Staff photo by HECTOR LONGO Hollis Brookline senior Jonathan Brackett smacks one of his team-high 23 kills in Thursday's Division I Volleyball state semifinal loss to Pinkerton Academy.

NASHUA – You got the sense pretty early that No. 2 Pinkerton Academy and third-seeded Hollis Brookline were pretty evenly matched in this state volleyball semifinal.

From the opening flurries, it had the makings of a five-setter, and the two teams didn’t disappoint.

A banged-up yet totally resilient band from Hollis Brookline battled to the end but fell to Pinkerton in the state semis here at North High School, 15-10, in the fifth.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this team. We have five guys that had never touched a volleyball (before this season),” said HB coach Eddie Leonard, whose club finishes at 14-5. “Four were starters on this team. It’s a testament to how great these guys are and how eager they were to learn.”

The fifth, as expected was an absolute brawl.

HB struck first, breaking to a 6-2 lead behind a pair of laser kills from all-stater Jonathan Brackett and miracle saves on defense by Sander Wimmer and Jack Sinclair.

But Pinkerton answered with a run of its own, busting a 9-9 tie with a run of its own behind libero Brian Castle.

Brackett kept drilling the ball to the end, but it wasn’t enough.

“I think what bit us in the end, we lost our starting libero (Felix Yang) to an injury against Goffstown, and then I lost my right side (Mike Moscatelli) in this one with a possible torn ACL,” said Leonard. “We had to make some quick changes, and inexperience showed itself. Pinkerton is a great team. And they’ve been here before.”

Sinclair and sophomore Matt Woczik were capable replacements, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

Nerves might have been the decider in Game 1 as HB never got untracked.

A mid-game move by the Astros to take a commanding 21-15 lead was laced with Cavalier unforced errors.

“Both sides had typical (playoff) jitters. We were playing really tight, very nervous,” said Leonard. “A lot of guys hadn’t been here before … it’s one of those things. They don’t know what to expect.”

Matt Fabrizio’s outside smash ended the set at 25-19, but it also awakened Hollis Brookline. This was going to be a war.

“We settled down and played our game, and our game is aggressive, aggressive, aggressive,” said Leonard, whose club earned the 1-1 split with a 25-20 decision.

Game 3 was an ominous 19-25 loss for the Cavaliers, not ominous because of the score or even the 2-1 deficit it created.

The game marked the arrival in the match of Pinkerton’s Hunter Hazard, the first-team all-state. The Astros’ junior inflicted his will with three late kills and Pinkerton took charge. Senior Mitch Heidler finished it off with a diving save-turned-winner as it found the floor on the Hollis Brookline end, sending the match to the fourth.

And the fourth might have been HB’s best offensive set of the season, a 25-13 blowout.

Wimmer served the Cavs to a quick 7-0 lead, and Brackett cranked it up outside.

The lead grew to 12-2 on Matt Simco’s serve as Brackett (game-high 23 kills) ripped off five clean kills over that stretch. Wozcik got into the act as well, pounding three of his own as the HB, up 16-3, put it on cruise control, setting up the decisive fifth.

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