Milford boys hoop takes down Timberlane, faces HB next

Staff photo by HECTOR LONGO Milford sophomore Jake Greska makes his move against the Timberlane defense in Tuesday night's overtime thriller.

PLAISTOW – On the road at Timberlane Regional in the opening round of New Hampshire Division II playoffs, the Milford High boys broke every rule in the postseason manual.

The No. 9 Spartans started slowly, were mercilessly outrebounded, and went a stretch of 6:27 without a point in the second half but somehow survived in overtime, knocking off the eighth-seeded Owls, 53-48.

Friday night at 7, Milford takes it third shot this season at top-seeded Hollis Brookline, on the Cavaliers’ home floor in the state quarterfinals. HB took both regular season meetings between the two – by a point at Milford and five at home.

“Both of them went down to the final minute,” said Milford coach Dan Murray. “We just have to find a way to be a little bit better.”

OK, so maybe that will be the solution against Hollis, but can the coach explain how Milford could struggle so mightily on offense most of the night and still steal one at Timberlane?

“Defense,” said Murray. “We play defense.”

Neither team had much luck from the outside all night, but when Milford pulled to a 37-24 advantage midway through the third on Jamie Pare’s steal and layin, it looked like the Spartans could put it in cruise.

Unfortunately they did, and Timberlane, without a field goal from further than three feet, climbed right back in the game, riding a 13-0 barrage.

“Offensively, we just started to go too much one-on-one,” said Murray. “We stopped making the extra pass.”

Meanwhile, the Owls were allowed to keep throwing the ball at the hoop until they made one.

Al Barney’s stick-back knotted things at 37-37, and from there, the war of attrition was on.

The teams tied at 39 and again at 43, with each having multiple chances to break the tie in the final minute of regulation and neither finding success.

As the overtime began, you just got the feeling that this one would be decided by the first jump shot made. It was, and it came from the most unlikely source, Milford junior Sam Santaniello, from behind the arc on the wing with 1:41 left, to put Milford ahead, 48-45.

To that point, Santaniello was 0 for the night.

“That shot was big,” said Murray. “We keep pushing him to catch and shoot. He’s a good shooter, but he keeps turning it down.”

This one, Santaniello couldn’t turn down. Offense all night was like solving the Rubik’s Cube. And there wasn’t a hot Spartan to be found anywhere.

“I wasn’t doing too good,” said Pare. “Offense was hard to come by. Yeah, there’s going to be some tournament nerves. We let it slip in the third. That shot was huge. Sometimes you’re going to get the rolls, and sometimes you’re not. It was great for him to get that one.

“He’s such a good, young kid. The juniors (Santaniello and Max Fortin) stepped up here for us, and it was really huge.”

With the lead, Milford just cranked up the defense and made its free throws (5 of 6 late) to finish off the upset.

Fortin was 4 for 4 late to finish the night with a team-high 17 points for Milford. Pare and sophomore Jake Greska had 13 apiece. Gavin Urda knocked in a pair of threes in the second quarter for his six points and the OT hero Santaniello finished with four.

“We want to to play Hollis. We don’t care about the past, we’re looking at the future,” said Pare. “We want to beat them in their own gym. Nothing we can’t handle as a team.”

Souhegan falls

In the other Division II quarterfinal with area implications on Tuesday night, it was No. 4 Kearsarge holding off No. 13 Souhegan, 47-45.

The Sabers actually led 44-43, with just under four minutes remaining and just couldn’t finish the job. They were in it right to the end as Max Leonard’s desperation three-point attempt at the buzzer to try and win it just rimmed out.

Souhegan finishes the season at 8-11, while 15-4 Kearsarge will host No. 5 Merrimack Valley Friday night in the state quarterfinals.