Danvers Cagers Face Formidable North Final Foe in Arlington

The members of the Danvers High boys basketball family that took in Thursday night’s Arlington victory over Tewksbury, 60-52, at Woburn, know exactly what they’re facing in Saturday’s Division 2 North final at Tsongas Arena in Lowell (4:15 tap).

The 24-0 Falcons, fresh off an exhilarating 65-58 semifinal win over Brighton, not take on a team that dominated the stronger-rated-than-the-Northeastern Conference Middlesex League. The Spy Ponders, better known for their former powerhouse hockey program, is new to the basketball big stage, while the Fabulous Falcons are playing in their fourth straight North final.

No  matter. Arlington is there real deal, worthy of its No. 2 seed and its No. 7 ranking in the latest Boston Globe Top 20. And take note that the Spy Ponders blasted Marblehead at the start of the MIAA tournament, whereas Marblehead gave Danvers two very close NEC games and could have won either or both.

Arlington is a senior-laden (11 seniors) team that had won 20 straight bedford falling to Arlington Catholic, 64-58, in a non-league face-off right before the tournament.

The Spy Ponders are led by 6-3 senior forward and Middlesex League co-MVP Miles Robinson ((15 points, 13 rebounds versus Tewksbury), senior Frank Roche (10 points, 7 rebounds versus Tewksbury), senior rebounder/defender Matt Moroney and senior guard Joshua Lee (13 points), who hit a clutch three and six straight foul shots to help clinch the victory.

Like Brighton, Arlington likes to bang the offensive boards. The Spy Ponders out rebounded Tewksbury 20-4 in the first half, grabbed nine offensive boards for 12 points, but also committed 11 turnovers while taking a 32-28 halftime lead.

Comparing scores may not mean much, but Somerville, a 59-53 neutral court victim of Danvers back in late December, lost to Arlington at Somerville 51-44 and at Arlington by 16.

Arlington whipped Marblehead, 63-41, in the second round of the North Section.

So now Danvers, after beating the best of the Boston City League in Brighton, now must dispose of the best the Middlesex League has to offer in Arlington if it wishes to make its third TD Garden/Eastern Mass. final visit in four years.

Experience is certainly on Danvers’ side when it comes to coping with the Tsongas Arena pressure. Every team that plays at Tsongas Saturday knows it’s playing for a chance to play in  the home of the Boston Celtics come Monday or Tuesday. In Danvers’s case, a win thrusts the Fabulous Falcons into the prime time Tuesday night 7:30 slot against the winner of the South final between Bp. Feehan and Oliver Ames. Danvers beat Bp. Feehan a couple weeks ago 60-56 in the semifinal round of the Comcast/Arbella Board 27 tournament at Woburn.

Danvers took a lot of positives away after the Brighton game, their second biggest win of the year after the Lynn English 79-78 epic road victory back on February 18.

The most provocative positive, actually based on negatives, was that the Falcons were able to beat a potential state champion team from Brighton despite:

  • An off game from sensational sophomore point guard Devonn Allen, who was in foul trouble throughout, sat for two long stretches and scored four points
  • A sub-par shooting game from possibly the best outside shooter on the North Shore, if not Eastern Mass., when he is hot, namely Vinny Clifford, but his 12 first half points (with three 3s) loomed large in staking Danvers to a 34-27 halftime cushion. He finished 5-for-18 shooting overall, 3-for-12 in threes. Clifford likely will bounce back with a magnificent shooting game against Arlington.
  • The fouling out of 6-10 defensive master Peter Merry, but not before playing a major role with 13 points, four blocks and 11 rebounds.
  • Lastly, the inability for game high scorer Devan Harrtis (26 points) to score in the frantic final four minutes. He made his final point on a free throw with 4:07 left for a 53-44 cushion (even had a three-point bid blocked latter on). Brighton drew within 57-52 with 1:48 left, but no closer.

So considering that any of those factors could have contributed to Danvers’ demise, they in fact did not. And the Falcons were still able to beat a mighty opponent.

It’s unlikely any of those factors will figure into the Arlington game. Allen and Clifford just might lead the Danvers offensive assault. Merry and likely repeat Northeastern Conference MVP and All-Scholastic Harris will be their reliable selves at both ends, defensive whiz Mike Nestor will deliver as usual and sixth and seventh men Rashad Francois and Tre Crittendon will repeat their outstanding showings against Brighton.

From this humble observer’s  perspective, with admitted prejudice, these Fabulous Falcons are a team of destiny; one in position to become, I believe, the first to win state championships in two different divisions in a three-year span in which they moved up from Division 3 to Division 2.

The next step comes Saturday at Lowell.



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