“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 Cagers’ Showdown with Lynn English Rescheduled for Wednesday, February 18

The long-anticipated showdown between the two Northeastern Conference leaders, Small pacesetter Danvers (11-0) and Large top dog Lynn English (10-2) has been postponed because of the snowstorm  from tonight at 7 at Lynn to Wednesday February 18 at Lynn at 7 p.m.

Enfglish, a Division 1 tournament entry, has lost twice outside the NEC, both at home, to Everett, 88-87, and to Burke of Boston, 61-48.

Division 2 Danvers (11-0) is ranked No. 3 in today’s latest Boston Globe rankings, while English has dropped to No. 10, just ahead of St. John’s Prep.

English has ben averaging 82 points per game opposed to 59 points allowed. Danvers has averaged 66 points and allowed an average of 47.

The English makeup will follow Danvers’ participation in the Woburn Invitational, slated for February 14 and 15.

MIAA tournament pairings will be announced Saturday February 21.


Danvers resumes action Friday hosting Saugus


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Danvers Boys Cagers Pop Peabody 65-51; Zero in on Tuesday Showdown at (11-1) Lynn English

Signs improved Friday night that the unbeaten Danvers High Falcons would be ready to take on their toughest test of the season Tuesday night at 11-1 Lynn English, the Northeastern Conference South leader and potential Division 1 North champion come tourney time.

With Devan Harris pouring in 27 points, Vinny Clifford bombing in three three-pointers and Tre Crittendon and Mike Nestor providing solid play off the bench, the 11-0 Falcons took care of Peabody Friday night in the DHS field house

The only negative? Another shaky start in which Peabody (6-6) jumped out to a 7-2 lead and the Falcons committed four early turnovers before igniting their jets and taking control. Danvers led, 16-10, after once quarter, 30-16 at halftime and remained in relative control the rest of the easy, though the Tanners whittled an 18-point deficit to within 42-33 late in the third.

Another plus for the Falcons was a more effective man-to-man defense, one in which they have made their reputation and amazing record the last four years. The Falcons are now 89-19 in coach John Walsh’s historic five-year tenure.

Lynn English (7 p.m. in the LEHS field house) now looms as the ultimate regular season test. If each of the the solid starting five plays up to his potential individually and as a teammate, and if Crittendon and Nestor can provide steady help off the bench, the Falcons have a chance. But they surely enter the game as a five- to seven-point underdog. English won last year’s meeting, 71-65, at DHS.

Could/should be a doozie.

A few other observations:

  • Steve Avigian, coach of the powerhouse DHS golf team, must be the best basketball P.A. announcer on the North Shore.
  • The DHS band adds a great deal of atmosphere to the proceedings.
  • Belated congrats to DHS AD Andy St. Pierre and his wife on the birth of their second child, and first daughter, regular attendees at home games with their son Wade and grampy, prominent North Shore orthopedic surgeon Dave St. Pierre.
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Larrabee: Opinions and Observations Galore As DeflateGate Rages

Time for a few observations and opinions as we await whether Tom Brady has broken our hearts — or not:

  • OK. This DeflateGate stuff is stupid. Never should have happened, but someone in the Patriots’ Foxboro bunker felt they needed to doctor the 12 home team game balls to help the Pats beat Indianapolis. Stupid. Maybe they did this against the Ravens and none of the Baltimore chaps noticed. Win or lose the legitimate way. Or don’t the Patriots believe in that. It’s all about what happened in those two-plus hours between the time the game officials inspected the dirty dozen and kickoff. Who doctored them? That person is accountable. Period. But also, what’s taking the NFL so long to say something about the investigation? It’s Thursday, press conference time for Bill Belichick (a.m.) and Tom Brady, (p.m.) and neither knows what went down? C’mon. That defies credulity. If nothing else, all this stuff should lead to the  highest rated Super Bowl — and probably the highest rated television show — in American history. After that, may the guilty be punished to to the fullest extent of NFL Law. Just so sad that Pats’ legacy being destroyed like this.
  • Any of you take the points and bet on the Celtics last night in Portland?? Amazing, eh?
  • Two words I hate being used so improperly in spoken world especially among sports pundits: “guy” and “superstar,” the latter especially when referring to a high school athlete. Use “man” or “fella” or “chap” instead of “guy.”
  • Mayor Walsh better recant and call for a referendum among Hub dwellers to vote thumbs up or down regards 2024 Summer Olympics, or he won’t get re-elected in 2018.
  • Get well wishes to John McGrath, long-time Danvers High basketball and baseball coach from the 1960s into the 1980s.
  • Congrats to Hamilton-Wenham’s Doug Hoak on his induction tomorrow night into the Massachusetts High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. He’s got a possible state champion basketball team right now at H-W.
  • Belated condolences to family and friends of Doug Aylward, who passed away a few months ago. Doug was an outstanding baseball player for McGrath at DHS and an all-Conference player at UMass.
  • I like the Bruins’ chances of making the Stanlwey Cup finals, despite their precarious position currently. Just got a feeling.
  • So Tiger lost a tooth, the story he is telling about how it happened is coming under scrutiny. What a surprise. But better than losing a wife.
  • Jack Nicklaus is 75, that means Arnold Palmer turns 85 in September. Where have the years gone???
  • Watching the Australian Open on the tube reminds me what remarkable athletes tennis players are; probably the best conditioned athletes of all.
  • Football and hockey players are the toughest athletes.
  • Baseball players are the most overpaid. Sure, tennis players and tour golfers make a ton, if they are successful, but at least they earn the loot the old fashioned way — they earn it on their own, baby.
  • Based on the horrendous defense they play most nights, NBA players are grossly overpaid as well.
  • Celtics fans are the best, and their loyalty will be tested the next 21-3 years while Danny Ainge rebuilds almost strictly through No. 1 and No. 2 draft choices.
  • Keep praying for Bob Neumeier.
  • Root for two-time heart transplant patient Erik Compton this weekend and every week he competes on the PGA Tour.
  • And so it goes…
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Danvers High Hoopsters Roll Merry-ly Along

Peter Merry, the undefeated Danvers High boys basketball team’s towering pivotman, is the first to admit he isn’t as talented as his older brother George, who led the Falcons to their first ever state championship in 2012. In the process George became Danvers’ first all-scholastic (Boston Globe and Boston Herald) since Dana Skinner in the 1970s.

Nonetheless, Peter, at 6-10, has proven to be an invaluable — and irreplaceable — member of arguably the best starting five on the North Shore. In playing a major role in the Falcons’ 10-0 start, Merry has more than lived up to expectations as the next Merry big man.

Peter’s  primary strengths are his shot blocking, rebounding and overall guardianship of Danvers’ inside-the-lane defense, his mere presence an intimidating issue with which rival teams must deal.

But when the opportunity presents itself as the third, fourth or sometimes fifth option in the Falcons’ offensive schemes, Merry can be unstoppable; witness his 36-point performance in a 67-56 home court victory over Lynn Classical in which Peter made his first 10 shots on a variety of inside power moves and finished 14-for-17 from the floor. Peter also added 12 rebounds and six blocks for his evening’s work, clearly his career game to date as a Falcon.

“That was Peter Merry at his finest,” DHS coach John Walsh said after the Classical game. “We’d like to see him score 36 every night, but that’s not realistic. Some nights he doesn’t figure into our scoring much at all, but the other things he does for us are vital, some obvious and some not so obvious. His rebounding and shot-blocking speak for themselves, but the way he moves around inside to protect the basket and make opposing players alter their shots plays a big role in our success on a nightly basis.”

Such as in Games 8 and 9, wins at Beverly, 66-42, and at home the other night to Salem, 39-37, where Merry was shut out from the field but had nine rebounds and 12 blocks at Beverly and five blocks and nine rebounds against Salem and made two critical foul shots, the last two the Falcons made in the nail biter. Moreover, he forced Beverly and Salem shooters on several occasions to take unnatural shots to avoid Merry’s long arms and rejection-geared hands.

With four offensive-minded teammates on the starting five, all of whom can take the three or penetrate to the basket, Merry understands he won’t on most nights get a large chunk of field goal attempts, but he’s happy to get what scoring opportunities he can, whether they come from feed-ins or offensive rebounds.

At the same time, Walsh and big-man assistant coach Jarhon Giddings continue working with Merry to make their senior center more accessible for passes from the wings or out top.

“It’s been an exciting four years for me,” says Merry.”First watching my brother star, take the team to the Garden and win a state title in Worcester. We didn’t quite get there last year (moving up from Division 3 to Division 2, posting a 20-3 record and losing in the Div. 2 North final to New Mission), but we hope this season’s a different story. A long ways to go, but we’ve done alright to this point.

“My Classical game? That was one of those nights when I was really feeling it offensively. The guys got me the ball and I had the room to make my moves. Other games teams have done a good job clogging the middle making it tougher for Devan (Harris) and me to get the ball and go to the basket. But we’re working on that too.”

A product of the town’s youth basketball program, Merry initially played soccer as well. But once he got the basketball bug he became an all-hoops, all-the-time player.

“George inspired me to work harder and harder,” Peter says. “It’s paid off. But at the same time I appreciate that people realize I’m a different kind of player than George, trying to play my role as best I can.”

It’s a role that can change from night to night, but that’s fine with Peter. “I’m just glad we’ve got a good group of players; players who care about the team and playing as a team,” Merry pointed out. “We’re like a family really. We care about each other and we share the same goals. It’ll be fun to see how well we reach those goals.”

Goals the Falcons would most likely have little chance to attain without Peter Merry’s imposing presence in the middle of it all.



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That’s More Like It; Danvers High Cagers Rock Revere, 94-49

Ten and oh. Where from here do the Danvers High boys cagers go?

The Falcons responded to their slippage from No. 2 to No. 3 in the Boston Globe poll by, for the first time this season, really showing what they are capable of, at Revere High Tuesday night, coasting to a 94-47 rout.

Remarkably, the game started as if the Falcons would fall into old bad habits, including playing down to the level of the opposition. The host Patriots, among the weakest teams in the Northeastern Conference, held an 8-7 lead midway through the opening quarter. Here we go again, some of us said to ourselves.

But then Danvers went on one of the best surges of the season, running off 18 straight points and outscoring Revere by a staggering 37-3 margin by the time the second quarter was six minutes old. The score read 44-11. End of game.

The Falcons played sharply in every respect of the game during this segment, led by the offensive performances of Devan Harris (20 points, 2 threes) and Vinny Clifford (20 points, 6-for-7 from 3-point land). No one let up after intermission.

Everyone played well, including the reserves. Nice way to wrap up the first half of the regular season. Next comes a Peabody squad to DHS Friday night for what could be a good test (7pm), the Falcons’ last tuneup before their monumental NEC showdown at (10-1) Lynn English, a Division 1 power, Tuesday night at English (7pm).

The Falcons are a breath-taking 88-19 since Watertown junior varsity coach John Walsh took over the program. Not quite yet time to start fundraising for a Walsh statue outside the fieldhouse, but I’m starting to throw bills into an old pillow case for that exact purpose.

Next DHS cager profile: Peter Merry. Coming soon.


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Allen Comes to the Rescue; Unbeaten Danvers High Cagers Survive Salem, 39-37

To coin a phrase from the voice of Boston College football and basketball, Jon Meter Parel, “Take a bow, Devonn Allen!”

When the Danvers High Basketball Falcons (now 9-0) needed a hero in their Friday night Northeastern Conference showdown with Salem (now 8-3) in the nearly-packed DHS field house, the ever-improving sophomore point guard stepped up and made all the difference in the world.

Allen scored his team’s last six points on three electrifying penetration drives down the lane and stole two key rebounds off missed teammates foul shots in the final 20 seconds to help preserve an ugly but rewarding 39-37 victory over a young Salem squad to whom the host Falcons tried to gift wrap the game.

Reminiscent of last year’s 41-38 Tong War loss to the Witches in Salem, this meeting had all the same characteristics: poor shooting, ghastly turnovers (16 by Danvers, 7 by Salem), deliberate offensive schemes at both ends and frightening foul shooting by the usually accurate Falcons in crunch time, i.e. missing their last six, including three front ends of 1-and-1s in the final 1:13.

But thankfully for the Falcons, Salem shot as many blanks over the last 2:30, during which neither team scored a single point and Salem missed its final eight shots, including a last-gasp three-pointer to win the game that was deflected by Vinny Clifford (take a bow, Vinny) as time ran out.

When Danvers raced out to an 8-zip lead in the first four minutes, the Falcon fandom sensed a blowout, but as they have seen too many times this year, the hometown heroes sputtered way too often with turnovers, cold shooting and their tendency to play down to the level of the opponent, such as was the case with Saugus and Beverly for a half and Lynn Classical and Marblehead for most of the game.

Granted, we expect marvelous things from this squad every night they take the court, but they certainly appear to be playing way below their championship potential. Yet, they are showing one excellent trait — the ability to find a way to win in crunch time (as with Marblehead, Somerville, Classical and now Salem).

For all the unexpected miscues and misfires they committed, each of the five starters made a timely play when it mattered most in the fourth quarter last night, even Devan Harris, who led the Falcons with 14 points but once again got in foul trouble and in this case fouled out with 3:55 to go, and DHS leading 37-31, on a highly questionable offensive foul call after he made one of his patented drives to the basket, scored, then knocked down a defender, a call which is rarely made.

The only points Danvers scored after that came on Allen’s gorgeous drive down the lane with 2:46 remaining.

Rashad Francois came up with a huge steal with 19.9 seconds left, Peter Merry grabbed some clutch rebounds, blocked six shots and effectively played Mr. Intimidator in the defensive lane all night, as Salem coach Tom Doyle pointed out afterward, Clifford hit two of his patented the-point bombs early on and, well, the somehow pulled it out.

“We’re glad we won,” John Walsh said later, “but that was no fun locker room once we left the floor. We have an awful lot of stuff to work on; stuff we have to improve upon as soon as we can. I’m proud of these kids and how resilient they have show to be these first nine games. We expect to be in tough games every night no matter who we play.”

In the most critical segment of the game, Devonn Allen rose about the fray and displayed his offensive virtuosity despite having played tight man-to-man defense on his quicker Salem rival all night, and the energy to deliver when the game was on the line.

“Devonn’s a competitor like no other right now,” Walsh said. “He plays so hard, never lets up, never stops, and he’s not afraid to take over the game when we have the ball. He is some kind of warrior.

Each starter has issues to deal with, where each appears to be underachieving. But they are still a work in progress, including the development ofd the two key reserves, Mike Nestor and Tre. But at 9-0 and as the No. 2-ranked team in Eastern Massachusetts based on The Boston Globe weekly poll, the Falcons sit comfortably as an elite team, a status we can savor, despite  the “Perils of Pauline” game scenarios that have been giving our aging hearts palpitations. Joyful palpitations.

Next week at Revere Tuesday, host Peabody Friday, then the Falcons’ other high NEC hurdle — at once-beaten Division 1 power Lynn English on the 27th.




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Francois a Player of Many Talents for Danvers High Boys Hoopsters

The Danvers High Basketball Falcons have arguably the best starting five in the Northeastern Conference (Lynn English and Salem might protest) and on the North Shore (cross-town neighbor St. John’s Prep might object). Five uniquely talented players in their own individual and team-oriented ways.

But when it comes to choosing the most versatile of the “fab five” at both ends of the court, keen observers just might select junior off-guard Rashad Francois. He’s got the coolest name, too.

Fact is the 6-foot, 160-pound junior is capable of providing a boost to the Falcons’ fortunes at any time thanks to his quickness, his leaping ability, his ball-stealing talent and his offensive thrusts as a penetrator and three-point bomber.

Francois’ role has been expanded even more this season with his improved defense. “Rashad is obviously a key component of our offense,” says coach John Walsh, “but we’ve got him guarding a top scorer from the other team as well. We give him a lot of responsibility, but he can handle it.”

What more could you want from a player? As one Northeastern Conference observed after getting burned by Francois more way than he cared to admit earlier this season, “Danvers’ five starters all have their strengths, but Francois can beat you so many ways. He’s the main reason I’m glad we’re not playing them again. Once is enough.”

Francois, brother of freshman backup guard Tagh Coakley, can break open a game with his three-pointer, as he did at Beverly when he canned five of them, but his game offers equal impact when he’s part of the Falcons’ feared press, knocking balls loose, intercepting passes, diving for loose balls. Then there his his ability to split zone defenses and embarrass man-to-man defenses with twisting, lightning-quick drives to the basket.

He’s liable to crash the offensive boards and outjump teammates and foes alike and his passing is underrated. He’s bailed out the Falcons on more than one occasion with clutch plays, especially a must-make three, in crunch time.

“I learned about pressure last year when I started next to mark McCarthy; a great experience,” says Francois. “I like to tho k I’m handling it better this year playing alongside  Devonn (point guard Devonn Allen).”

Both Allen, a super sophomore, and Francois can sink the three, and they try and establish that threat early in games to open up the inside for Peter Merry and Devan Harris and give Vinny Clifford, another top-notch three-point shooter, room to fire away.

Francois grew up in the Danvers school system, going from the Riverside Elementary School to the Holten-Richmond Middle School to DHS. Walsh saw Francois’ potential early on. That’s why he got the chance to practice some with the varsity as an eighth grader. “That made me feel real good,” said Francois. “Coach said I’d be a starter sooner than I thought. My sophomore year was soon enough. Now I think I’m a smarter player. I know better when to take chances.”

All of which has paid off handsomely for the unbeaten Falcons as they shoot for their ninth successive win of thre season tonight, at home,  (7 p.m.) against 8-2 Salem.




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Francois Sparks Danvers High Cagers to Eighth Win; Salem Provides Big Test Friday

After another sluggish start, the unbeaten Danvers High boys basketball Falcons got a major spark off the bench from Rashad Francois, the reliable off guard firing in five three-pointers en route to a career-high 21 points, and, boosted as well by Peter Merry’s 12 blocked shots, pulled away from host Beverly in the second half for a 66-42 triumph Tuesday night in the Henry Cabot Lodge Fieldhouse.

Francois was marvelous from the deep, canning three successive treys in the second quarter, then two more in a 25-second span in the decisive third quarter when the Falcons (8-0) outscored 1-7 Beverly by a 20-2 margin and kept the Panthers scoreless for the first six minutes. By that time the game was over.

Merry, though scoring only two points, was his usual monster presence inside defensively with his 12 blocks, five coming in the second quarter. Devan Harris was more his normal imposing self inside offensively, scoring 12 points, while Vinny Clifford played the most minutes he has all season while adding 10, the same number provided by ever-improving sophomore point guard Devonn Allen.

Coach John Walsh will be the first to admit there are some missing ingredients required before he can say the Falcons are operating full throttle on all cylinders. He hopes to say as much after they host 8-2 Salem Friday night at 7 in a Northeastern Conference matchup of powerhouse programs. The two most critical elements are taking care of the basketball while under defensive pressure and playing a higher degree of the in-your-shirt defends Danvers has been known for since Walsh’s divinely arrival on the Danvers basketball scene  five seasons ago.

They will need a solid effort for 32 minutes against a Salem squad that can run, press and score points in bunches. That solid effort would include a minimum of turnovers, consistent play from the starting five and top subs Tre Crittendon and Mike Nestor and effective rebounding and defending.

Get there early Friday. A full house is expected.

Merry’s 36-point effort against Lynn Classical last Friday was exceptional, foremost because Peter hit his first 10 shots. Don’t think that’s ever been done by a Danvers player before. If I’m wrong, let me know.

I do know that Ed Gieras holds the single game scoring record with 45, attained during his 1975 senior season in which he led the Falcons to the NEC title and he was named the NEC MVP. Dana Skinner, the best player in DHS history, had 38 and the late Scott Powers notched 41.  George Merry, Peter’s older brother now at WPI, scored 40 at Revere, Coach Walsh reported and Sean Mahegan scored 38 against Salem in Walsh’s first year as coach, 2010-2011.

Lastly, the Falcons are No. 2 in this week’s Boston Globe rankings, with only 10-0 Newton North ahead of them. The Falcons were ranked No. 1 two season ago when they posted an 18-0 regular season mark before losing two mini-tourney games while point guard Eric Martin sat out with an injury. He came back after those two games and led the Falcons to their first of successive Division 3 state championships.




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Merry (36), Harris (10 in 4th) Carry Unbeaten DHS Cagers to 7th Win, But 21 turnovers a major concern

It isn’t getting any easier for the unbeaten Danvers High boys basketball team to fight off challenges from their Northeastern Conference rivals. The defending NEC champs, plagued by sloppy ball-handling (21 turnovers) against Lynn Classical’s effective zone, needed a career performance from center Peter Merry (36 points) and a critical 10-point fourth quarter from the slump-breaking Devan Harris (14 points total) to turn back the visiting Rams Friday night, 67-56, in a near-capacity  DHS field house.

Merry’s marvelous offensive wizardry (10-for-10 from the floor, 21 points) powered the Falcons to a 36-23 halftime lead, despite the fact Harris was shut out for the first half, the third and fourth quarters in a row, with minimal scoring opportunities. Merry was a consistent offensive force the second half as well, finishing 14-for-17 from the floor, 8-for-11 from the foul line) and scored seven key points in the fourth quarter, before Harris took command, when the quick and high-jumping Rams closed within 58-52 with 3:20 remaining. Seven fourth-quarter turnovers helped keep the Lynners close.

Harris, a vital part of the Falcons’ offensive arsenal, was the necessary ingredient that carried the home team the rest of the way, giving the fans a much-needed sigh of relief after he’d scoured only four points in Wednesday’s three-point home victory over Marblehead. The big issue with Harris’s low-scoring output seems to be the difficult his teammates are having getting him the ball in his favored scoring positions around the paint. I sense the 2014 NEC MVP will break out big time in next week’s games at Beverly and hosting Salem.

Accurate foul shooting (15-for-18) also played a key role in win No. 7.

At game’s end, as family and friends surrounded the 6-9 Merry on his memorable offensive showing — Classical didn’t have any player listed over 6-5, but, as always, their quickness and leaping ability allowed them to contest most of Peter’s shots — the Falcons’ two major concerns remained to be pondered:

1. Senior captain Vinny Clifford’s revised playing role

2. The team’s shoddy dribbling and passing against pressing defenses.

Clifford’s situation seems to have become clear. After tweaking his surgically repaired right knee at Saugus Monday, he and coach John Walsh have decided to play him in shorter stints, maybe two or three minutes at a time, since the knee is giving Clifford discomfort, but nothing that he can’t play with, nor nothing that will harm the knee. He played two longer-than-normal stints in the second half. It’s apparently the nature of the surgery. The knee is fine structurally, but will give Vinny minimal to moderate pain which he will have to play through. He looked fine moving about last night, especially when he hit successive three-pointers from opposite baseline corners in the second quarter. Most important, the pair is on the same page in realizing the Falcons could conceivably play a 25-game season if they have a deep tournament run. No need to push the knee too hard before the schedule reaches the mid-season mark.

As for the problems the Falcons are having getting the ball up the court and dealing with halfcourt zone traps as well, that’s something the coaches and players must resolve. This is a team that was 20-3 last year and rarely took such poor care of the ball. They make similar poor decisions in the two big games upcoming, hosting Salem next Friday and playing at Lynn English on January 27th, they’ll get their heads handed to them, a most unlikely scenario.

Fact is, Walsh’s current seven-player rotation is cable of playing a flawless offensive floor game if their heads are into it. Hopefully they’ll play more like that come Tuesday at Beverly before Salem comes to town Friday.

Then again, let’s not remember the highly ranked Falcons, experiencing the greatest success in program history and the most sustained success of any major sport team in school history, is seven and zero. ‘Tis lovely. Hopefully the team and its fans can continue to enjoy this unprecedented victory ride, even as we overemphasize the one or two negative issues quite evident in this seven-win season start. We avid observers are never satisfied.

Starting guard Rashad Francois gave us all a scare early in the second quarter when he went down hard to the floor with the score tied at 16. He stayed down on the floor for some time, holding his right leg, but after getting attention from the trainer he was able to get up with help and walk to the bench on his own power and return to the game seemingly none the worse for wear.

The Falcons had a rocky night from three-point land except for the two Clifford made and a single trey Francois made in the first quarter.



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Challenges Keep Coming for Unbeaten (6-0) Danvers High Boys Cagers

Lots of good news — and some cautionary tales — to report after the Danvers High boys basketball team survived one huge scare last night before staving off Marblehead, 46-43,  in the DHS field house.

The good news:

  • The 6-0 Falcons, ranked No. 3 this week in the Boston Globe poll, know how to handle adversity, how to come from behind in the final minute, and how to win when getting little or no offense from two of their big scorers, Vinny Clifford and Devan Harris.
  • We learned last night that sophomore Devonn Allen and juniors Rashad Francois and Tre Crittendon are “ready for prime time” contributors.
  • We were reminded that middle man Peter Merry’s value to the team is immeasurable after his 11 point, 10 rebound, five block performance, especially when his fellow frontcourtmen, Clifford and Harris, struggle. He is as valuable to this team’s success as anyone.
  • We were reminded that the Falcons’ suffocating defense will loom large in any low-scoring game, such as last night, when it pitched a second quarter shutout, Marblehead scoring zero points while Danvers scored a quiet 10 and turned a stunning 16-10 first quarter home court deficit into a 20-16 halftime advantage.

We also learned some worrisome things based on last night.

  • There is a way to handcuff Northeastern Conference MVP Harris, displayed two nights after he scored a career-high 35 points in a fast-paced 88-66 victory at Saugus. The Sachems rattled Danvers by zone pressing, which earned them a 41-41 tie before they got routed in the second half, Harris playing a major role in the win. But last night Marblehead (3-4) coach Mike Giardi used a most effective 2-3 clogging zone in which the Danvers perimeter men had all kinds of difficulty getting the ball inside to Merry or Harris. Merry kept banging the boards and got some great results, while Harris scored on a 10-foot jumper midway through the first quarter for a 10-10 tie and scored the team’s last points of the second quarter as well on a driving layup. But that was it for the Charkles Barkley-esque Harris, who was saddled with foul trouble for much of the night was had problems getting to the boards. NEC coaches were taking note I am sure. But watch him return to his old, masterful ways at both ends of the floor, hopefully, tomorrow night.
  • The Danvers defense had what almost became a deadly spell from midway through the fourth, when the Magicians ran off nine straight points for a 43-41 lead with 43 seconds remaining. Four of those points came on layups, two more on a dunk. Very uncharacteristic of the Falcons. That porous stretch surely will be discussed at practice today.
  • There is some concern as to the condition of sharpshooter Clifford’s right knee, the one operated on in September 2013 which forced him to sit out all of last season; an amazing 20-3 campaign without the team’s lone returning starter. The senior captain tweaked it in the third quarter at Saugus and sat out the fourth quarter. Coach John Walsh started Mike Nestor in Clifford’s place against Marblehead, but Clifford came in after 2:15 had elapsed, missed a three-pointer, canned a three, then sat out much of the second quarter. He came in off the bench again in the third quarter, played several minutes, then started the fourth quarter but was ineffective offensively. He came through big time, however, with 15.3 seconds left when he was fouled before the Falcons could inbounds the ball against the Magicians’ full court pressure and sank two huge foul shots to give Danvers a 46-43 lead. Marblehead came down and got off two excellent three-point looks, the first of which was off the mark from the right corner, but the second, from the left wing by Griffin Butterfield, was dead on but hit the back of the rim and bounced out as the final horn sounded. It would appear Clifford and Walsh will have to deal with the wounded knee one day at a time throughout the season. It appears it is a condition Clifford will adjust and copoe with, with discomfort, from here. He wore last night an additional wrap around the knee under the brace he wears in practices and games. Bottom line: he can play through the pain. It is believed that the knee will hold up just fine. The pain is another issue.
  • Should the Falcons, coming off a spectacular 2013-14 season and projected as one of the top teams in the state and the best team in the Northeastern Conference, be struggling against mediocre teams like Saugus and Marblehead? This was Game 2 in three days after a two-week layoff. No excuse there. From this vantage point the NEC competition has improved this season. The Falcons didn’t have to wait to host Salem on January 16 and play at Lynn English on January 27 to find that out. Those may be the other two top teams in the NEC, but it’s clear other programs have improved vastly since last year. The Falcons get another good test at home Friday night against Lynn Classical.

Equally important on a positive vein from last night, sophomore Allen and juniors Francois and Crittendon showed they can pick up the slack come crunch time. In effect, any of the tesam’s first seven can win the game offensively. Allen, after a sub-par performance at Saugus, was Mr. Clutch in the fourth quarter, scoring his team’s first seven points. First he hit a three from atop the key, then went coast to coast after stealing an inbounds pass, his layup giving the Falcons a 36-32 lead with 5:05 left, Two foul shots  made it 38-34.

The Falcons then did not score from the 4:10 (left) mark until Francois, after missing his two previous three-point bids, swished a left baseline trey with 35 seconds left for a 44-43 less. Angel Perez missed a short jumper off the glass at the other end, Clifford got fouled and made tewo free throws, Marblehead missed their two three-point attempted at the other end and the Falcons had survived. This was the first time this year the Falcons were on the ropes in the last minute with a clear chance to lose, but they responded like the champs they are.

Crittendon, the first guard off the bench, delivered more steady floor play and sank the three-pointer that gave the Falcons their biggest lead of the night at 41-34. Tre figures to be a major factor from this point forward; ditto Nestor as the first front court player off the bench if he can get some confidence in his offensive play.

The adventure continues Friday night, 7 p.m., versus Lynn Classical.



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