Danvers High Cagers Play Like Champs; Hold Off Bp. Feehan, 60-56

That, ladies and gentleman, is how a championship team handles extreme adversity and wins a pressure-packed game against a quality opponent.

In staving off Bishop Feehan (14-4) by a 60-56 count in the Comcast/IAABO Board 27 Division 2 semifinal Monday afternoon at Woburn High, the undefeated Danvers High Falcons showed many of the winning qualities necessary if they are to be an MIAA Division 2 state title contender once the post-season gets under way next week. The Falcons face Tuesday at 4 p.m. Malden Catholic (11-6), a 68-63 winner over host Woburn, for the Division 2 tourney title at Newton North High School. Malden Catholic nearly upset St. John’s Prep last week, losing in overtime.

The Falcons (18-0, matching the program’s best start ever, also posted in 2012-2013) took offensive command early grabbing a 7-0 lead and made the South Shore team play catchup for all 32 minutes.

It was 19-7 early in the second, keyed to that point by three deep range three-pointers by Vinny Clifford, but Bp. Feehan drew within 24-22 at intermission. It would not have been that close except for several in-close Danvers misses and eight first half Danvers turnovers.

Sparked by the all-around floor play and two quick three-pointers from sophomore point guard deluxe Devonn Allen, the Falcons had their rivals reeling again in the third, during which DHS led by as many as 39-26 before ending the quarter ahead 41-32.

The Falcons continued in control in a game that featured two clawing man-to-man defenses early in the fourth quarter, on top 48-39, when it appeared disaster had struck.

First Devan Harris (13 points, 7 rebounds), fouled out with 4:36 left on what initially looked like a nifty Harris drive to the basket. But the referee waved off the basket and instead nailed the Falcons’ versatile power forward with his fifth foul.

Next trip down Rashad Francois, battling a shooting slump, canned a huge three-pointer to get the cushion back up to 12, but at the other end 6-10 pivotman Peter Merry (5 blocks, 9 rebounds) was called for his fifth foul on a defensive play and suddenly two vital starters were banished.

Could the Falcons hang on for the victory?

Bp. Feehan began whittling away at the deficit, but when Clifford (5-for-8 in threes, 15 points total) hit yet another long right corner three for a 56-43 lead with 2:40 left, the Falcons looked golden, even without Merry and Harris. When Clifford, who’d been shut out at Marblehead last Thursday, swished two foul shots for a 58-45 lead with 1:05 left, there was no doubt of the outcome. Or was there?

Bp. Feeehan ralled to draw within 58-56 with 12 seconds to go, aided by five successive missed Danvers foul shots, and it wasn’t until third guard Tre Crittendon sank two freebies with eight seconds left that the game truly was cinched.

Despite committing 13 turnovers, missing a batch of charity tosses late, having two top players foul out, and letting Bp. Feehan make a frantic rally in the closing minute, the Falcons showed once again they can win under virtually any circumstance, whether they have all their key players on the floor at the finish or not.

That’s the third game they’ve won by four points or less.

Clifford regained his shooting touch at the perfect time, coach John Walsh adjusting his offensive scheme from the Marblehead game ever so slightly so that Clifford, arguably the best three-point marksman in the region, got great looks on each of his bombs. Clifford also had a solid all-around game at both ends, play that often gets overlooked because of the way his three-point shooting stands out.

Harris was a clutch contributor with his vaunted inside game at both ends.

Merry shone, as usual, at the defensive end with those five blocks and nine rebounds and forced Bp. Feehan attackers to redirect their shots into misses.

Allen, nothing short of spectacular running the offense, getting the ball up court against a nasty zone press, especially in the fourth quarter, hitting distant field goals and making some gorgeous dish-offs for layups late, continues to play at an MVP level.

Francois regained his playing rhythm, especially with his clutch trey in the finale, and helped handle the ball in the final minutes against constant pressure.

Starting small forward Mike Nestor clearly had his finest game of the season, sparkling on defense and with his rebounding.

Crittendon, in addition to his game-clinching foul shots, also helped Allen handle the ball with the pressure on in the late going.

Lastly, John Walsh enjoyed what this observer believes was his best coaching effort of the season, handling every phase of the game expertly, especially in his substitutions and adjusting to Bp. Feehan’s rallies, as well as the Harris and Merry foul-outs.

Now they’ll try and do it again — for No. 19 without a loss — at 4 p.m. today.

The amazing, incredible five-year run of the John Walsh Era (96-19), continues.


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