Danvers High Falcon Cagers Keep Making History — With Potentially More To Be Made in 2014-15

The Danvers High boys’ basketball season officially came to an end the other night with another classy awards banquet at Spinelli’s in Lynnfield put on by the team;s Booster Parents. The event saluted head coach John Walsh — arguably the best coach on the North Shore — and the first boys’ team in recent memory to win 20 or more games three straight seasons. In effect, thisd has been the most successful run by a DHS major sports team in school history!

Moreover, the Falcons could take special pride in the fact they won the Northeastern Conference Small Division and mythical overall NEC crown for an unprecedented third consecutive season.

“It’s been an unbelievable three seasons, what these kids have accomplished,” Walsh, recently made a father for a third time by wife Laurie, told the audience. “And what this group did this year, under difficult circumstances, under loads of pressure, was simply amazing.”

Walsh, at 34 one of the youngest coaches in the region, was not exaggerating. The Falcons, after losing four starters to graduation, lost lone returning starter Vinny Clifford for the season after he suffered an ACL injury playing summer ball that required surgery September 16 at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The cynics didn’t give Walsh and company a prayer to finish .500, never mind what they in fact did achieve — capturing repeat NEC titles en route to a 20-3 record before falling to eventual State Division 2 champion New Mission in the Division 2 North final.

To most close observers of Falcon boys’ basketball, what this group achieved surpassed what the last two teams accomplished, which was nothing less than back-to-back Division 3 state titles.

Every player in Walsh’s six-man rotation sparkled in various ways, but the arrival of newcomer Devan Harris, a junior transfer from Hingham High School, probably made the difference ¬†between Danvers winning 10-13 games and winning 20. In short order the 6-3, 210-pound forward became the Charles Barkley of the Northeastern Conference, averaging 19 points and nine rebounds a game, 24 points and 14.5 rebounds during the team’s tournament run, and earning co-MVP honors in the NEC.

All made possible because he played summer ball with Clifford and took Clifford up on his offer to look into the possibility of transferring to Danvers. With his mother’s blessing, they made the move from the South Shore to the North Shore and the rest is more history.

The Falcons graduate two players vital to their success this season — Kieran Beck and Mark McCarthy — but the returning nucleus led by Clifford and Harris and including guards Devonn Allen and Rashad Francois and center Peter Merry, plus likely sixth man Mike Nestor, make the Falcons the odds-on choice to win yet another NEC title and an even favorite with defender New Mission to capture the Division 2 state title.

The “X” factor in this utterly unexpected but glorious championship domination by the Falcons the last three years has been the fiery Walsh, who had never been a varsity head coach when he came to Danvers after a long stint as the junior varsity coach at Watertown.

The first season Walsh turned a team that had been 3-17 the prior winter into a 13-9 until that reached the Division 3 North semifinals for the first time in program history, going 11-3 after a 2-6 start that included a very public confrontation with a disgruntled parent the first week of the regular season. After a short cooling off period ordered by athletic director John Sullivan, Walsh got the Falcons turned around in remarkable fashion.

The next two years made the Falcons a recognized powerhouse thanks to winning the first and second state  titles (Div. 3) in school history. Then came this stunning season of success and now, well, Danvers Falcon Basketball Fever remains at a high pitch (did you check out the record crowds that turned out in the DHS field house for regular season and tournament games?), even with the season nearly eight months away.

The Falcons project to have three possible All-Scholastics next winter in Harris, Clifford and Merry. They clearly have one of the very best coaches in Eastern Massachusetts in John Walsh. The 2014-15 season can’t begin son enough for anyone associated with Falcons Boys Basketball in this astounding era of victories and championships.

But for the moment, thank you, John Walsh, coaching staff and players for giving the school and town yet another season to remember and a joy never needed more.


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