Hollis Brookline boys basketball fights its way into semifinals

PELHAM – Dhruv Miglani was absolutely certain that the shot was going in. There was no trace of surprise on his face in the aftermath, and he swore that he knew that the ball was going into the basket as soon as he released it.

The shot in question was a wildly dramatic, buzzer-beating jumper from about 15 feet out along the left wing of the Pelham defensive zone which enabled Hollis Brookline senior Miglani and his fellow Cavaliers to pull off an entirely improbable 46-45 win over Pelham in Division II first-round tournament action last night.

In order to have its 2018-19 season continue past Wednesday evening, the Hollis Brookline hoop squad was looking at having to pull off one king-sized upset victory.

The task faced by coach Cole Etten and his 13th-ranked Cavaliers was perfectly clear but certainly anything but simple. They had to find a way to knock off fourth-seeded Pelham, which was blistering hot having won 12 of its last 13 games, on its home court known affectionately by Pelham folks as “The Snake Pit.”

In the regular season meeting between the two contingents, Pelham only squeaked out a one-point win (58-57) in Hollis. Obviously, there had been a whole bunch of hoop played between Dec. 21 and March 6, but the Cavaliers had no reason to prepare themselves to do anything but give it all they had in a tourney game which just about nobody expected them to win. And, after all, upset victories are not all that uncommon in high school sports, right?

Fast forward to the final buzzer of the tourney battle, as the Cavaliers dove head-long into celebration mode following game-high scorer Miglani’s winning shot as the Pelham faithful and players stood utterly dumbfounded.

The senior standout had had to sprint to the Hollis-Brookline locker room mere moments earlier when the game officials spotted blood on Miglani’s black jersey.

“I had a cut on my finger from before and I thought that was where the blood came from. But then I noticed this,” he said, pointing to the camouflage-colored compression sleeve he wore from his right bicep to his wrist to cover a new cut on that arm. “I thought the new cut would affect my shot.”

But nay nay, Miglani returned to play shooting as well as he had all night, helping his squad to an epic comeback after the Cavs trailed by some seven points (45-38) with just 40 seconds to go in the fourth quarter and seemingly their season.

Coach Etten had his team in a full-court press and ready to foul any Python who caught the in-bounds pass, and Pelham subsequently failed to hit its key free throws to put the win away.

A two-point bucket moved Hollis-Brookline to within two points at 45-40, and the home team called an immediate timeout to calm themselves down with 34.1 seconds showing on the game clock.

Back in the game, Miglani nailed a three-pointer when play resumed to make it a 45-43 contest with 12 seconds left, and when Pelham proved unable to score yet again the Cavaliers got the ball back. Miglani was set up on the left wing and had a Python defender draped on him, but the 6-foot-3 forward sank his huge shot and the buzzer sounded.

“When I shot it I knew it was going in, I knew it,” said a grinning Miglani, who finished the big night with 19 points and no less than five three-point buckets.

“He’s been a fantastic shooter all season,” said coach Etten. “And what he did so well tonight was he created space, which helped him be successful with his shots.”

Pelham led 11-5 after one quarter but then it saw Hollis-Brookline outscore it in the second (15-13) and the low-scoring third (7-4) periods.

Leading by just a single point (28-27) moving into the fourth period, coach Mike Larson’s Pythons looked to be putting the game away early in that stanza when they reeled off a 7-0 run. But the Cavaliers were far from done, and they had clutch shooter and positive-thinker Miglani prepared to help live up to his pre-game and halftime words to his teammates.

“I knew we were going to win,” he said. “I’m a senior, and there was no way we were going to lose in the first round. No way.”

Along with the star of the night’s points the Cavs got key scoring from Max Stapelfeld (13) and Grant Snyder (8). Heartbroken Pelham was paced by Derek Crowley with 16 and Cam Loring with 14.

Hollis-Brookline now moves on to a quarterfinal-round battle with fifth-seeded Merrimack Valley on that opponent’s home floor this Saturday night at 7.