By Chuck Frye
---- — LOWELL — It was no surprise that Olivia Healy played great. What was surprising was how she showed it.
Facing a rarely seen box-and-one defense that put North Andover’s Mackenzie Mello square in the Reading captain’s face, Healy turned facilitator with amazing effectiveness yesterday.
Finding junior Sarah Haase for repeated open looks, the pair powered the Rockets to their 48th straight victory, 50-33, continuing their quest to repeat as state Division 2 champion.
As a result, the sixth-seeded Knights saw their Cinderella season end at 15-9.
Healy (18 points including 10 for 10 from the free throw line) wasn’t fazed by the quirky defense or Mello’s attention, simply diverting her scoring and garnering dimes on Reading’s first four baskets.
“Assists are as important as they can be,” said the University of Richmond-bound Healy, who netted five of her team-high seven assists on dishes to Haage. “Sarah has really stepped up — she was big in the Comcast Tourney (at the end of the season) – and she has made my senior season.”
“We keep telling Sarah that when Olivia has the ball down low, she has to dive because (Healy’s) going to see her,” said Rockets head coach Kim Penney.
Healy and Haase were as complementary as they could be, combining for 37 points, 20 rebounds, 12 assists and 7 steals. This allowed Reading to hold a double-digit lead for much of the middle portion of the contest.
“I thought Mackenzie did an awesome job on Olivia,” said North Andover head coach Sue Breen. “Most teams don’t have a player that quick and long. We just didn’t want her to score 45 points and Mackenzie did great.”
Clawing their way back into the contest behind Leah Chittick (five points) and Morgan Lumb (team-high 17 points and 6 rebounds), the Knights had a shot to close within four points early in the final period. However, two misses, two turnovers and a blocked shot hurt, and Reading only made things worse by responding with an 11-0 blitz over that three-minute span to lock up the victory.
“We played better defense to get back into it, that’s how we’re going to be successful,” said Breen. “Behind Leah and Pam (Coufos with three steals), we made the game so it was reachable. Overall, our defense was OK, but we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”
The Knights were respectable on the defensive end, holding Reading to 38-percent shooting, but finished with only a 28-percent effort themselves (13 for 47).
“As sad as we are because we don’t move on, it was still a thrill to get here,” said Breen. “With all the little kids in the stands, wanting to be the next Pam Coufos, the next Morgan Lumb, the next Michaela Mello, this is great for the community and the program.”
“I take all the pride in the world (for making it this far),” said Lumb. “This has always been a dream since I was a little kid to make it to the Tsongas or even the Garden. We didn’t make it (to the Garden) this time, but because of our team we got this far.
“We stuck together, and once the state tourney started we did the best we’ve done all year. We were going to win together. We said that every day.”
agateHed:Reading 50, North Andover 33
agateText:Division 2 North Final
agateText:North Andover (33): Morgan Lumb 7 0-0 17, Megan Collins 4 0-0 9, Leah Chittick 1 3-4 5, Pam Coufos 1 0-0 2, Mackenzie Mello 0 0-0 0, Christina Castaldo 0 0-0 0, Michaela Mello 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 3-4 33
agateText:Reading (50): Sarah Haage 8 2-3 19, Olivia Healy 4 10-10 18, Siobhan O’Sullivan 3 0-0 6, Katherine Starble 1 0-0 3, Bridget Clements 1 0-0 2, Meghan Stanford 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 12-13 50
agateText:3-pointers: NA — Lumb 3, Collins; R — Starble, Haase
agateText:Reading (23-0): 13 10 8 19 — 50
agateText:North Andover (15-9): 7 4 11 11 — 33