By Hector Longohlongo@eagletribune.com
---- — Today will test even the most ardent, devoted area sports fan.
A marathon sectional title Saturday of basketball lies ahead at Tsongas Center in Lowell.
Six championship games, five carrying a local interest tip off this morning at 10:30 a.m. and roll right into the night.
Can man (or woman) live on pretzels, hot dogs and fried dough alone? Certainly, a handful of hoop junkies will find out today.
Here’s a look at the Tsongas slate:
Division 2 Girls, 10:30 a.m.
No. 1 Reading (22-0) vs. No. 6 North Andover (15-8)
Richmond-bound Olivia Healy and the defending state champion Rockets will look to end North Andover’s Cinderella postseason.
Healy averages 26.8 points a game for the unbeaten top seeds.
North Andover, after a slow start in the quarterfinals, has outscored the opposition 115-58 over the last seven quarters. To say that Morgan Lumb and company are playing their best ball now would be the understatement of the entire North sectional.
Division 2 Boys, 12:15 p.m.
No. 2 North Andover (19-4) vs. No. 5 Brighton (18-6)
Juniors Malik James and Nick Simpson proved too much for previously unbeaten Melrose in the semifinals, but can they handle the hardened, tourney-tough Knights?
Derek Collins had the best game of his career on Wednesday night against Wakefield, while the big guys Isaiah Nelsen and Chris Bardwell continue to steamroll the opposition.
North Andover returns to the title game for the first time since 2007. This is coach Mike McVeigh’s fourth trip to the North finals in 31 seasons.
Division 3 Girls, 2 p.m.
No. 1 Pentucket (23-1) vs. No. 11 Watertown (13-10)
Coley Viselli and the Sachems have the talent and the resume to defend their state title, the school’s first winter season state championship in 58 years. There was a collective gasp when point guard Kelsi McNamara left the semifinal with what looked like a knee injury. The sophomore proclaimed herself fine afterward. Watertown is anchored by sisters Gianna and Gabrielle Coppola and continues to be the talk of the D3 North sectional with a pair of upset wins.
Division 3 Boys, 3:45 p.m.
No. 2 Danvers (21-2) vs. No. 4 Wayland (19-4)
The Falcons have been the pick in Division 3 all year long, but Wayland opened some eyes with its semifinal dismantling of a previously perfect North Reading club.
Danvers beat Wayland in OT in last year’s semis and the 2011 quarters. Dynamic Jaleel Bell, a senior, will be out to change that little mini-trend in what should be a classic up-and-down affair.
Division 1 Girls, 6 p.m.
No. 3 Westford (20-4) vs. No. 5 Central (19-5)
A funny thing happened on the way to Central’s third shot at MVC champion Billerica. Westford stepped into the fray in the semis and knocked off the Indians. Still, the Raiders remain focused on the greater prize, and that would be a sectional title.
Casey McLaughlin unleashed a blue-chip performance in the semifinals vs. Andover. She’ll be tested today by Samantha Hyslip, who torched the Indians in a 21-point, 18-rebound effort in the semis. Hannah Hackley will require attention by the Raiders on the defensive end as well.
Watch for Central guard Courtney Walsh, who always seems to show up in the big ones.
Division 1 Boys, 7:45 p.m.
No. 4 Central Catholic (20-5) vs. No. 6 Lynn English (18-5)
If this were a UFC fight, Central would be the choke-out specialist, and the Bulldogs the knockout puncher.
But it’s a basketball game, and while both clubs will win or lose tonight with defense, they will do it with ridiculously divergent styles.
English wants to run you into the ground, cranking up the press and scoring predominantly off turnovers. The defense can be suffocating. And guards Stevie Collins, Erick Rosario and Fred Hogan Jr. make you pay. In the semis, Everett High had some success breaking the press and put up 87 points. It wasn’t enough.
Central must find a way to get the Dogs into a halfcourt game. There is no better halfcourt man-to-man team on the East Coast than the Raiders, who held Andover to 10 points — one second-quarter field goal —in the first half.
The Raiders will again be without Doug Gemmell and Nick Cambio, and they’ll have to continue the run short-handed as a team of destiny.
Tyler Nelson’s used this junior playoff season as a coming-out party of his own, while Joel Berroa remains one of the most unique talents in the North.