Tourney tuneup

Milford tops HB, preps for quarterfinal Saturday

MILFORD – They have a fiery player in senior forward Shane Winnett, a determined scorer in Ryan Banuskevich, and a surprising 3-point shooter in senior center Evan Ryan.

That’s a lot for any Division II team to handle, so you can almost understand how a usually solid Hollis Brookline squad could fall to the Milford High School Spartans to the tune of 55-41, as they did in 
regular-season finale for both last Thursday.

“Listen, they did a good job executing what they wanted to do, and they’re a very good team,” Cavaliers coach Mike Soucy said. “And they make shots. We missed four layups in the third quarter. You make those and you get a defensive stop and it’s a game again.”

The win helped Milford finish as the No. 2 seed in Division II The Spartans earned a first-round bye and hosts the winner of Bishop Brady and John Stark on Saturday night at 7 p.m.

It wasn’t a game because Spartans, who were trailing 19-16 in the second quarter, went on a 15-2 run fueled by 10 of Winnett’s game-high 18 points.

“It was fueled by the defense,” Milford coach Dan Murray said, his team finishing second behind Lebanon (both 17-1), with a first-round bye when the tourney starts next week. “Offensively we just weren’t relaxed.”

That changed, though, as that run gave the Spartans a 41-31 lead, and Winnett channeled their energy in the right direction.

“Winnett’s an animal, he’s a great player,” Murray said. “He and Ryan Banuskevich, he gets sneaky points (15).”

And don’t forget Ryan (nine points), who made perhaps the biggest shot of the game in the fourth quarter. The 13-5 Cavaliers, who will host a first round game next week (and likely a quarterfinal if they advance), were hanging around, trailing 45-33 entering the final quarter.

They cut the lead to 47-41 with 4:34 left on Patrick Close’s jumper but then Ryan, who looks like he could dominate inside but loves to roam outside, hit a 3-pointer that gave Milford breathing room at 50-41. It was the start of a game-closing 8-0 run.

“It was big,” Murray said. “He’s probably our best 3-point shooter.”

The Cavs couldn’t get consistent scoring, as they were without one of their starters, senior guard Steve Giaconia, out with a foot injury. They hope to have him back for the tournament. In the meantime, Scott VanCoughnett had 11 and Matt Simco eight. Milford’s third double figure scorer was steady junior guard Jamie Pare with 10.

Again, the Cavs, who led 12-11 after one, were close to getting back into it but just fell short.

“It’s a game of inches,” Soucy said. “We weren’t quite there yet.”

“It’s not like we’re dominant,” Murray said. “We’ve got to work for every win.”

Hollis Brookline took on Merrimack Valley in the Division II preliminary round on Wednesday. The Cavs won four straight before losing their season finale to Milford, but they did not face Merrimack Valley during the regular season. Results were not available by Cabinet press time.

“You’ve got to be healthy,” Soucy said. “Hopefully, (Giaconia) should be ready for Wednesday. We were afraid (his foot) was fractured, but it’s not. It should be fun.”

The Cavs would earn another home game Saturday if they advance.

The No. 2 Spartans’ only loss this season was at No. 1 Lebanon. Milford on Saturday hosts the winner of the prelim between No. 10 Bishop Brady (9-9) and No. 7 John Stark (10-8). They’ve beaten both; John Stark 59-44 at home back on Dec. 20 and Brady on the road, 57-48, on Feb. 6.

“It’s wide open,” Murray said, his team’s core group led by Shane Winnett and Ryan Banuskevich. “We can play with (Lebanon). We had leads (versus the Raiders), we shot ourselves (in the foot). We’d turn it over and they’d score five. I feel better, but it’s not like we’re dominant.”