Danvers Hoop Falcons Begin Quest to Repeat as Division 3 State Champions

To some of us, it seems like only weeks ago that we were toasting the Division 3 state champion Danvers High Falcons at Spinelli’s on Route 1 in Lynnfield. Well, here we go again, and unlike a year ago, when the Falcons surprisingly marched to the state title, thanks in large part to a miraculous comeback victory in their second of five tourney games, they are favored to repeat as champions. There will be no surprises this year unless they get upset. In essence, everyone is gearing up for a Division 3 North title game against unbeaten North Reading.

That road to the top of the tourney mountain begins tomorrow night at home against the bottom seed in Division 3 North, 10-10 Greater Lawrence Voke Tech, a school with a respected post-season history, but a team that should not give Danvers any trouble.

Greater Lawrence finished fourth in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference Large division with an 8-6 record, scoring 51.9 points a game while allowing 54.8 points. Whittier Tech, the No. 3 seed in North 3 behind 20-0 North Reading and 18-2 Danvers, is the third seed at 18-2 overall, 13-1 atop the CAC Large, considered a much weaker league than Danvers’ Northeastern Conference.

So it projects as an easy opener for the Falcons, though there are major questions to be answered about the host team for the 7 p.m. tapoff. No. 1: How well has NEC Player of the Year Eric Martin, one of the top point guards in Eastern Massachusetts, recovered from the strained groin he suffered against Brighton in the Comcast Invitation February 17? No. 2: Might third-year coach John Walsh take a chance in one respect and hold Martin out of what should be an easy first-round victory, or take a chance and see how the groin responds to game situations? My guess is Walsh will hold Martin out, as he did for the Falcons’ Comcast Invitational consolation game loss to Newton North. He shouldn’t need to play.

No. 3: How will the Falcons as a team respond after losing their last two games at the Comcast following an 18-0 start to the season? My guess, based on the matchups and how positive the players sounded in interviews I conducted right after those two losses (see the corresponding story below), is that they will have no trouble returning to their winning ways.

Fact is the Falcons are on a mission to become the first team to repeat as Division 3 state champs in nearly 20 years.

It’s been a run of extraordinary means since Walsh arrived at Danvers three years ago from a junior varsity coaching gig at Watertown. Year 1: 13-10 record and a tight loss to Walsh’s former team, Watertown, in the 3 North semifinals, the furthest a Danvers team had ever advanced. Year 2: 21-4 record, first-ever state title. Year 3: best-ever 18-2 regular season mark, first-ever unbeaten (16-0) NEC record, where the next best team had four losses, outscoring opponents by an average score of 68-46, an unprecedented 23-game win streak carried over from the state title run, No. 1 ranking two straight weeks in the Boston Globe  weekly poll, and No. 2 seed in the North section tourney.

The Falcons are a mind-blowing 52-16 under Walsh. Now we begin to find out if they can sweep the post-season again. That will take a 6-0 record this time. And that’s their mission. They want another Spinelli’s-like celebration come April.

  • Elsewhere in Danvers, the Hub of championship basketball this winter, Catholic Conference champion and Division 1 top seed St. John’s Prep (18-2), opens tourney play tonight at 7 at home against 7-13 Billerica. This one could be over by the end of the first quarter. Best wishes to coach Sean Connolly and the Prep Eagles. They seem capable of winning their second Division 1 state title in three years with this overachieving group.
  • The Danvers High girls (12-8), under highly respected coach Pat Veilleux, begin play in Division 2 North at home Thursday night at 7 against NEC foe Gloucester (10-10), with whom they split during the regular season. Gloucester knocked off the Falcons in their respective final regular season games, 38-37, at Gloucester. Kasey Sherry will be the key performer for the Falcons.
  • Lastly, best wishes to Danvers resident Mike Kasprzak, coach of the top-seeded 20-0 Melrose Red Raiders, who begin their tourney journey Thursday at 7 at home to Middlesex League rival Arlington, a 68-52 victor Monday over Tewksbury. Melrose beat Arlington by two points last week to ensure a 20-0 regular season.
  • Correction: Previously I had referred to the two George Radulski-coached Danvers High teams that lost heartbreaking playoff games for the Northeastern Conference in successive years. Those two teams, led by Jay Clapp (today a retired cardiologist) and Bill Stacey (a retired Danvers police officer) lost to Winthrop at Wakefield, 56-52, in 1960, and to Woburn (led by Ed “Tanjo” Foley), 69-67, at Marblehead in 1961.




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