Danvers The Hub of Hoop in Greater Boston As Fabulous Falcons, St. John’s Prep Ready for North Section Finals at Lowell Saturday

Random thoughts on all things Danvers basketball  — Danvers High and St. John’s Prep — after watching the teams advance the last two nights in dramatic fashion to the North Section finals, slated for Saturday at Tsongas Arena in Lowell.

  • It’s Year 5 of the “Danvers Dream, Boys’ Basketball Version.” Even though there were some promising players coming up through the youth program, no one could have envisioned what has happened to the varsity these past five years. Maybe these most immediate five teams might have been good teams no matter who the coach was. But there is no doubt that the first team experienced a stunning turnaround in the next four teams have evolved into absolute championship behemoths because of one person — new coach John Walsh. He just keeps amazing us year after year. Since the surprising 13-8 debut season (after the group had won only three game the year prior), Walsh has posted four straight 20-win seasons, winning four straight Northeastern Conference titles (the first since 1975), two Division 3 state titles (2012, 2013), a Division 2 North final berth in 2014 without lone returning starter Vinny Clifford (injured) and now — trumpets, violins and Yo-Yo Ma’s cello, please) — an unprecedented undefeated regular season (21-0) that the Fabulous Falcons have stretched to 24-0 heading into Saturday’s showdown with the winner of the Tewksbury-Arlington (the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in Division 2 North) game tonight at Woburn. Whatever happens from here, the rest of this wondrous campaign and beyond, thanks for coming to Danvers. We doubt that we’ll ever see your likes again.
  • Even with Vinny Clifford’s vital first half offense, Peter Merry’s always-relibale defense/rebounding/shot blocking/timely scoring, Devonn Allen’s quarterbacking, Mike Nestor’s shutdown defense and Rashad Francois’s and Tre Crittendon’s great play off the bench, it was the consistent two-end play of power forward Devan Harris (26 points, 13 rebounds) that in hindsight loomed the largest factor in Danvers’ 65-58 victory over Brighton Wednesday night. No one delivers on expectations night after night like the senior transfer from Hingham High who has amassed, according to this blogger’s statistics, 842 points in his two seasons wearing the Royal Blue and White. His teammates have had huge nights and earned the headlines on selective occasions, but none of them have been there seemingly every night with his best game — or close to it — like the ever-smiling, always emotional Harris.
  • Clifford has cooled off somewhat from three-point land since his career game at Lynn English three weeks ago, but look for him to  explode Saturday at Lowell. I just have a feeling.Equally important, Vinny has elevated his all-around game during this time frame.
  • Junior backup point guard Crittendon got his baptism of fire in crunch time in the 60-58 win over Bishop Feehan in the Comcast/Arbella Invitation, and he grew even more as a player with his solid playing time for Allen against Brighton.
  • Francois has been nothing short of spectacular, when he’s really been needed, in his sixth man role.
  • Nice touch by the Falcon Fanatics and the DHS cheerleaders to form a tunnel of celebration as the players left the floor after beating Brighton.
  • Though some keen observers believe the Falcons’ toughest challenge between here and Worcester was Brighton, any let up Saturday against either No. 2 seed Arlington or No. 3 seed Tewksbury will prove fatal. They won’t let up.
  • Which brings us to the issue of contentment or complacency. I see none of either brewing with the Falcons. They remain hungry. Walsh and his staff have become master psychologists the last few years. In their case, each wins makes them more determined to win the next game, which is why I believe they are Worcester-bound.
  • Danvers fans seem to play the quiet bit at home, but on the road of late they have been ferociously loud, as was the case at Woburn last night.
  • On different occasions this season the Falcons have survived after big men Harris or Merry have fouled out. One basketball type last night described that as heart. No question this team has a huge heart. Otherwise they couldn’t have won tight games against Somerville, Marblehead (2), Salem, and now Brighton.
  • I guarantee you the Falcons will shoot better than 5-for-18 from three-point land Saturday, as was the case versus Brighton.
  • You may have noticed that Bishop Feehan, a Falcon victim as noted earlier, is in the South Division 2 section final against Oliver Ames. Danvers and Bishop Feehan wins upcoming and we’d get a rematch Tuesday at 7:30 in TD Garden for the Eastern Mass. title and a berth in the state final.
  • As a Danvers kid who allegedly played three years for the high school varsity back in the 1960s and grew up down the street from the Prep and was always a Prep fan (when we weren’t playing/ scrimmaging the Eagles), I’m on a major high today as I await both teams’s North Section finals games Satuday at Lowell’s Tsongas Arena.
  • After watching the Prep’s heartbreaking Div. 1 North semifinal defeat last year at Beverly to Central Catholic, it was great to see the Eagles knock off Everett Tuesday at Beverly in the same game. The Prep’s key are is depth, its three-point shooting (sounds like Danvers) and its point guard, Kareem Davis. With only three seniors, one of whom is Davis, the Prep looms as a major contender for years to come. They will have their hands full Saturday, most likely against Cambridge.
  • Sophomore forward Brett McNiff,  a major contributor in the Everett win, is the son of former North Shore standout golfer Mike McNiff.
  • If the Prep wins Saturday, they play in the Eastern Mass. Div. 1 final monday at 7:30.
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