Danvers Boys Cagers Retain No. 1 Spot in Boston Globe Rankings

Make that two weeks in a row that the Danvers High boys basketball team has been named No. 1 in the Boston Globe rankings. Buoyed by the return of top scorer Nick McKenna after he missed seven games with mononucleosis, the Falcons remained undefeated at 16-0 following road victories last week over Swampscott, 79-31, and Saugus, 64-40. They had beaten the same teams at home before Christmas by respective scores of 65-43 and 81-51.

No Danvers High varsity team in any major sport has gone an entire regular season undefeated. But they can become the first to go through a Northeastern Conference campaign perfect with victories tonight at Winthrop and Friday at home against Gloucester. They beat those team the first time by margins of 37 and 26 points.

The defending Division 3 state champs could take their dream season one step further if they can win the four-team Comcast Invitational this Sunday and Monday at Babson College.  Danvers plays No. 11 Brighton (11-3), a Division 2 squad, at 6:30, preceded by No. 6 Boston College High (12-3) meeting No. 13 Newton North (15-2) at 4:30. They are both Division 1 teams. The title game is Monday at 6:30, the consolation game at 4:30.

No matter what they do at the Comcast Tournament, put on by IAABO Board 27, one of  Greater Boston’s boards of basketball officials, the Falcons will be favored to repeat as Division 3 state champions, an unheard of prospect a mere two years ago when the Falcons suffered through a losing season and then appointed an unknown John Walsh, at the time the five-year junior varsity coach at Watertwon High, as their new coach. Under the youthful Walsh, 32, the Falcons are 37-4 and currently riding a 21-game win streak.

Through 16 games, the Falcons have amassed some amazing statistics. They have won 15 of their 16 games each by at least 18 points, 14 by at least 20, eight by at least 25, five by at least 30.

The Falcons have made 110 three-pointers, an average of seven a game, and allowed only 40, only 13 of those in the first half. They have pitched 10 first-half defensive shutouts, not allowing a single three in those first sixteen minutes of action.

Individually, Eric Martin is averaging 7.9 assists, four steals and three steals per game, while hitting double figures in scoring 10 times. Dan Connors is averaging eight rebonds a game, has blocked 17 shots and hit double figures scoring nine times, including a team season-high 32 in one outing. He’s averaging 19 points a game in his last five outings.

Nick Bates has hit for double digits 12 times and been the team’s top rebounder averaging 11 per game, and has blocked 33 shots, a team high.  Before he got sick, McKenna averaged 19 points per game his first seven games. Clifford leads the team with 47 three-pointers and has contruted 33 assists. Sixth man Kieran Beck has been a steady relief off the bench with 17 steals, 64 rebounds and three double figure scoring games.

Now the Danvers Falcons are in a position to become the first repeat Division 3 state champion since Pioneer Regional in 1996-97. Lynn Classical did the same in 1993-94 and Cohasset was the first in 1985-86. The state tournament went to a three-division format in 1972.

“The kids have been terrific since Day One,” says Walsh. “They refuse to let up, though they really struggled, and learned a lot about themselves, the night they just edged past Beverly (49-47). They deserve all the credit for what they’ve accompliaahed so far, but they know there is a long way to go before we achieve all our goals. The bottom line seems to be that they believe in themselves and their coaches and they know if they play hard and do what the coaches tell them they can win under any situation (exhibit A: Beverly game).

“We don’t talk about our record or what is ahead of us, except for the very next game. Everyone’s made a contribution, whether be in games or in practices.”

Thye “X” factor coming in was finding the fifth starter and Clifford has excelled stepping in. “Vinny has been terrific. His shooting has been more than we expected and his defense seems to be getting better every week. His defense is as important to us as his offense since we play a lot of man-to-man.”

******On a side note, the cross town St. John’s Prep Eagles continue to shine, ranked third, at 16-1, in the Globe poll and very much in the mix for a second state championship in three years.  As I’ve noted before, Danvers is surely the Hub of Hoops these days in Greater Boston high school basketball circles.



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