Danvers High’s Fabulous, Fantastic, Fenomenal Falcons Bring Home Third State Title in Four Years; Stave Off Marlborough Thanks To Harris’s Four Foul Shots in Final 23 Seconds, 52-49; Finish Perfect 27-0, Make All Kinds of History

Hail to the new MIAA Division 2 state champions — the Fabulous, Fantastic, Fenomenal Falcons of Danvers High, 52-49 victors over a courageous Marlborough High unit that made up in the second half 16 points of an 18-point first half deficit but got no further.

The Falcons, after playing their best half of the year over the first 16 minutes, may have played their worst half the second 16 minutes, getting outscored 34-18, but they had what it took at the end, getting four clutch free throws in the last 23 seconds by the team’s two-year MVP, Devan Harris, to save the day.

In completing the first unbeaten/27-0 season in DHS basketball history, the Falcons became the first North Shore squad to finish 27-0 in 35 years, since the 1980 Salem High girls.

They also became the first team to win three state titles in four years  since Charlestown won four in a row from 200 to 2003; the fourth team overall to win three championships in four years dating back to the inception of the divisional tournament format in the early 1970s; and became the first of those four teams to accomplish such a feat with the third title coming after the Falcons moved up a division after winning Division 3 state titles in 2012 and 2013.

The victory also caps the most outstanding five-year run any North Shore hoop program has experienced, keyed by the arrival of new coach John Walsh:

  • 13-9 the first year (after the prior year’s team had gone 3-17) under Walsh after a 2-6 start, an 11-3 streak to end the season, including the first time a DHS boys’ team had won two tournament games
  • 21-4 the second year and the program’s first state championship, dating back more than 70 years
  • 24-2 in Year 3, a second straight Division 3 state title
  • 20-3 the fourth year with lone returning starter Vinny Clifford out for the year with a knee injury, but newcomer Devan Harris picking up a large part of the scoring load and emerging as Northeastern Conference (NEC) MVP while leading the Falcons to the Division 2 North final
  • 27-0, in the process giving the Falcons their fourth straight NEC “Small” and overall titles
  • The numbers after five years are 22-2 in tourney play, 3-1 in North section finals, 3-0 in state finals, 105-18 overall, 93-9 overall the last four years, 20-1 in tournament play the past four years.
  • This season and last have been special beyond words because of the gift they have provided the school and the community in light of the tragedy that occurred on school grounds more than a year ago.

“It’s all about the kids and how they’ve played just wonderful basketball from my very first year,” Walsh said after getting off the celebration bus back at Danvers High tonight.

“They have played the games, made the plays, handled the pressure game after game, year after year, and this year’s pressure has been extraordinary because of the high hopes we all had.”

Fact is, and I must correct the humble Walsh, a 35-year-old dynamo of a tactician and handler of young men, that this program would never have achieved such heights, particularly this year, without his Belichikian, Auerbachian, Woodenesque leadership.

No coach could have put these Dandies of Danvers into position to achieve one of the greatest winning stretches, four years’ worth, in area history, except for John Paul Walsh.

Exhibit A: Facing the most talented big man of the entire season in Marlborough 6-6 freshman center Chris Doherty (33 points, 15 rebounds in the Panthers’ Tuesday night state semifinal win), Walsh  put his ace defensive player, junior forward Mike Nestor, giving up four-plus inches, on Doherty. When the ball came inside to Doherty, Nestor got help from either 6-5 Harris or 6-10 Peter Merry.

First half result: Nestor and friends held the multi-talented Doherty to two points, on two free throws at the end of the first quarter. Doherty got four shots off the entire half, committed three turnovers, and the half belonged to the Falcons in every respect.

It was 17-7 after one quarter, 33-15 at the half, the Falcons’ offense sparked by three three-point bombs from super sub Rudy Rashad Francois (11 points total) and the defense playing marvelously, keyed by the job on Doherty. It was a zone and/or mash-to-man masterpiece. Marlborough shot 3-for-20 the first half.

Danvers’ one negative? Harris was whistled for his third personal with 4:49 left in the second, when the score was 22-10. The Falcons jacked up the advantage to 18 by intermission, thanks to the smooth quarterbacking of Devonn Allen. But the power forward had to play cautiously from there on in.

The Falcons played so well the first half in every respect that they were able to weather their best shooter, Vinny Clifford, being shut out from the floor. But the senior captain was saving his best for the second half.

At halftime, Danvers had committed five turnovers to their rival’s 10.

But everyone in the DCU Centrum crowd of 4500 knew Danvers could not keep up its near-perfect play for two more quarters, nor that Marlborough would suffer through another miserable 16 minutes. And everyone was right.

The third quarter started out ominously for the Falcons, who committed two turnovers and shot an air ball to begin, while MHS hit their first three shots and a foul shot to draw within 34-22.

Clifford responded with a three-point play off a 16-footer, but the Panthers, led by Doherty (11 points in the quarter) kept hammering away while the Falcons committed turnovers and missed shots that had not occurred the first half.

Doherty finished with 15 points, but with only two foul shots in the fourth quarter, when he shot blanks (0-for-4 from the floor, all inside moves that did not connect because of the Falcons’ contesting every attempt).

Clifford’s huge three-pointer from the right side off an out-of-bounds feed from Allen made it 39-26 and Merry’s in-close bucket at 1:56 made it 41-29, the session ending 41-32. Marlborough had cut the halftime deficit in half.

Several players on both sides played much of the second half in foul trouble, i,e. three foul or more, including Doherty, two of his mates, Harris, Merry, Clifford, Nestor and Allen. Yet, no one fouled out on the Falcons’ side, though their fourth quarter play was as shaky as their third quarter.

When Harris made a 10-foot right baseline jumper to begin the fourth, the Falcon faithful felt better. But not for long. Marlborough hit a three to draw within 43-35, the Falcons had more trouble scoring, except for Clifford’s top-of-the-key swisher that made it 47-39 with 4:19 left. That would be DHS’s final field goal. And a vital one.

When Jose deLaCriuz’s trey brought the game to a near-climax at 47-44 with 3:07 left, and Liam Shanahan scored on a lay-up with 1:50 left, drawing MHS to within 48-46,  Danvers’ diehards were praying for a hero to come forward.

But two missed Danvers front ends of 1-and-1 with 1:25 and 52 second left kept the score at 48-46. Thankfully Marlborough missed eight of its last nine shots, one a super clutch block by Merry,  except for the meaningless field goal it scored right before the final horn, and young Mr. Harris, via Cincinnati and Hingham, saved his mates with two swished foul shots with 23 seconds left and again with 9.4 seconds left.

As he had done in the epic Lynn English game, a 79-78 victory thanks to his foul shot after time expired, Harris was the man of the moment.

Despite an overall nightmarish second half, filled with missed easy shots, nine turnovers and vastly improved Marlborough offensive play (ex.: Doherty finding openings he hadn’t found in the first half), the fabulous, fantastic, phenomenal Falcons had made the biggest plays at the very end —  garnering them their third state championship in four years.

Their first half of brilliant  basketball had, in fact, been too much for Marlborough (21-4) to overcome.

Harris led the Falcons’s balanced scoring with 12 points, followed by Francois’s enormous 11 points off the bench, all in the first half, Allen’s nine (and 7 assists), including a three from the deep right corner in the early going, Merry with 7 (8 rebounds, 4 blocks), Nestor with four and Andrew Dunn’s one at the end of the first half.

They have met their date with destiny, their date with history, and emerged 27-0.

MIAA Division 2 state champions. Authors of magical magnificence.




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