Danvers Cagers, Advancing to State Final, Show They Know How to Win Even When Matters Look the Bleakest

Great, legendary teams know how to win even when they appear to be on the verge of falling off the cliff, i.e. losing.

The Danvers Falcons, a team for the ages, were the perfect example after they grinded out a pulsating 50-47 victory over Martha’s Vineyard Tuesday in the Division 3 state basketball championship semifinals in TD Garden.

So many factors surfaced as the game progessed to suggest the Falcons’ march to a second straight D-3 title was going to end against the Cape Codders. But when the game was on the line, a slew of players made  huge plays in the final minutes, giving the Falcons the opportunity to defend their title in the ultimate matchup, Saturday at Worcester’s DCU Center against Smith Academy of Hatfield.

With the Falcons enduring one of their worst shooting games of the season from the field (4-for-12 in threes) and the foul line (12-for-23), and with their top scorer, Nick McKenna, suffering his worst shooting game as a Falcon (2-for-16), it seemed like their historic two-year run was coming to an end.

But from a point where they trailed, 43-41, with 2:50 remaining, they showed how champions respond to the worst imaginable situation. In the next 2:23 the Falcons ran off seven unanswered points, keyed by their vaunted trap defense that caused two critical MV turnovers, giving them a 48-43 lead with 27 seconds left.

The Falcons, 23-2, made four straight foul shots for the first time all game (two each by Nick Bates and Dan Connors). Supersub Kieran Beck (move over, supersub Jake Cawlina), meanwhile, duplicating his  game-saving steal in the final minute against Wayland Saturday, grabbed a vital offensive rebound that led to a humongously clutch foul line jump shot by Eric Martin for a 47-43 lead with 44 seconds remaining.

And McKenna, whose offense has carried the Falcons ever since he came back from a seven-game layoff because of mono, made three game-clinching free throws in the last 27 seconds to seal the victory, though MV had a chance to tie in the last second before its desperation 25-footer fell far short of the rim.

After all those blowout victories during the regular season, the Falcons has unquestionably learned how to win the close ones, as is evidenced by the down-to-the-wire win over Wayland and now this heart attack-inducing thriller over Martha’s Vineyard.

I doubt the Falcons, with five consecutive tourney victories, could have played worse offensively. They can thank their defense and improved second half rebounding, as well as MV’s tendency to blow layups and shoot inconsistently from every angle, close-in and long range, for assisting in their survival.

Fact is, when the game was on the line, the Falcons delivered in the biggst way possible against a taller squad that was more effective three-point shooting (MV made six) and simply better than its press clippings and regular season record indicated.  MV came in on a four-game roll, keyed by an impressive 77-71 win over Wareham Saturday, and was most capable of knocking off the kings.

But Danvers clearly had a will that MV did not have and put it on display over the last three minutes.

The chant the rest of the week in every part of Danverstown should be “One More Time!!!” Saturday at Worcester is the last obstacle for the Fabulous Falcons to make history a thousand different ways. Coach John Walsh and staff will do their job. I guarantee that starters McKenna, Bates, Martin, Connors and Vinny Clifford, plus supersubs Beck and Cawlina, as well as the rest of the reserves, will be ready like never before.

They learned lessons galore from their courageous triumph in Boston. They will apply those lessons in  victorious fashion at the DCU Center. The magic will continue for one more 32-minute game.





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