Cavaliers come through in the clutch for semis win, 46-43

Staff photo by TOM KING An emotional Matt Simco reascts to a key play down the stretch that helped Hollis Brookline top Merrimack Valley, 46-43, in Monday night's Division II semis at UNH's Lundholm Gym.

DURHAM — Victimized on one end by a phantom charge call and on the other by a questionable block, Hollis Brookline’s Matt Simco had his own semifinal masterpiece derailed by the whistle during the third quarter of Tuesday night’s Division II boys basketball state semifinal.

No worries, his Cavalier teammates had Simco’s back.

Without the senior big man (four fouls), the Cavaliers nursed their four-point lead along nicely for seven-plus minutes, allowing Simco to come on for the close in the final four minutes of HB’s 46-43 victory.

And close it, he did, finishing with a game-high 21 points on 8 of 10 shooting.

“We’re really big on trusting the next man, and we’ve got a guy named Patrick Close who came up with some big minutes for us,” said HB senior Matt Dowling. “He kept us in it. A lot of guys stepped up.”

Saturday, the Hollis Brookline boys can equal the Cavalier girls recent accomplishment as they play No. 7 Oyster River of Durham in the finals here at 3 p.m.

With the margin just two at 37-35, Simco provided instant insurance with a driving hoop. Dowling chipped in a short banker, and Simco hit a pair from the line, making it 43-35 at the two-minute mark, but MV wasn’t done.

“We played them last year in the first round,” said Dowling. “I don’t remember those guards putting up those kinds of numbers. This was definitely different.”

The Pride sandwiched a pair of 3s around one Simco foul shot (he was 5 for 6) and actually had the ball down three inside of 40 seconds.

Caleb Leclair’s jumper and then a pair of missed HB free throws had the Valley folks in a frenzy, but Simco again was there to put out the fire, ripping down the offensive board — his 14th rebound of the night — and canning a pair to push the lead back to three with 23 seconds left.

MV chose to go without the timeout, and a wild 3-point try to tie at the buzzer wasn’t close.

“Coming in, we set some new goals for this team,” said HB coach Cole Etten, who only has one goal left with the title game Saturday.

Basketball is a lot like boxing where styles make good fights. And this semifinal proved the adage again.

Merrimack Valley’s stifling press and backcourt prowess took its toll on HB, which is so reliant on the towering front court and those two beasts, Simco and Dowling.

“It’s how we’re built,” said Dowling of the Cavs penchant to pound the paint. “We like to get drives, we like to space it well.”

At the point Simco left the floor, with his 14 points and eight rebounds through 20 minutes, the Pride pounced.

Credit unsung Cavs like Close, who filled the void, Jonathan Brackett for his poise against the press and a sweet runner to calm the storm late in the third, and, of course, the big fella, Dowling, whose efficiency (14 points on 6 of 9 shooting with eight boards) was so key in his 30 minutes.

“Our guys have composure out there. Simco got in foul trouble, and the next guy stepped up,” said Etten. “He went in and did his job. Again, we’d love to have him out there, but all our guys maintained their composure.”

HB dominated the backboards on the night, out-rebounding the Pride, 38-18. MV hit seven 3s on 21 tries to equalize things.