By Hector Longo
NORTH ANDOVER — You win 18 games in the regular season and earn a No. 1 seed, opening round games should be a breeze, right?
North Andover High decided to take no chances, blitzing out of the box in a 19-4 first quarter and never relenting in a 59-31 Division 2 North first round win over Malden Catholic.
"Everyone at school said that we had better win," said senior Alex Blane. "We came to play tonight."
North Andover's toughest opponent in this one might have been pre-tourney nerves.
No less than eight current Knights lettered on the 2009 team that absorbed a tourney-opening loss to Burlington after earning the No. 2 seed.
"After last year we went one and out, so I guess there were a little nerves being in the state tournament," said senior tri-captain Matt Sifferlen. "As soon as the game started, we just took it to the hoop, we relaxed, shots started falling and we just played basketball. It feels great just to get the win out of the way."
Senior Tommy O'Connell set the tone, draining a 3-pointer and scoring on a drive in the first minute. The Knights then pounded it to the biggest man on the floor, Blane, who commanded the paint.
"I'm used to that," said Blane of his physical presence in the lane.
Blane, who yanked down seven boards with a pair of block had a dozen points. Like O'Connell, who also netted a dozen, Blane's work was accomplished in limited minutes.
Energy man Scott Ricketts chipped in 11 points for the Knights, who now turn their sights on No. 8 Lynn Classical.
Tuesday night, Classical worked overtime to KO scrappy Woburn, earning a ticket to Crozier Fieldhouse Sunday at 4 p.m. in the Division 2 North quarterfinals.
"This isn't an NCAA 1 vs. 16. This is a good Malden Catholic team, so we absolutely respected them, and they way we played early showed how we respected them," said Knights' coach Mike McVeigh. "That league, with St. John's, I knew they wouldn't come in fazed. Our kids just took it to them. The kids took care of business."
North Andover 59, Malden Catholic 31
Malden Catholic (31): Chris Mastacousas 3 2-4 8, Dan Dawley 0 2-2 2, Jeremy Menninger 1 2-4 4, John Belmonte 1 0-0 2, Matt Carregal 3 2-2 8, Rob Arsenault 1 0-0 3, John Mastacousas 2 0-0 4, Totals 11 8-12 31
North Andover (59): Zac Iovanella 1 0-0 2, Tommy O'Connell 3 4-4 12, Mike Viglione 1 0-0 2, Sean Erb 1 0-0 3, Scott Ricketts 4 2-2 11, Matt Sifferlen 1 3-4 6, Connor Walsh 1 0-0 2, Zach Karalis 1 0-0 3, Derek Collins 1 0-0 2, Ryan Bruynell 2 0-2 4, Alex Blane 4 4-6 12, Totals 20 13-18 59
3-pointers: MC - Arsenault; NA - O'Connell 2, Erb, Ricketts, Sifferlen, Karalis
Malden Catholic (7-14):âÇ4âÇâÇ8âÇ13âÇâÇ6 — 31
North Andover (19-2):19âÇ13âÇ13âÇ14 — 59