D2 North: Reading 50, North Andover 33

LOWELL, Mass. -– Few players across Massachusetts have separated themselves from the pack the way Reading’s Olivia Healy has this season. But you don’t get to 48 straight wins and now two straight Division 2 North titles with one player carrying the team on her back every night.

Championship-caliber teams always get clutch production from serviceable role players. This morning in the D2 North final at the Tsongas Center, in a sluggish day of offense, that fell unto junior forward Sarah Haase. The 5-foot-9 pivot came up with 19 points and 11 boards as the Rockets downed North Andover easily, 50-33, for their second straight D2 North title.

“We’ve been here before, so I kind of expected what the stadium would look like,” Haase said. “We came here early, got a good warmup. I just came to play, and I had my team’s support, my team’s help with the assists and everything. That helped out a lot.”

The Richmond-bound Healy ended up with a quality night as well, tallying a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds) while facing a box-and-one defense. But her ball movement helped the Rockets break their sluggish offensive start, tallying five assists on the afternoon -– several of those going to Haase.

“She was unbelievable,” Healy said of Haase. “She owned the points, she kept on putting it in strong, but her rebounding was ridiculous too. She got some crucial rebounds, she got them for us at the Comcast Tournament [last month]. She’s been stepping her game up.”

Said Reading coach Kim Penney, “She’s been working hard. We keep telling her, when Liv [Healy] gets the ball down low, you’ve got to dive because she’s going to see you, and she made some nice passes to her.”

Reading lead North Andover 23-11 at the break, holding the Scarlet Knights to just 26 percent from the floor (5-of-19) in the first half. Holding a 31-22 lead after three, the Rockets finished strong, shooting 60 percent from the floor (6-of-10) and going a near-perfect 7-of-8 from the line, including a 6-for-6 clip from Healy.

Defending Lumb: Coming into the tournament with eight losses, North Andover made a surge to its first D2 North Final appearance since 1988 behind the returning health of senior forward Morgan Lumb, a University of Hartford signee.

This morning, the defensive duty fell unto senior guard Katie Starble, who marked Lumb the whole game; and while Lumb finished with 17 points, eight of those points came in the fourth quarter when the lead was already in hand.

“We take pride in our defense, we like to run the floor so hopefully our D sparks that. But it started with Katie tonight,” Healy said. “She had a hand in her face every single time. Yeah, she got some shots off, but everything was contested. Nothing was open for her.”

Swift dishes: This isn’t the first time Healy has seen a box and one, and it may not be the last in her high school career. So the 5-foot-10 senior knew exactly what to do – set up her teammates cutting to the basket.

“We have an offense off of box and one,” Healy said. “If someone sets that, the rest of the team says ‘It’s my time to step up’, and it’s my job to give it to them as much as possible. Bridget [Clements] hitting threes, Katie [Starble] taking that outside shot…I mean, I’m already down low. I would rather see box-and-one more than anything, because it frees up my teammates on the court.”

It’s not often the Knights bust out the defensive call. But NA head coach Sue Breen applauded Mackenzie Mello’s efforts marking Healy around the perimeter.

“She’s just such a good defensive player for us,” Breen said. “I don’t think most teams have a kid that is that quick and long [Healy], and I think Mackenzie just did a great job on her. We haven’t played a box-and-one much this year, because usually we can just go straight up, but we found we needed to do something different because we didn’t want Olivia to score 45 points.”