Billerica had already been outrebounding the Knights and, when its shots started falling in the second quarter, the tide turned.
Ahead 33-26 at halftime, Billerica tightened the screws defensively in the third quarter allowing just a Leah Chittick driving layup in the final minute of the frame. That gave the Indians a near insurmountable 44-28 lead heading into the fourth quarter.