“Sensation at Salem:” The Legendary Babe Zaharias’s Historic 1954 U.S. Open Victory at Salem Country Club

New from Gary Larrabee……….

“Sensation at Salem:” The Legendary Babe Zaharias’s Historic 1954 U.S. Open Victory at Salem Country Club…

…is considered the greatest single tournament achievement by a woman professional golfer to this day.
The story of the week when Babe staged an amazing performance on a suburban Boston golf course while battling cancer and carrying a colostomy bag, defeating the field by 12 strokes, is chronicled like never before!

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Danvers–Hamilton-Wenham Battle Of The Unbeatens Would Be A Classic For All Time; A Game For The Ages

It’s not going to happen in reality, so let’s make it happen using our educated imagination.

Danvers, 27-0, MIAA Division 2 state champs, versus neighboring Hamilton-Wenham, 25-0, MIAA Division 4 state champs, in a jam-packed Salem High field house, 3000 strong, benefitting the Jimmy Fund. I only wish.

Anyhow, why not? Both programs undefeated for the very first time. Two outstanding coaches: 61-year-old Doug Hoak for H-W, a coaching legend in the region, who has now won state titles in two sports and is in the Massachusetts High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. And John Walsh, 35, who in five years has established all kinds of seemingly impossible records that no future DHS cage coach could ever match. Of course, we never thought Walsh would accomplish all this —  three state titles the last four years, four straight 20-plus win seasons, a 105-18 record in five seasons, 22-2 in the post-season. Out of this world.

So let’s match them up in a game for the ages. The Generals, who first became a small division/Cape Ann League power under the late, great Sherm Kinney, are deeper than Danvers. They can go eight deep comfortably. While Danvers, miraculously, survived a grueling final 10 games or so, and the entire 27-game season actually, playing six guys, with a seventh, backup point guard Tre Crittendon, an occasional reliable replacement for sophomore sensation Devonn Allen.

H-W has a fabulous sophomore twins combination in Marcus Zegarowski, a point guard that already has drawn the interest of college scouts, and Max, a 6-5 forward with a deadly three-point shot and tons of potential. Half-brother Michael Carter-Williams played one year for H-W before moving on to private school hoops, two years of Syracuse college competition and nows plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, his second season in the NBA.

They are complemented by forward Jimmy Campbell, forward Nikos Lara, guard Nick DiMarino, center Nolan Wilson and subs Austen Michel (guard) and backup center Nico Serpa.

The Generals, who won their 25 games by an average of 24 points and won a mere four games by less than double figures, have an ideal mix of size and quickness.

The Falcons enjoyed a perfectly cohesive, cover-for-each-other, six-player package that complemented each other ideally. As talented as they are, the whole far exceeded the sun of the individual parts. Whenever somebody had to come up with a big play at either end, somebody did.

The Generals would have their hands full with 6-10 center Peter Merry, the Northeastern Conference MVP, 6-5 power forward Devan Harris and 6-4 long-range shooting (and versatile all-around) forward Vinny Clifford. We should have a pre-game three-point shooting contest involving Clifford, Max Z., Allen, sixth man Rashad Francois and a few other H-W entries of Hoak’s choice.

H-W would have to zone Danvers and force the Falcons to bomb away from the perimeter. Danvers had some great games from out there and won many of its biggest games keyed by the trey. But if they tightened up their defense, that would leave many openings for Danvers to feed there ball into Merry and Harris, another scenario for a General demise.

On the other hand, H-W’s quickness and ability to get scoring from six, seven players could makes things mighty uncomfortable for the region’s ranking dynasty.

So many players could step up and assume heroic roles in a game like this. Both teams are rock solid from the foul line. Both teams have coaches with the best of credentials.

Could the Falcons contain the 1-2 Zegarowski punch? Could H-W control Merry-Harris?  Danvers defensive whiz Mike Nestor would surely make Marcus Z. work for every point.

What a game this could be. As I have said for several weeks, H-W is a Division 2 team in Division 4 uniforms, determined by the school’s male enrollment. The Generals could give the Falcons a fantastic run for their money.

But I surmise Danvers’s inside game and four-player three-point offensive threat might be too much for the Generals to handle.

Final dream score: Danvers 63, Hamilton-Wenham 59.

After H-W and Danvers seasons for the ages, this matchup would be a game for the ages.

Final thought: Congratulations to Coaches Hoak and Walsh and players on both sides for delivering history-making seasons which will never be forgotten.

As an aside: nobody played these two state champions tougher than Coach Mike Giardi’s Marblehead squad: two near misses against Danvers, both going right down to the wire, and an overtime defeat to H-W.  The Headers could very easily have gone 3-0 against these behemoths.

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John Walsh: The Modest Coach-Turned-Legend In His Own Time — With A Hall of Fame Record To Boot

When John Walsh, a baby in the business at the age of 30, was appointed the new boys’ basketball coach in June 2010, few Danvers High sports fans took notice. Maybe the players and the parents for the 2010-11 team were paying attention, but few other people were.

The program had been in the doldrums so long that the changing of the coaching guard meant little to most DHS sports fans in town, even those of us who had connections with the team for two years or 52 years.

But to Principal Sue Ambrozavitch, Athletic Director John Sullivan and their screening committee, the appointment of the new coach meant a great deal. For they saw special qualities in Walsh, one of 25 candidates for the position, that gave them hope for the program’s future.

“We liked John’s basketball background and knowledge to begin with,” says Sullivan, now retired after an exemplary career as an educator and coach. “He was very dedicated to young athletes, whether he was coaching basketball or football. He had an enthusiasm that impressed us, as well as organized goals that he convinced us could help create a championship program.”

Yet, after two games they might have had second thoughts about their choice. At the conclusion of the varsity’s second game of the season, Walsh had a verbal exchange with a fan on the field house court. Walsh was handed a two-game suspension and most of us casual observers were wondering what kind of fellow this Walsh was. We wondered if he’d last the season, or at best be a one-and-done coach.

In hindsight, some of those involved with the process feel Walsh may have been unfairly disciplined for the incident in question. But he accepted the ruling and moved on.

Little did we know what kind of coaching legend he would become in a few short years.

We found out soon enough. Once he got his bearings, and after a discouraging 2-6 start, Walsh, ridiculously new at this stuff, guided the Falcons to an stunning 11-3 finish, a 13-9 record, two MIAA tournament wins for the first time in school history and maybe, just maybe, the start of a turnaround in Falcon hoop fortunes.

Turnaround? How about mini-dynasty? For that’s what the Falcons became over the next four seasons, climaxed by what they just accomplished: an unprecedented 27-0 record, only the second in North Shore high school basketball history, their first MIAA State Division 2 title and their third MIAA state title in four years, the first two being Division 3 titles in 2012 and 2013.

The numbers are numbing; numbers not even Vince Lombardi, Red Auerbach, Bill Belichick, Scotty Bowman, Casey Stengal or Joe Torre can match.

  •  4 – straight Northeastern Conference (NEC) Small Division titles
  • 4 – straight NEC overall titles
  • 4 – straight 20-win seasons
  • 3 – MIAA state titles in four years, a feat accomplished by only three other schools since the division format was introduced in the early 1970s
  • 105 – wins in five years against 18 losses
  • 22 – wins against 2 losses in five years of MIAA state tournament play

Walsh, a top-notch guard at Malden Catholic, spent five years as a varsity assistant to his cousin, the head coach at Watertown High, then felt he was ready to secure a head coaching gig of his own.

“John wasn’t kidding when he expressed such dedication to the basketball program in his interview,” Sullivan added. “He showed that dedication as soon as he got hired. He got involved with the summer program and had kids feeling positive about the team long before the season started (keeping in mind the prior season had been a 3-17 record). Then when the season did start he worked not only with the varsity, but attended jayvee and freshman practices; showed the kids he cared about their progress, their games, too, not just his varsity team’s. He even stopped by the girls’ practices, got immediately acquainted with Pat Veilleux, the girls’ coach, and welcomed the chance to work with Pat and his squad, at Pat’s encouraging. Fact is John Walsh’s dedication to Danvers High basketball, in my estimation, has been unbelievable.”

Walsh calls it a lucky situation he fell into, one in which the high school program was starting to benefit from the youth program. Probably true. And he is the first to make note of two significant transfer players who played major roles the last few years – Nick McKenna from St. John’s Prep and Devan Harris from Hingham.

“It’s all happened because of the fine players I’ve had,” Walsh has said over and over again, “like the Merry brothers. How many coaches get that fortunate?”

Agreed, coach. George and Peter Merry have had major hands in all three state titles and the four consecutive Northeastern Conference titles. Hell, Danvers had won only three NEC titles in the 70-plus year history of the loop until their dominance started in 2012.

I have called it serendipity; a perfect storm, if you will, of two groups of players being led by one outstanding young basketball coaching mind. The first group nucleus won NEC and Division 2 state titles in 2012 and 2013. The second group of players overachieved last year at 20-3 without one of their star players, Vinny Clifford, sidelined for the season with a bad knee, then went P-E-R-F-E-C-T-O this season with a 27-0 mark, topped off with a Division 2 state championship.

Yes, the players make the shots, steal the passes, grab the rebounds, sink the clinching free throws. But without the right leader directing them from the bench, I argue that no team, no matter how talented, would win a championship.

So John Walsh’s presence has made all the difference in the world in creating this statewide powerhouse.

He knows how to deal with his players, how to prepare them in practice, how to handle them during games with the proper substitutions, the proper strategy, when to call timeouts and when not to.

Years ago I might agree with this statement: you can call winning one state title a fluke. But no more. There are too many good teams to defeat in your bracket and in your Section. Moreover there are no soft opponents once you reach the state semifinal in TD Garden and the state final at the DCU Center.

One highly respected coach told me this year’s batch of Division 2 teams was as strong a group as he has seen in many years.

So say what you will about winning one state title and you still may be laughed out of the room. But when the team with the same coach wins a second state title in a row, then moves up from Division 3 to Division 2 the very next year and advances, with a completely new cast, to the Section final minus one of your two most important players, then the following year, with the same nucleus and your missing player from a year ago back in the fold, goes a perfect 27-0 and wins the Division 2 state title, you’ve got a mastermind in charge.

Simple as that.Walsh, husband and the father of three young children, takes his job as coach very seriously. Surely just as seriously as his day job as assistant executive director of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

We see him follow his team onto the floor for pre-game warmups accompanied by his assistants. He always wears a white dress shirt and tie. He usually watches not only his own team take warmups at the far end of the court, but the opposing team shooting right in front of him.

He spends much of the game in a baseball catcher’s crouch, looking courtward or turning back and consulting his assistants, usually first with Mark Garrity, his varsity assistant.

 

When he’s not crouching he’s shouting instructions to a player or discussing a point with an official. He is well respected by the officials or they would not give him as much opportunity to state his case. Another example of what makes an effective coach.

When there’s a timeout, he sits his players on the bench and resumes the crouching position, offering his advice singularly and collectively.

During all these celebration poses the team has provided for photographers the last four years in Lowell, Boston and Worcester, Walsh has acted almost like an accidental observer who has mistakenly walked into the picture; like he’d rather have the kids get their picture taken without him. He reluctantly leans in from one end of the shot.

“It’s their day,” he seems to be thinking. “It’s their picture. I’ve done my job and that’s all I need.”

Maybe it’s all John Walsh needs. But it’s not what his players need, nor what the thousands of DHS hoop fans need. They need to acknowledge John Walsh, the Rembrandt of this masterpiece of a four-year championship run (not forgetting Year 1 was important in re-establishing a winning tradition that had been missing for more years than anyone wishes to remember).

Maybe it’s time to name the playing surface in the Danvers High field house Walsh Court. What finer tribute could a school and town bestow upon the greatest coaching performance in the history of Danvers High athletics (with apologies to Roger Day)? The statue can come later.

 

 

 

 

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Danvers High’s Fabulous, Fantastic Fenomenal Falcons Had Questions Galore At Season’s Start, Then Answered Them All With An Emphatic ‘Yes’

Great Expectations.

The name of a famous Dickens novel, of course, but also the cloud that hung over the heads of every coach and player on the 2014-2015 Danvers High basketball team.

Four years of unprecedented success had brought coach John Walsh and his three-time defending Northeastern Conference champions to opening day of practice on Monday, December 1, 2014.

Bottom line: Could the Falcons, with virtually the same starting team as a year ago that had gone 20-3 and advanced to the Division 2 North final before falling to New Mission, all achieved without the injured Vinny Clifford, meet the expectations of the Falcon Faithful?  TRhat expectation was another NEC title, possibly another state title (the third in four years) and — oh hell, why not say it — an undefeated season.

Incredibly, they reached all those goals and attained arguably the greatest achievement in Danvers High sports history — combined, a 27-0 record and their third state title in four years, something only three other high schools have accomplished since the state tournament went to the division format 43 years ago.

This all coming together in a program that as of 2011 had not won a conference title since 1975, let alone had any kind of impact on the tournament — ever.

So what were those questions that hovered above the heads of key players and the coaching staff, especially head coach Walsh, as the new season got under way?

Here they are, while we remember the Falcons most likely would not have won the state championship — yet again!!!!!!  — without each and every one of these vital contributors.

1. After sitting out his entire junior year because of knee surgery, how effectively  could the aforementioned Clifford bounce back to form? Quite effectively as it turned out. The 6-3 senior forward hit 5 of 11 threes in his debut game at Winthrop and the knee seemed to hold up well. The one concern was the frequency with which Walsh sat down Clifford in the first half of the regular season schedule. Was Vinny’s knee bothering him to a major degree? No. It was the game plan Walsh and Clifford agreed upon to get the knee gradually back into full-throttle mode. By the Revere game, in which Clifford hit 6 of 7 threes, he was playing full time. He admitted later that it was mostly a case of mind over matter; of getting used to playing with minimal to moderate discomfort in the surgical area. Fact is the knee held up beautifully for all 27 games. Vinny will be the first to admit that his outside shooting was hot and cold, especially late in the regular season and in the tournament. But when he was needed most, he delivered big time. Exhibit A: He blocked Salem’s last-second three-point shot with Danvers protecting a 39-37 lead at home to preserve the victory. Exhibit B: Clifford’s 28-point effort in the Falcons’ epic 79-78 victory at Lynn English, in which he hit 8 of 14 three-pointers, giving him 17 treys in his last 32 attempts. He was 23-for-42 in threes after going 6-for-10 at Rockland, then, in his final game for the Falcons, following a blanked first half, Vinny scored eight vital second half points (Danvers scored only 19 total) in the 52-49 state title game win over Marlborough. Clifford’s senior campaign had been a rousing success, accented by the final two quarters in his farewell showing on the biggest stage.

2. What kind of encore season could senior Devan Harris deliver after his debut year for the Falcons had earned him MVP honors in the Northeastern Conference? A beauty of a season. The 6-5 power forward, a Charles Barkley clone if I ever saw one, answered the query immediately, opening the season scoring 18, 27 and 25 points his first three games en route to a season that would give the Cincinnati and Hingham transplant 952 points in two years, a team record.  Harris had nine 20-plus point games, the biggest coming in the 53-47 road win at Marblehead (21) and in back-to-back 26-pointers against Brighton and Arlington on the road to the state title. He was a clutch foul shooter, hitting the one free throw with no time remaining that beat Lynn English and making 4 of 4 in the last 23 seconds that clinched the state championship game at Worcester. His patented spin move close-in produced a ton of points and foul shots. His three-point shot delivered many a timely three. His quick first step to the basket led to countless penetration drives to the basket against slower defenders. Defensively he and center Peter Merry created a formidable inside presence and rebounding dominance, among the best in the state. He hit double figures in 23 of his 27 games.

3. Would Peter Merry be able to improve his game to a level that would make him the dominant inside player necessary to, in turn, raise his team’s overall defensive standard to state championship level? To coins phrase from Sarah Palin, “You betcha!” Need I say more than the fact the spindly 6-10 pivot was named Most Valuable Player by Northeastern Conference coaches? He wasn’t flashy, but Merry was there in the middle of the Danvers defense four 27 games, intimidating any opposing player who ventured down the lane, near the basket. He was the Bill Russell of the North Shore, averaging five blocks and 11 rebounds a game while diverting countless rival shots. The impact his defensive play had night in and night out cannot be overstated. His defense is why he was named NEC MVP. His offense came and went because he was usually the fourth option in an offense full of solid shooters and penetrators, i.e. Clifford, Harris, Devonn Allen, Rudy Rashad Francois. But his offensive showing in the 67-56 home court win over Lynn Classical represents the highest scoring night by any Falcon. Peter played like an unstoppable Bill Walton in his prime (look him up, youngsters), hitting his first 10 shots from all around the paint, finishing with a team season-high 36 points to go along with 12 rebounds and 6 blocks. And no one should forget his fingertip deflection of a Chris Doherty inside shot in the closing minute in the state title game against Marlborough. Following in the footsteps of brother George, who led the Falcons to their very first state title in 2012, Peter became the ideal second act of the “Merry Brothers.” There would be two less state title trophies resting in the glass case outside the field house without George and Peter.

4.Could sophomore Devonn Allen (what are the chances? 2 devon/devanns on the same team???) make the gigantic jump from third guard to starting point guard/quarterback on a team projected as a state title contender; a team that would be facing imposing defensive pressure night after night? You better believe it, but Walsh and company knew Devonnn would be a work in progress for a fair chunk of the session, and he was. He had shaky games that turned into routs, plus steady games that were even bigger routs. But, most critically, he handled the pressure like a veteran when the chips were down. Never was that more evident for the first time than in the 39-37 home court nail-biting win over Salem in Game 8. The game where neither team scored in the last 2:30. The game that easily could have fallen in the Salem “W” column except for several missed shots, a few late turnovers and a spectacular fourth quarter from the youngest player on the Danvers side of the floor —  Devonn Allen. Devonn, whom Walsh has already projected as a future scholarship player (he might get the same accolade before too long from baseball coach Roger Day), led Danvers scorers with 10 points, the last six in the tense fourth quarter on slashing penetration drives down the lane when the Falcons couldn’t make a jumper to save their lives. Devonn also grabbed two super-timely offensive rebounds off missed DHS free throws in the last couple minutes. Devonn became a prime time player with this performance. He only got better after that. He became Mr. Cool in all the tight finishes. He was “The Man” asked to bring the ball up the floor against all kinds of pressure in all the down-to-the-wire games that followed against Marblehead, Bp. Feehan (twice), Lynn English, Brighton, Arlington and Marlborough. He seemed like a solitary figure for most of the 32 minutes every night, dribbling the ball up court, getting help when necessary from a teammate, but usually getting the job done solo. Additionally, Allen’s long-range shooting seemed to improve as the season progressed to the point he was as consistent a three-point bomber as they had next to Clifford. His steady all-around play was clearly valued by the Comcast/Arbella Board 27 Tournament officials, who named Allen their Most Valuable Player of the Division 2 competition, which Danvers won with wins over Bp. Feehan and Malden Catholic (Walsh’s alma mater).

5. Would defensive wizard Mike Nestor develop into the sixth man required of a team gunning for a state title? No question about it. In fact, his presence loomed even larger once he was inserted into the starting lineup and fifth starter Rudy Rashad Francois became the sixth man in order to provide more offensive punch off the bench. The switch worked beautifully. Nestor grew more and more comfortable in the starter’s role, became an even fiercer defensive ace guarding the No. 1 or 2 scorer on the opposing team. And, he hit an occasional shot here or there as well as a few clutch free throws and hauled in timely rebounds, all in crunch time. His star never shone brighter than in the ultimate tester against Marlborough, where Mike was given the assignment of guarding 6-6 freshman sensation Chris Doherty, who had scored 33 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the Panthers’ state semifinal win over South Hadley. Giving away five inches, the feisty Nestor gave Doherty all he could handle the first half. Doherty scored two points by intermission, committed several turnovers while trying to force the issue offensively and found his team trailing 33-15. Nestor got weak side help from frontcourters Merry, Harris or Clifford. Doherty led Marlboro’s third quarter comeback, cutting the deficit to nine heading into the fourth quarter, but then scored only two points the last eight minutes. Nestor had emerged once again as a subliminal hero, similiar to his contribution  the prior game against Bp. Feehan when he corralled rival forward Frank Oftring. Watch for him to be vastly improved offensively next season while retaining his rep as one of the toughest 1-on-1 defenders on the North Shore.

6. Could Rudy Rashad Francois reach his potential and use his obvious athleticism to contribute reliably as a spark plug at both ends of the floor? No doubt about it. He was a starter the first half of the season and played crucial roles in the wins over Somerville (overall floor play), Marblehead (huge 3-pointer when trailing 43-41 in the final minute), Beverly (21 points, 5 3-pointerds) and Winthrop (15 points, 3 threes). But his greatest value surfaced when he switched roles with Nestor and assumed the sixth man assignment. The change first paid major dividends in the fourth quarter of the 60-56 Arbella/Comcast tourney win over Bishop Feehan, where a clutch three-pointer and steady floor play loomed large after Merry and Harris had both fouled out. Coincidentally, that also was Nestor’s first strong game as a starter. Rashad broke out of his scoring slump with 12 points off the bench in the next game, a 20-point rout of Malden Catholic, and the one after that, when he had 11 against Lynn English. He continued his strong bench play with 12 against Wakefield in the MIAA tourney opener and eight against Brighton. He then came up big-time in the Marlboro grand finale, scoring 11 points, all in the first half, powered by three three-pointers. Rashad projects as one of the most exciting players in the Conference next year, possibly as one of the top scorers.

Seventh man Tre Cittendown played sporadically but played several effective minutes in several games, especially in support of Allen in the frantic fourth quarter against Brighton. He, Francois and Allen give Walsh a strong 1-2-3 nucleus around which to build next year’s squad.

A tip of the cap too, to the non-playing bench players. They got playing time once the outcome was determined and showed promise among those players returning next year. But, most important, they gave the regulars battles in practice every day, a quality coaches are infinitely grateful for. Congrats, men.

One last comment about the regulars. They achieved perfection in a second vein. They never got hurt. According to this observer, they played every necessary minute of every game. They took care of themselves and Walsh gave them adequate amounts of rest during games and at the end of routs. An extraordinary accomplishment in itself. Zero injury minutes over 27 games. Unheard of.

8. Would Coach John Walsh be able to push the right buttons, instill enough motivation and keep his players hungry for the long grind ahead? A grind sprinkled with too many blowouts and not enough tough challenges, often an unavoidable condition that leads to upset losses. Almost happened, but never did.

We’ll answer that question with an in-depth look at Walsh’s season in our next blog. Thanks for reading,

 

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Salem Cagers Were, Like 2015 Danvers Falcons, Perfect in 1980, ’90 and ’95

The historic season recently completed by the Danvers High boys’ basketball team (27-0, Div. 2 state title, third state title in four years) brought back memories for this hoops chronicler of three state champion teams from Salem High, all of whom went undefeated as well. A brief reflection of each team follows.

Thirty-five years ago Marie Grant and the Tim Shea-coached Salem High girls’ basketball team won their first state championship, posting the only perfect record in program history. That was 1980. Happy 35th anniversary.

Ten years later the Salem boys’ cagers got into the act, winning their first state title since 1926 behind the eclectic coaching of Jack O’Brien and the brilliant play of future NBA standout Rick Brunson. Happy 25th anniversary.

Then five years later, the Witches’ boys, after previously going 64 years between state championships (1926-90), pulled off the feat yet again, this time behind the bench leadership of Paul Garrity and the exciting all-around play of mercurial point guard James “Scoonie” Penn. Happy 20th anniversary.

Salem High School has enjoyed outstanding teams on the hardcourt before and since this triple crown achievement. But nothing to compare with what these teams accomplished in a 15-year period. All of which merits a brief look back at each team’s championship season.

The 1980 Salem High Girls (27-0)

Former Salem High standout Tim Shea had returned to his alma mater and in his first year as head coach of the SHS girls, in 1979, directed them to the Division 1 North final, where they lost to Cambridge and its star, Medina Dixon. But 1980 was a different story.

The Lady Witches defeated all challengers in 1979-80, finishing undefeated (27-0) and beating prime rival Newton North both during the season and in the state title game at Bentley College. Shea coached the SHS girls for three seasons, finishing 70-3 collectively.

“Marie was the focal point of our team at both ends of the floor,” Shea recalled. “She and Dixon were the two premier girls players in Greater Boston. Marie could do it all as our center. At six feet tall she was a dominant rebounder and defender with an unstoppable semi-hook. She was a good passer and ball-handler.

“She had some terrific teammates, too,” Shea added. “Sue Richard, like Marie, was All-Boston Globe. Then there was Doreen Thibeault, Alison Daley, Holly Brennan and Evie Oquendo among our other key players.

“They were a cocky group, a proud group who knew what it was like to win, but also to lose the big game. They weren’t going to let that happen in 1980.

“I must add,” Shea said, “that the program was thriving before I arrived thanks to the coaching of Sandy Provost. I just kept the ball rolling and we put it all together that one year.”

“We had a good team that year alright,” remembers Grant, who lives in Freeport, Maine and works for Wayside Publishing following a 20-year career in social work in the New York Catskills. “But it still surprises me after all these years that we went undefeated. How hard is that? But we had a great coach and the players all fit nicely with each other.

“People forget we came close the year before and the year after,” Grant added. “We list the Division 1 North final both times. All those years we worked and played hard, had a lot of fun and best of all created wonderful memories those years.”

Grant went on to play at Boston University and Boston College as Salem’s first scholarship player.

Shea went on to coach the Salem State women to unprecedented success spanning 30 years, with 24 NCAA appearances, including capturing the 1986 NCAA Division 3 title in their home gym. Shea retires as the Salem State athletic director later this year.

The 1990 Salem Boys (25-0)

A dynamic coach (O’Brien) and a multi-talented player (Brunson) sparked the 1990 boys’ team to the Division 2 state title, the first of six O’Brien would win (five more came from coaching Charlestown).

An ideal supporting cast made it easier for O’Brien and Brunson to carry the Witches to the promised land.

“We had a great motivator in Coach O’Brien,” said starting center Mike Giardi, who had starring roles that year on the 9-1 football team as the quarterback and on the Eastern Mass. title game runnerup baseball team as the ace pitcher, one year after the Witches won the state title with future major league pitcher Jeff Juden.

“O’Brien found a way to drive every single player on that team; to make them the best support to our star they could be. He pushed us all to greatness because many of us had not played much, if at all, the year before. But he moved us around in the early parts of the season until he liked what he saw and stuck with that. Like in my case, I’d been a guard the year before, but coach moved me to center and it worked out fine.”

Giardi and Brunson were joined in the regular rotation by George McDonald, Mike Fritz, Eric Leibowitz, Pedro Jimenez and Tommy Doyle, the current SHS varsity coach, came off the bench.

“All good guys,” Giardi said. “We knew our roles, knew how to play with Rick and we went all the way.”

The most memorable wins in the tournament, Giardi said, came against East Boston, then against Bishop Feehan in the Eastern Mass. final in the old Boston Garden. The state title game win over Gardner in Worcester was not anticlimactic, he added, but even that one could not top the Eastie and Feehan triumphs.

“We had the star and the rest of us were grinders,” Giardi said.

Giardi described Brunson as a well-rounded player who worked hard and never took his God-given talent for granted. “Rick could take over a game and he often did,” Giardi noted.

Brunson, a 6-3 guard/forward for the Witches, went on to an outstanding college career as the Temple point guard, then forged an 11-year NBA playing career and several more years as an NBA assistant coach. Brunson’s son Jalen, a nationally ranked high school senior, has signed a letter of intent to play for Villanova.

Giardi has gone on to exceptional success as well. He was a three-year starting quarterback at Harvard, pitched and was a two-time All-Ivy League shortstop for the Crimson baseball team and played for three years in the minor leagues (Yankees, Astros and Giants systems).

He will mark his 20th season working Harvard football radio broadcasts this fall. He teaches in the Marblehead school system, is head basketball coach and assistant football coach for the Headers and runs summer baseball camps.

The 1995 Salem High Boys (25-0)

 It seems that as soon as Brunson left for the college big time, another wunderkind appeared on the Salem hoop landscape in the form of James “Scoonie” Penn. He was several inches smaller than Brunson, a pure point guard with breathtaking moves to the basket. Like Brunson, he proved to be the Real Deal, his SHS playing career topped off by a spectacular, undefeated senior season.

Penn capped the team’s 20-0 regular season with arguably his finest individual performance, a 38-point effort in which he rallied the Witches to a last-minute victory over rival Peabody.

“I had my moments, but I had some great teammates that year,” Penn, now 38 and a member of the Big Ten network’s television crew, said. “Jamal Camah went on to play at Providence. Frank Gioia, Saul Mateo, Matt Marengi and Phil Downes all were clutch players. I was lucky to have them as my teammates.”

And they were doubly lucky to have Penn as their headline player. “They were such a good group of kids who all got along, all worked hard, all cared for each other, challenged each other, hung out with each other,” says Paul Garrity. “But we would all agree, all these years later, that we were something very special that year because of Scoonie’s star presence and star power on the court. I have never seen a more competitive player, a player who welcomed every challenge to come his way like Scoonie.”

The Witches survived several epic games on the way to the state title, among them the aforementioned Peabody joust, a last-second win in the Division 2 North final over Belmont at UMass-Boston and a tense Eastern Mass. final victory over Milton.

“Great wins all,” said Garrity, who was a dominating 93-22 in five years coaching the Witches and now either watches the Danvers High boys, where son Mark is the varsity assistant to John Walsh, or his daughter Kelsey, the starting guard for the UMass-Dartmouth women. “It was a season that people remember for a lifetime, not just the players and coaches, but the parents and fans, and we had a great following that year.”

“I was confident we could get to the states,” Penn, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, with his family, said. “I remember telling the senior not to buy their class rings in the fall because we were going to win state championship rings in the winter. And we did.

“A lot of positive factors figured into that season. One was the fact Coach Garrity gave me the flexibility to do my own things on the court. I could freelance when I thought the opportunity was there. He wasn’t extremely strict with any of us. He wanted us to be able to express ourselves on the court. It was different, of course, in tight games late. That’s when he’d calm us down, talk us through the situation and we’d get through it just fine.”

Penn stressed that, unlike the perception of some, “I had to work hard, very hard, for whatever I wanted on the court. It was great that I could start for four years, but nothing was given to me. I earned everything I received. I was plenty motivated, too.”

Penn enjoyed a dreamlike playing career after graduating from SHS. He played two years for Jim O’Brien at Boston College, was Big East Rookie of the Year, Big East Tournament MVP as a sophomore when he led the Eagles to the title, followed O’Brien to Ohio State for his final two years, being named Big Ten Player of the Year as a junior, MVP of the NCAA South Regional final his senior year when he led the Buckeyes to the Final Four. He also was a two-time second team All-American.

He played 11 years professionally in Europe before returning to Columbus, where he and wife Niki are raising four children while Scoonie does TV and also works in sales and serves as a motivational speaker.

 

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Peter Merry Follows Teammate Harris As NEC MVP

Following in brother George Merry’s footsteps on the Danvers High basketball team was one  mighty challenge. George had been an All-Northeastern Conference performer and a Boston Glove all-scholastic when he led the Falcons to their first state title in 2012. But Peter Merry met the challenge and then some this season.

The play of the 6-10 senior center impressed the Northeastern Conference coaches so much that they selected him as the loop’s Most Valuable Player. Rarely is a player chosen for this honor mainly because of his defensive play, but that was indeed the case with Merry, a spindly figure on there floor who blocked shoots, grabbed rebounds and defended in a fashion that would have made Bill Russell proud.

Peter had his share of double figure scoring games, his best a 36-point effort against Lynn Classical.

There was no way of knowing, though, when the season started just how far Merry had come as a player from his junior year. But it didn’t take long to find out. Merry owned the defensive paint, providing a level of intimidation that helped make the Division 2 state champion Falcons the best defensive unit in the state. Case in point: The Falcons held their final three opponents each to less than 50 points in their most important games of the year. Much of that was due to the impact Merry had in Danvers’ defensive alignment.

He made more than 100 blocks for the year, but the biggest came in the final minute of his final game against Marlborough in the state title game last Saturday at Worcester’s DCU Center.

Protecting a two-point lead, Merry got just enough of a finger on an inside shot by Marlborough’s Chris Doherty so that he misdirected the ball away from the basket.

In winning MVP honors, he followed teammate Devan Harris who earned the honor a year ago. Harris and Vinny Clifford joined Merry on the All-NEC team.

The other three teammates who rounded out the Falcons’ unbeatable six-player rotation, were named to the NEC Small Division all-stars: Devonn Allen, Rashad Francois and Mike Nestor. All return next year to make up the Danvers veteran nucleus.

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Danvers Is Titletown Massachusetts; Hamilton-Wenham’s Championship Makes The North Shore The Hub of Heroes

What a weekend for North Shore high school sports. Three opportunities to capture state champions. Three missions accomplished.

Congratulations to them all.

To the Fabulous, Fantastic, Fenomenal undefeated (27-0) Falcons of Danvers High School, who defeated Marlborough, 52-49, Saturday in the MIAA Division 2 state title game at the DCU Center in Worcester. Thanks to Peter Merry’s fingertip deflection of a final-minute inside field goal attempt by Marlborough, then 4-for-4 free throw shooting by Devan Harris in the last seconds, the Falcons won their first Division 2 title and third state title in four years — a feat only three other schools have attained since the inception of the divisional format in 1972.

To the Generals of Hamilton-Wenham Regional after coach Doug Hoak guided them to an unprecedented, perfect 25-0 mark en route to winning the MIAA Division 4 hoop title Friday night, 59-50, over Sutton at WPI. Recently inducted into the Massachusetts High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, Hoak directed a terrific group of players, led by the Zegarowski twins, guard Marcus and forward three-point bomber Max.

To the Cinderella St. John’s Prep hockey team, after it won four straight games, all upsets while winning its first Super 8 state championship Sunday night at YD Garden with a 2-1 win over defending champion Malden Catholic. Special congrats to Prep coach Kristian Hanson after leading the Eagles to their first state title in 36 years, since the Bobby Carpenter era.

Thus, Danvers can truly proclaim itself Titletown, and the North Shore isn’t far behind, boasting three state champions.

 

 

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Danvers High’s Fabulous, Fantastic, Fenomenal Falcons Bring Home Third State Title in Four Years; Stave Off Marlborough Thanks To Harris’s Four Foul Shots in Final 23 Seconds, 52-49; Finish Perfect 27-0, Make All Kinds of History

Hail to the new MIAA Division 2 state champions — the Fabulous, Fantastic, Fenomenal Falcons of Danvers High, 52-49 victors over a courageous Marlborough High unit that made up in the second half 16 points of an 18-point first half deficit but got no further.

The Falcons, after playing their best half of the year over the first 16 minutes, may have played their worst half the second 16 minutes, getting outscored 34-18, but they had what it took at the end, getting four clutch free throws in the last 23 seconds by the team’s two-year MVP, Devan Harris, to save the day.

In completing the first unbeaten/27-0 season in DHS basketball history, the Falcons became the first North Shore squad to finish 27-0 in 35 years, since the 1980 Salem High girls.

They also became the first team to win three state titles in four years  since Charlestown won four in a row from 200 to 2003; the fourth team overall to win three championships in four years dating back to the inception of the divisional tournament format in the early 1970s; and became the first of those four teams to accomplish such a feat with the third title coming after the Falcons moved up a division after winning Division 3 state titles in 2012 and 2013.

The victory also caps the most outstanding five-year run any North Shore hoop program has experienced, keyed by the arrival of new coach John Walsh:

  • 13-9 the first year (after the prior year’s team had gone 3-17) under Walsh after a 2-6 start, an 11-3 streak to end the season, including the first time a DHS boys’ team had won two tournament games
  • 21-4 the second year and the program’s first state championship, dating back more than 70 years
  • 24-2 in Year 3, a second straight Division 3 state title
  • 20-3 the fourth year with lone returning starter Vinny Clifford out for the year with a knee injury, but newcomer Devan Harris picking up a large part of the scoring load and emerging as Northeastern Conference (NEC) MVP while leading the Falcons to the Division 2 North final
  • 27-0, in the process giving the Falcons their fourth straight NEC “Small” and overall titles
  • The numbers after five years are 22-2 in tourney play, 3-1 in North section finals, 3-0 in state finals, 105-18 overall, 93-9 overall the last four years, 20-1 in tournament play the past four years.
  • This season and last have been special beyond words because of the gift they have provided the school and the community in light of the tragedy that occurred on school grounds more than a year ago.

“It’s all about the kids and how they’ve played just wonderful basketball from my very first year,” Walsh said after getting off the celebration bus back at Danvers High tonight.

“They have played the games, made the plays, handled the pressure game after game, year after year, and this year’s pressure has been extraordinary because of the high hopes we all had.”

Fact is, and I must correct the humble Walsh, a 35-year-old dynamo of a tactician and handler of young men, that this program would never have achieved such heights, particularly this year, without his Belichikian, Auerbachian, Woodenesque leadership.

No coach could have put these Dandies of Danvers into position to achieve one of the greatest winning stretches, four years’ worth, in area history, except for John Paul Walsh.

Exhibit A: Facing the most talented big man of the entire season in Marlborough 6-6 freshman center Chris Doherty (33 points, 15 rebounds in the Panthers’ Tuesday night state semifinal win), Walsh  put his ace defensive player, junior forward Mike Nestor, giving up four-plus inches, on Doherty. When the ball came inside to Doherty, Nestor got help from either 6-5 Harris or 6-10 Peter Merry.

First half result: Nestor and friends held the multi-talented Doherty to two points, on two free throws at the end of the first quarter. Doherty got four shots off the entire half, committed three turnovers, and the half belonged to the Falcons in every respect.

It was 17-7 after one quarter, 33-15 at the half, the Falcons’ offense sparked by three three-point bombs from super sub Rudy Rashad Francois (11 points total) and the defense playing marvelously, keyed by the job on Doherty. It was a zone and/or mash-to-man masterpiece. Marlborough shot 3-for-20 the first half.

Danvers’ one negative? Harris was whistled for his third personal with 4:49 left in the second, when the score was 22-10. The Falcons jacked up the advantage to 18 by intermission, thanks to the smooth quarterbacking of Devonn Allen. But the power forward had to play cautiously from there on in.

The Falcons played so well the first half in every respect that they were able to weather their best shooter, Vinny Clifford, being shut out from the floor. But the senior captain was saving his best for the second half.

At halftime, Danvers had committed five turnovers to their rival’s 10.

But everyone in the DCU Centrum crowd of 4500 knew Danvers could not keep up its near-perfect play for two more quarters, nor that Marlborough would suffer through another miserable 16 minutes. And everyone was right.

The third quarter started out ominously for the Falcons, who committed two turnovers and shot an air ball to begin, while MHS hit their first three shots and a foul shot to draw within 34-22.

Clifford responded with a three-point play off a 16-footer, but the Panthers, led by Doherty (11 points in the quarter) kept hammering away while the Falcons committed turnovers and missed shots that had not occurred the first half.

Doherty finished with 15 points, but with only two foul shots in the fourth quarter, when he shot blanks (0-for-4 from the floor, all inside moves that did not connect because of the Falcons’ contesting every attempt).

Clifford’s huge three-pointer from the right side off an out-of-bounds feed from Allen made it 39-26 and Merry’s in-close bucket at 1:56 made it 41-29, the session ending 41-32. Marlborough had cut the halftime deficit in half.

Several players on both sides played much of the second half in foul trouble, i,e. three foul or more, including Doherty, two of his mates, Harris, Merry, Clifford, Nestor and Allen. Yet, no one fouled out on the Falcons’ side, though their fourth quarter play was as shaky as their third quarter.

When Harris made a 10-foot right baseline jumper to begin the fourth, the Falcon faithful felt better. But not for long. Marlborough hit a three to draw within 43-35, the Falcons had more trouble scoring, except for Clifford’s top-of-the-key swisher that made it 47-39 with 4:19 left. That would be DHS’s final field goal. And a vital one.

When Jose deLaCriuz’s trey brought the game to a near-climax at 47-44 with 3:07 left, and Liam Shanahan scored on a lay-up with 1:50 left, drawing MHS to within 48-46,  Danvers’ diehards were praying for a hero to come forward.

But two missed Danvers front ends of 1-and-1 with 1:25 and 52 second left kept the score at 48-46. Thankfully Marlborough missed eight of its last nine shots, one a super clutch block by Merry,  except for the meaningless field goal it scored right before the final horn, and young Mr. Harris, via Cincinnati and Hingham, saved his mates with two swished foul shots with 23 seconds left and again with 9.4 seconds left.

As he had done in the epic Lynn English game, a 79-78 victory thanks to his foul shot after time expired, Harris was the man of the moment.

Despite an overall nightmarish second half, filled with missed easy shots, nine turnovers and vastly improved Marlborough offensive play (ex.: Doherty finding openings he hadn’t found in the first half), the fabulous, fantastic, phenomenal Falcons had made the biggest plays at the very end —  garnering them their third state championship in four years.

Their first half of brilliant  basketball had, in fact, been too much for Marlborough (21-4) to overcome.

Harris led the Falcons’s balanced scoring with 12 points, followed by Francois’s enormous 11 points off the bench, all in the first half, Allen’s nine (and 7 assists), including a three from the deep right corner in the early going, Merry with 7 (8 rebounds, 4 blocks), Nestor with four and Andrew Dunn’s one at the end of the first half.

They have met their date with destiny, their date with history, and emerged 27-0.

MIAA Division 2 state champions. Authors of magical magnificence.

 

 

 

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It’s Championship Day For The Fabulous Falcons

The Day has finally arrived.

Championship Day for the Fabulous Falcons of Danvers High School.

The Day the Falcons reach a pinnacle of perfection one would never have imagined just a few years ago.

It will take a fantastic effort today against 21-3 Marlboro in the DCU Center in Worcester starting at 4 p.m. But this is their day and no one else’s as they become MIAA Division 2 state champions.

The Fabulous Falcons’ third state championship in four years. One of only four teams to accomplish such a title dominance in MIAA history. The only school to do it in two different divisions while moving up a level. And only the second North Shore team ever to finish 27-0.

The Day Coach John Walsh and his staff will lead at their very best.

The Day Peter Merry will have a career two-way performance pitted against a worthy adversary.

The Day Devan Harris puts a fitting finale on the most spectacular two-year career in DHS basketball history.

The Day Vinny Clifford caps a glorious senior year comeback following knee surgery with one of his finest games at both ends of the floor.

The Day Mike Nestor solidifies his role as the team’s most unsung hero with yet another dynamic defensive performance.

The Day Devonn Allen plays yet another marvelous all-around game as quarterback/playmaker, outside/inside scoring threat and defensive stopper/ballhawk deluxe.

The Day Rashad Francois provides a repeat splendid spark off the bench with his eclectic play from all angles — three-point bomber, basket penetrator, defensive demon.

The Day Tre Crittendon and the rest of the bench provide the exact kind of support, on the court and on the sideline, the regulars need to complete this dream of a season.

The Day the Falcons’ fandom shines like never before with thunderous support from their DCU seats

On to 27-0. The perfect second bookend to go with unbeaten neighbor Hamilton-Wenham’s Division 4 state title victory from last night.

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Danvers’ Walsh The Difference Maker In Team’s Historic Championship Run

He will tell you the players make all the shots, grab all the rebounds, deliver all the smooth passes.

First it was the Bates-McKenna-Amico-Connors-Martin-George Merry nucleus spanning the 2012-2013 Northeastern Conference and MIAA Division 3 State championships.

Then came the 2014-2015 group that has comprised Beck-McCarthy-Clifford-Allen-Harris-Peter Merry: another pair of NEC titles, a spot in the Division 2 North title game last year, a stunning 20-3 record and now the season to top all seasons.

A 26-0 record, No. 1 ranking in the Boston Globe Top 20 poll at the end of the regular season and the opportunity Saturday to finish 27-0 and take home the Division 2 state championship if they can knock off 21-3 Marlborough at the DCU Center (4 p.m. start).

And don’t forget that victory tomorrow will also place the Fabulous Falcons into the most select of company among state champions since the MIAA went to the division format in the 1970s; i.e. they will become the very first team to win three state titles in four years in two different divisions moving up. They also will  become only the fourth school to win three titles in a four-year span along with Cambridge, Commerce and Charlestown.

One last item: a victory Saturday makes the Danvers boys only the second North Shore team ever to finish 27-0. The other? The 1980 Salem High Girls, coached by Tim Shea, led on the floor by All-Scholastic Marie Grant.

Give all the credit to the players, the coach will say. But we know better.

For as amazing a sequence of players have blessed the Danvers High varsity boys basketball program these past four years, it is unlikely they would have attained saucy astounding heights of success without the guidance of the head coach — one John Paul Walsh.

His journey as a basketball coach has been well documented in this space. After playing as an all-star at Malden Catholic and getting a short stint of playing time at Rivier College, he thought about coaching.

He got the chance to serve as a varsity assistant for five years for his cousin, the head coach at Watertown, then applied for the Danvers job and was hired by then-athletic director John Sullivan.

The boys’ hoop program had been in the dumps for some time and no one took serious notice when another new faces came to town trying to reverse the Falcons’ fortunes.

But at 31, in his first year, he turned a 2-6 start into a 13-9 finish with two tournament wins — the first time a Danvers team had ever won two post-season games.

This guy must know what he’s doing, the small faction of DHS basketball cognoscenti observed. But let’s not get carried away with this young guy, the added. Let’s see what he can do from here.

What Walsh “could do from here” was not only reach for the stars, but succeed in taking this unheralded program, one without a Northeastern Conference title since 1975, to heights the most eternal of all DHS basketball optimists could never have imagined.

As noted above: four straight NEC titles, back-to-back Division 3 state titles, Division 2 North section title game runner-up, and now, in 2015, the opportunity to achieve perfection and a Division 2 state championship.

Yes, the players play the game, score the points, defend the other team, and so forth.

But ask any of the players who have worn the Royal Blue and White while directed by John Walsh, and they will tell you his coaching in practice and games made all the difference in the world in creating this never-before-seen run of basketball excellence north of Boston.

Walsh is a serious young man, one who admits to having been blessed with pretty much everything a man of his age could ever expect: good health, a beautiful family (wife and three young children) and a rewarding job.

Then, to have been given the opportunity to take over a struggling program and take it to dreamlike success, well, it’s more than he deserves, he says modestly. But, of course, he is wrong.

John Paul Walsh does deserve this coaching success. Combining his experience as a player and assistant coach, his dedication to the game’s principles, disciplines and nuances, and his unmatched ability to handle pressure time during games geared to strategy or substitutions, Walsh has quickly risen to the top of the coaching fraternity in Massachusetts high school basketball.

Aided by a sharp group of assistants, Walsh is often seen during game action crouched in front his bench, surveying the action, turning to top aid Mark Garrity and determining his next move or next spoken word to his players as they fly up and down the court.

When the moment requires it, he’ll stand up and voice a concern to an official or speak instructions to one of his players. Most important, at all times Walsh is under total control, even when he is attempting to drive home a point to the official.

He was, fact be know, under pressure even his freshman year, when he was hoping to improve on the previous year’s team’s 3-17 mark.

Year 2’s 21-4 state championship surge shocked everybody except Walsh, his staff and players. From that point on, every team the Falcons have faced have pointed to that game as the highlight of their schedule. Yet, the Falcons kept winning and winning and winning, especially the big games in the regular season and the MIAA tournament.

Walsh has made the Falcon basketballers winners in every respect. The players believe in themselves. They believe in their coach. They believe in the new championship tradition that Walsh has established.

Not that he needed confirmation after winning successive state titles, but Walsh cemented his position in the Bay State coaching fraternity with last year’s 20-3 team that had no starters returning once Vinny Clifford suffered a debilitating knee injury the summer previous. The transfer of Devan Harris from Hingham High to Danvers High gave the Falcons what proved to be an MVP-level forward. Nonetheless, the way Walsh was able to incorporate Harris into the DHS scheme and bring the other players along, led by senior Kieran Beck, was a near-masterpiece of coaching.

The only program in the state that compares with what Walsh has accomplished in Danvers is the Putnam squad from Springfield that goes for a third straight Division 1 state championship tomorrow.

Clad in his white shirt and tie, Walsh will be prowling the Danvers sideline tomorrow at the DCU Center eyeing a date with history. In fact, he has already made a great deal more history this season with a 26-0 record. But the sweetness of those first 26 wins will only remain pure and timeless if they can do it one  more time, pressure be damned, tomorrow against Marlborough.

John Paul Walsh will do everything  in his power to  ensure No. 27 happens as scheduled.

 

 

 

 

 

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Danvers High’s Fabulous Falcons’ Date With Destiny Draws Near

Random thoughts as Danvers High’s Fabulous Falcons continue preparations for their “Date With Destiny” Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. in the DCU Center, Worcester, against 21-3 Marlborough. At stake: The MIAA Division 2 state championship.

  • The one player most apparently standing in the way of the Falcons’ first-ever perfect season (27-0) and third state title in four years is Marlborough freshman center Chris Doherty. The 6-6 pivotman had 33 points (13 from the foul line) and 15 rebounds in his team’s 65-58 victory over South Hadley in their Central/Western Mass. state semifinal in Springfield. Doherty poses the sternest test Danvers’s 6-10 Peter Merry has faced all season. I doubt those 33 points and 15 rebounds came against anyone with the size, defensive and shot-blocking talents of Merry, who will be playing his final game as a Falcon. The Doherty-Merry matchup looms as a fascinating storyline, but I like Merry’s cha nces of gaining the upper hand early and keeping it against the young Mr. Doherty.
  • The other two double-figure scorers for Marlborough against South Hadley were brothers, Owen (12) and Joe (10) Cappadona.
  • Marlborough’s three losses came to St. Bernard’s, 63-60, Westborough, 55-38, and St. John’s of Shrewsbury, 71-60.
  • Marlborough’s defense is a force. It has held nine teams to 40 points or less. Winner of the Midland B League with an 11-1 mark, it brings a seven-game win streak into the game while averaging 56.1 points per game and allowing an average of 45.7.
  • Nothing could have been finer, after Danvers’ 51-40 victory over Bp. Feehan in the TD Garden Tuesday night, than to see the thermometer hit the mid-50s the next afternoon.
  • It is understandable that Danvers fans are experiencing a glorious high these days, following nail-biting tourney wins over Brighton, Arlington and Bp. Feehan. How can the Falcons lose Game 27 after winning the first 26, they ask. Well, teams in the exact same circumstance have been defeated before in the DCU Center, crushing their hopes of a perfect season. The Falcons have no intention of being such a victim.
  • Vinny Clifford and Devan Harris join Merry as DHS seniors playing their final game for the Royal Blue and White.
  • There is no reason to believe that the “Big Three,” along with sophomore point guard Devonn Allen, junior off guard Mike Nestor and sixth man Rashad Francois won’t embrace this game with devastating efficiency at both ends of the floor. I won’t be surprised in the least if they play the most total game they’ve played all year.
  • Head coach John Walsh gives the Falcons a major advantage on the bench, as he has shown throughout the playoffs.
  • All these Danvers players, with the exception of Harris, who was playing in Hingham, got a taste of what it feels like to win a championship as observers in 2012 and 2013. Now it’s their turn to reach the summit.
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