Danvers Hoop Falcons Learn Through Adversity at Comcast Tourney; Value of Injured Eric Martin Cannot Be Overstated

After rolling through their first eighteen games in unbeaten — and unprecedented (18-0) — fashion, the Danvers High cagers learned a great deal about themselves after losing two challenging games in the Comcast Invitational at Babson College over the long weekend, chief among them being they must have Eric Martin healthy if they are to win a second straight Division 3 state championship.

Case in point No. 1: The Falcons led Division 2 Brighton by nine points early in the third quarter of Sunday’s semifinal battle when point guard Martin, the newly-announced Northeastern Conference Player of the Year (he was also Salem News Player of the Year and NEC Small Player of the Year in soccer), came down hard after a drive to the basket and injured a groin muscle. The senior standout left the game after that, returned a couple times to try and get back in a groove, but he could not be effective. He spent much of the second half watching Brighton storm back for a 66-58 victory.

He visits his doctor this afternoon, hoping it’s nothing more than the aforementioned groin aggravation.

Case in point No. 2: Despite the outstanding fill-in job Nick McKenna performed at the point in Monday’s consolation game against 2005 and 2006 Division 1 state champion Newton North, the Falcons had a difficult time creating offense while scoring only 42 points in a 16-point loss.  The only other game in which the otherwise high-scoring Falcons failed to score at least 57 points was in its 49-47 victory at Beverly without leading scorer McKenna, who was still sitting out a seven-game stretch because of monomucleosis.

Bottom line: If Martin doesn’t get hurt, Danvers may very well have won the Comcast tourney and be celebrating a perfect regular season.

In the big picture, the tournament was a terrific tuneup against top competition before the Falcons begin defense of their D-3 crown next week. The pairings will be announced over the weekend and Danvers will most likely be the No. 1 seed  and play at least its first post-season game at home.

Secondly, it appears Martin should have plenty of time to heal before North section action begins for the Falcons, and even if he can’t play in the opener, the Falcons should have no trouble playing any team with a low-qualifying (.500 or better) record, the likely first-round foe.

The two losses at Babson should also serve as subtle reminders that they need all cylinders clicking to make another title run, especially with, among other teams, Wareham the favorite again in the South section holding currently a 17-1 record. But that’s at least three or four victories away.

There are several issues Coach John Walsh (39-6 in his two magical seasons at Danvers) must deal with in practice time this week based on the Falcons’ showing against Newton North.

The top priority will be turnovers. The Falcons committed a season-high 17 turnovers Monday, seven in the first quarter alone. They uncharacteristically did not take good care of the ball against a suffocating man defense that the Falcons are certain to see in the tournament because of their talented three-point shooters (Vinny Clifford, McKenna, Nick Bates, Jake Cawlina, Kieran Beck) and penetrators (Martin and McKenna). Danvers had little success in either department against Newton North. Martin helps create both situations when on the floor controlling the ball. Sophomore Vinny Clifford, the team’s top three-point shooter all season, did not make a trey at Babson but should take the two games as a learning experience that will hopefully get his re-focused for next week. The Falcons made only three against Newton North, the first coming two-plus minutes into the third quarter.

At the other end, the Falcons, in what has been a strong defensive suit throughout the year, allowed only one three the first half (a key stat in Walsh’s mind) and trailed by only 22-16 at intermission. But the second half was a nightmare defensively. Newton North hit four threes in a five-possession stretch to break the game open in the third quarter and was never threatened after that. NN made three more in a short span in the fourth session.

So it’s not like the Falcons can sit and get fat waiting for the tournament to start for them next week. Au contraire. The Falcons have a monster bullseye on their chests and must be as hungry and determined next week as they were when they began their 5-0 tourney run in 2012.

Bottom line revisited: as long as Martin recovers to 100 percent form, or close to it, the Falcons will be justifiably favored to repeat as state champ, something not accomplished in Division 3 in nearly 20 years.

As for a regular season wrap-up, how’s this read, Falcons fans??????

  • 18 straight wins to start the season
  • The most dominating NEC season in history — 16-0 in the Small Division to runnerup Saugus 7-8, four games better than NEC Large champ Lynn Classical, which lost to Danvers 68-50), and better still than Large No. 2 Salem (66-44 loser to Danvers), No. 3 Lynn English (90-70 victim) and No. 4 Beverly.
  • Dominating a Conference that showed how strong it is by having two teams (Salem and Lynn English) win post-season two-game tourneys, Salem at Woburn and English beating top-ranked St. John’s Prep in the final of the IAABO Board tourney at Lawrwence
  • Including the two Comcast games, winning by an average score of 68.8-46.6
  • Winning 23 games overall before losing to Brighton
  • Winning 17 of its first 18 games by 18 points or more
  • Winning 15 of those 18 by 20 or more
  • Winning six of the 18 by at least 30 or more
  • Scoring at least 57 in 17 of the first 18
  • Scoring at least 63 points in 17 of the 18
  • Scoring 70 or more in 10 of the 18
  • Scoring 80 or more twice
  • Scoring 90 once

“It’s been a great regular season,” says Walsh. “The kids have played so well, handled all the tough situations when Nick McKenna missed seven games, and gave it a hundred percent at Babson with and without Eric. But Brighton and Newton North were the better teams, at least when Eric was sitting down.

“I’m just happy the kids have done so well to this point, knowing they have so much to look forward to the next few weeks. They’re still learning, getting better as players and young men representing a wonderful community that’s given us great support. If we coaches do our job and the kids do what they’re supposed to from here, winning should take care of itself. We took everyone’s best shot for 18 games and responded well. The last two games were a different story for different reasons but hopefully we’ll come out of those games a better team for next week and beyond.”

Five or six more wins and the Falcons will be state champions again. A difficult road indeed, but one the Falcons are more than capable of finishing in jubilation, a la 2012.

This entry was posted in Gary. Bookmark the permalink.