Hollis Brookline girls struggle, advance

HOLLIS — A veteran coach like Bob Murphy understands he got away with one Tuesday night in the opening round of the Division II state playoffs. And his lone senior, co-captain Joanna Balsamo, certainly did too.

“It’s a reality check,” said Balsamo of the No. 2 Cavaliers’ less-than-scintillating 45-29 victory over No. Merrimack Valley.

“It’s playoffs. We can’t do that again, or we’re done. We have to play every game like it’s our last, or it will be.”

“That” was a stretch that saw Hollis Brookline brick its way to eight straight scoreless minutes — from late in the first quarter to the final 62 seconds of the second.

“We weren’t getting good looks, and we needed to pick up the defense to counteract our bad offense,” said Balsamo.

Luckily, the Cavs, now 17-2, did just that, as Valley netted only five points in that stretch, cutting a 14-6 deficit to 14-11.

Sophomore Christina Balsamo provided a bit of a spark before the half, hitting Joanna for a fast-break layup up and then driving strong to the hoop for a 3-point play of her own, making it 19-11 into intermission, but that certainly didn’t put Murphy at ease.

“It was a little tough,” the coach said.

“I didn’t mind going into halftime holding a team to 11 points, but I think we only had (19) and that was a little scary.

“Very scary. I just haven’t seen the kids play like that. If we’re playing against a good team (like that), they’re going to be up 30 on us.”

The lead at halftime was never really in doubt, but only deep in the fourth, with MV forced to take some chances, did Hollis Brookline finally put things on ice.

Christina Balsamo led the way on offense with 13 points, while sharpshooter Liz Bonnete canned nine. The Cavaliers cashed in on their decided height advantage with eight from Liz Atkinson and six from Joanna Balsamo. The duo split 20 boards evenly as well. Brodie Kellly had five points.

Friday night at 7, the Cavaliers will host Pembroke. The 11th-seeded Spartans stunned No. 6 Goffstown, 42-38, Tuesday night to advance.

Pembroke and Hollis Brookline did not meet each other during the season.