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Cavalier boys fall in state quarters

CHRIS PANTAZIS

PENACOOK – The fairly lengthy bus ride home after its Division II quarterfinal-round tournament loss yesterday afternoon was likely a quiet and solemn one for the Hollis Brookline boys basketball team.

But truth be told, coach Cole Etten and his Cavaliers had a great many reasons to be immensely proud of themselves following both tournament battles.

While upset victories certainly happen in all high school sports, most folks understandably gave the Hollis Brookline hoopsters few chances of getting past either the fourth-seeded Pelham or fifth-ranked Merrimack Valley on the road.

But the Cavs ended Pelham’s campaign with a buzzer-beating three-pointer in round one and then very nearly sent Merrimack Valley packing in the quarterfinals, playing a superb game but finally falling by a tiny tally of two points in a 50-48 decision on Saturday afternoon.

The first pivotal part of Merrimack Valley’s comeback came following a Hollis Brookline timeout with 2:04 left in the third quarter. The Cavs led 31-22 when the break happened, but the host Pride rededicated itself to its effort to move on in the tourney and outscored HB 11-3 to make it 34-33 going into the decisive fourth period.

Both teams dug in on defense during that vital final quarter, with each possession being a true battle. And Merrimack Valley narrowly won the war, outscoring its gutsy guest by a 17-14 count in the quarter.

Unlike the opening win, HB went cold late, especially from behind the arc.

The Cavaliers also lost an integral player due to fouls down the stretch and saw MV connect from the foul line, something that the Pythons didn’t do.

Cavs’ star junior guard Grant Snyder was fully aware during the moments following the tough loss that he and his teammates have every right to feel proud of their superb efforts in the tourney contests.

“We took these games as a challenge. We went out and played hard and showed what kind of a team we really are,” he said.

The Cavaliers and Pride did not meet during the regular season, during which Merrimack Valley posted a 13-5 record. The Pride advanced with a win over Coe-Brown, clicking for their sixth win in the last seven.

No. 13 Hollis Brookline finished the regular campaign at a decent 9-9 but lost three of its final four decisions before the start of the playoffs.

Coach Etten’s crew had collected two consecutive victories heading into the quarterfinal-round game, but the last-second upset edging of Pelham must have felt like a handful of victories in one.

Hollis Brookline was particularly strong through the first three quarters, sitting tied with its host at 7-7 after one period and holding a modest 18-14 lead at

halftime.

Merrimack Valley head coach Tim Mucher spent virtually the entire first half red-faced and growling as his squad shot the ball terribly through nearly all of those 16 minutes and didn’t pay the kind of attention to detail expected.

The Cavs’ lead grew to as many as nine points several times in the third quarter before that big timeout helped the hosts get themselves on the right track with a little more than two minutes to go in that stanza.

MV knotted the score at 36-36 in the first minute of the fourth and bagged its first lead since the first quarter on free throws with 7:03 showing on the clock.

The Cavaliers grasped slim advantages of 40-38 and 43-42 during the first three minutes of the period, but Merrimack Valley went up for good soon thereafter and Hollis-Brookline’s attempts to get the score tied or regain the lead came up just short.

Junior guard Max Stapelfeld drew his fifth foul of the game with 2:33 to go, taking an important offensive contributor out of the game for the locals.

Pelham game hero Dhruv Miglani nailed a three-pointer with 1:05 to go to trim the MV lead down to three points at 49-46, and Quinten Wimmer sank a pretty, one-handed shot from close range to make it a one-point game (49-48) with just 12 ticks of the clock remaining. But the host Pride would go up by two on a free throw and the Cavs’ final two three-point tries just wouldn’t go down.

Snyder ended up leading all scorers with his 20 points, Miglani contributed a dozen, and Stapelfeld was good for eight. Victorious Merrimack Valley received 17 from junior forward Kyle Dube and 12 from senior guard Dillon McCarthy.

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