Hollis Brookline boys basketball on to quarters

HOLLIS – Stephen Giaconia spent the week nursing an injured foot, hoping to suit up for the fourth-seeded Cavaliers’ tournament opener.

“I knew this morning,” the Hollis Brookline senior said. “I woke up and my foot felt good. I stayed off it most of the day, keeping the pressure off it and saving it for game time. When game time rolled around, I was ready.”

He sure was.

Giaconia tallied a game-high 21 points and five assists as the Cavaliers pulled away in the second half for a 64-37 victory over No. 13 Merrimack Valley in a Division II preliminary-round matchup at Hollis.

Matt Simco was a monster for HB. The junior scored 11 points, snatched 18 rebounds, dished four assists and swatted five shots. He outrebounded The Pride as a team, 18-13.

“You’ve just got to have high energy – high energy, every play,” Simco said. “You have to think the ball is going to be yours every time it goes up.”

Despite the lopsided final score, Merrimack Valley led 14-13 after the first quarter and had a chance to take an edge into halftime, down one with possession in the final moments of the second frame. However, Simco snagged a carom off a shot that came a few seconds too early, as the junior alertly hit Giaconia on the outlet for a layup, supplying the Cavs (14-5) with a 27-24 advantage at the break.

HB opened the second half on a 12-0 run, sparked by Scott VanCoughnett feeding Matt Dowling for a pair of layups before VanCoughnett knocked down a trey off a Simco offensive board. A timeout from Merrimack Valley didn’t slow the Cavs down, as a Gianconia three-point play off a second chance and another bucket from Dowling opened up a 15-point cushion midway through the third.

“We really controlled the backboards in the second half and we really ran and executed our offense,” Simco said.

HB coach Mike Soucy also implemented a defensive adjustment at the break, which forced The Pride (8-11) into multiple turnovers.

“We allowed them to be too comfortable,” Soucy said of the first half. “We put in that extended zone (defense) this week for this game, but I didn’t want to have to use it. Once we used it, they didn’t know what hit them.”

The Cavaliers outscored The Pride 19-5 in the third quarter, building a 46-29 advantage heading into the final eight minutes.

Giacona’s pull-up jumper with 5:32 remaining pushed HB’s lead beyond 20 points, allowing the Cavaliers to cruise to the finish line.

“We were working all summer for this and it’s nice to have everyone healthy,” Giaconia said. “That gives us the best chance to win. We just have to keep working.”

Caleb LaClair and James Shattuck each scored a team-high 10 points for Merrimack Valley.

Dowling finished with 14 points and seven boards for HB, while senior Nick Fothergill added nine points and VanCoughnett chipped in seven.

The Cavaliers will host fifth-seeded Manchester West – a 67-42 prelim winner over No. 12 Pembroke – on Saturday at 7 p.m.

HB’s season ended with a heart-wrenching loss at West in last season’s quarterfinal and the Cavs were beaten by the Blue Knights 59-47 on Jan. 13.

“We have to come up with a game plan,” Soucy said. “They have been our nemesis over the past couple of years.”