LOWELL, Mass. -- Olivia Healy remembers the Tsongas Center floors all too well.
Once a junior high student cheering from the stands in 2008, she notes watching her Lady Rockets drop a 52-40 semifinals loss to Lincoln-Sudbury and the lingering feeling of unfinished business she left with.
A 49-46 win over second-seeded Arlington Catholic (21-4) in the Division 2 North finals on Saturday and a first ever team trip to the TD Garden on Tuesday to face South champions Scituate (24-0) have sent her out of arena with a much happier disposition this time around.
“There is a picture of us with our faces painted sitting at the Tsongas,” said Healy of 2008. “We were like 'We are going to get there some day' and now we are here.”
Leading for three quarters the top-seeded Rockets (23-0) dominated the boards to out-rebound AC 37-22.
Despite consistently playing from behind, a quick 3-pointer by senior Emma Roberson at 11.8 seconds was a late sign of hope for the Cougars as it cut the score to 49-46. Despite setting up an open 3-point effort for AC'S Melissa Rogers along the sidelines, the freshman caught the back corner off the rim to close the final seconds.
The defending state champions struggled to control Healy and teammate senior Melissa DalPozzo below the rim, with Dalpozzo grabbing 13 rebounds and Healy 12. Healy led her squad in scoring with 12 points.
“We have been focus on (rebounding) all season,” said Reading coach Kim Penney. “The team that out rebounds the other has a better chance. Even if you miss your own shot, you can get a second or third look at it.”
Technical Fall: A final quarter technical by the Cougars lead way to an important nine points run for Reading.
Up 30-29 late in the third, junior Morgan O'Brien and Healy caught open lanes for four points before getting the call. After hitting both field goals, the Middlesex Large champs rotated senior Katie Clements up the perimeter for an open planted trey and a 39-29 lead at 6:50 in the final quarter.
“Yesterday we really worked on our role,” said Healey. “Kat(ie) had those sideline jumpers and she (practiced) it for 30 minutes. She did exactly what she was supposed to tonight.”
The Roberson Factor: Roberson poured in 19 points and 25 total to help keep the Cougars within range throughout the second half. Using speed to counter the Rockets size, AC's quick guard moved easily through the defense for quick lay-ins following Reading baskets.
A full-court layup to even the score at 43-40 with two and a half minute left epitomized the seniors night.
“Players who have done it in the past just step up,” said AC coach Dave Brady. “We needed to look up and get down the court quicker. I was impressed with how she did.”
A Slight Flight Delay: Both teams struggled to open the match and took most of the first quarter to get rolling. The teams combined for 15 turnovers in the first quarter and could only score two a piece for the first five and a half minutes.
A clean 3-pointer at the top of the arc by Healy at 1:10 helped both teams start rolling as they went into the break tied at 7-7.
The win was the second against AC for Reading, who beat them 58-32 in February.
“To beat them in this big climate,” said Penney. “They are so together and locked in on what we are doing. (Our girls) really earned their right to be here.”