By Christopher Smith
---- — BURLINGTON — North Andover girls basketball began this year 9-1 and looked like a legitimate Division 2 title contender.
Then, the Scarlet Knights lost their star Morgan Lumb (high ankle sprain) and dropped five of their next six contests with Lumb sidelined.
But Lumb is back and so are the mighty again Scarlet Knights, who moved to the Division 2 North finals for the first time since 1992.
Lumb, who returned Feb. 10, has helped North Andover win five straight games since Feb. 15, including a 61-34 victory over Belmont last night.
Lumb poured in a game-high 21 points, including netting five 3-pointers, and recorded seven steals, four rebounds and five assists. Meanwhile, fellow senior Michaela Mello exploded in the second half, scoring 10 points in the third quarter as North Andover increased a two-point halftime lead into a 13-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter. Mello also added eight rebounds and four steals. North Andover, the tourney’s sixth seed, will play the winner of the other semifinal between top-seeded Reading and No. 4 Wilmington on Saturday at the Tsongas Center.
“My mental toughness definitely helped me get through this injury,” Lumb said. “And if I didn’t have my teammates and coaches to push me through, I don’t think I’d ever be able to do it. I thank God every day that I have this opportunity to be back here and now we’re going to Tsongas (Center).”
Lumb’s doctor told her she was lucky she didn’t break a bone because the sprain was so bad.
“It healed a lot faster than I thought,” Lumb said.
Lumb was proud of Mello’s effort.
“Every single pass that I (threw) to her, she hit every single shot,” Lumb said. “We’ve been practicing that at practice the whole year. And we’ve been playing together since fifth grade. So it’s a big win for me, Pam (Coufos) and Michaela, (the three seniors).”
Mello finished with 14 points — all in the second half.
“I wasn’t making anything in the first half,” Mello admitted. “But my coach always tells me to keep shooting and they will fall. So I guess they did.”
Mello said that when Lumb was sidelined, the team knew it needed to get scoring from several players. As a result, that helped some of the role players get stronger offensively.
“We worked on having my sister (Mackenzie Mello) and others get more confident and go to the hoop,” Michaela said. “And I think I got more confidence because I knew I needed to step up as a senior and take more shots.”
“I’ve never made it to the North finals in any sports I play so this is crazy,” Michaela Mello said. “I’m really excited.”
Both Mellos had great games. Mackenzie, a junior forward, had 12 points and 9 rebounds but her biggest contributions were on defense.
After Belmont star Katie Leinbach poured in 15 points in the first half, Mello switched onto her in the second half.
She held Leinbach to just five points in the second half.
“She is our go-to kid on defense,” Breen said. “She didn’t disappoint again. I didn’t know if we could afford to have her (guard Leinbach) because Belmont is so big. But we bought a little bit of time and then we could throw Megan Collins in and she can guard a post (player). Mackenzie Mello is just dynamite on defense.”
agateHed:North Andover 61, Belmont 34
agateText:Division 2 North Semifinals
Belmont (34): @zzAgate:agateText:Katie Leinbach 9-0-20, Sophia Eschenbach-Smith 0-2-2, Ashleigh Chinn 3-0-6, Elena Bragg 1-1-3, Olivia Lyons 0-3-3. Totals 13-6-34
agateText:North Andover (61):@zzAgate:agateText: Pam Coufos 1-0-3, Abbie Karalis 0-0-0, Maura Barry 0-0-0, Leah Chittick 1-1-3, Mackenzie Mello 3-6-12, Christina Castaldo 0-0-0, Morgan Lumb 8-0-21, Megan Collins 2-0-5, Emma Butterbrodt 1-1-3, Michaela Mello 7-0-14. Totals 23-8-61
agateText:3-pointers:@zzAgate:agateText: B — Leinbach 2; NA — Coufos, Lumb 5, Collins
agateText:Belmont (13-10):@zzAgate:agateText: 9 13 7 5 — 34
agateText:North Andover (15-8):@zzAgate:agateText: 11 13 18 19 — 61
agateText:Next Game:@zzAgate:agateText: Division 2 North final Saturday at Tsongas Center, time TBA, vs. winner of Thursday’s Wilmington-Reading game