Danvers High Boys Cagers Off To Promising Start (4-2); Great Season Quite Possible

After six games there is much to be excited about this Danvers High boys basketball team. Carrying a heavy mantle as four-time defending Northeastern Conference champions and MIAA Division 2 state champs, the Falcons could very easily be 6-0, but instead are a most acceptable 4-2 after a two-point loss at Division 1 NEC rival Lynn English and a one-point non-conference setback to Malden Catholic the other night in the Saugus Christmas tournament, and that on a buzzer-beating put-back.


Raring to get back on track next Tuesday hosting Beverly, after a week’s layoff, the Falcons project to win at least seven of their next eight, if not eight straight if you include a revenge victory at home against English on Tuesday February 2. Easy for me to say, but on paper this group is proving to be every bit a title contender as their predecessors.


If form prevails, the Falcons will be 11-3 at least, maybe 12-2, depending on the outcome of next Friday night’s showdown at Salem, the only time the NEC powers meet.


The other “form prevails” issue pertains to the Falcons keeping their “super six” players healthy. Coach John Walsh, carrying an utterly astounding 109-21 record into the Beverly game, got a rotten break two years ago when lone returning starter Vinny Clifford was lost to the season with a knee injury, yet still steered the Falcons to a 20-3 record.


Last year the injury gods looked the other way and Walsh’s six-man rotation never suffered a significant injury, his “super six” playing every game in a record-breaking 27-0 run to the Division 2 state title.


Now it’s the new season and Walsh, who in the past five years went from unheralded assistant varsity coach to one of the most highly regarded head coaches in the state, is relying on a six-player rotation once again. He’s been trying to break sophomore shooter Justin Roberto or junior forward Sean Rooney into the rotation, but it hasn’t worked out to date.


Which brings us to Walsh’s most challenging issue regards handling his six-man lineup: how to strategize the game and at the same time give his kids the best chance to win close games down the stretch.


The combination of poor shooting, hitting only two baskets (four points total in the quarter) and top player Devonn Allen’s fouling out with four-plus minutes left at English cost the Falcons that game, a 54-52 setback, after they led 48-37 starting the session.


The Falcons are probably the best conditioned team in the Conference, but even they appeared to be tiring a tad the closing eight minutes at Lynn. Walsh tries to save his timeouts for the late stages for that exact reason, but the game doesn’t always flow in such a way that Walsh can save his timeouts.


Like the English game, the epic 61-60 loss to Malden Catholic Monday at Saugus came right down to the wire after the teams had defended with fierce man-to-man defense all the way. But in this case Allen played start to finish and he and his teammates did not appear to be sucking wind down the stretch, not the way they staged two superb comebacks, the second of which appeared to win the game when Rashad Francois’ acrobatic three-point play with 12.7 seconds remaining gavwe Danvers a 60-59 lead. The Falcons usually show impressive endurance.


It didn’t end that way, but the heroic manner in which the Falcons battled back down the stretch against a bigger and deeper Lancer squad should not be overlooked.


This group appears to be growing into another loveable, never-give-up squad much like the 20-3 team of two years ago. Only time will tell.


The first six have all made major contributions so far and figure to only increase those contributions as the season moves forward.


Kieran Moriarty has made a huge jump from mop-up duty last year to the team’s lone “big man/inside man” this year. He usually guards the other team’s big man and has held his own. The lone exception was Malden Catholic’s Jonah St. Clair, the 6-4 junior who scored 18 of MC’s first 22 points Monday, but was then held to six points the rest of the game (a good adjustment by Moriarty and teammates as the game progressed). Kieran gets his points mainly from offensive rebound action, since the Falcon offense operates usually among the three scorers, Allen, Francois and Tre Crittendon.


Mike Nestor is a far more polished player than a year ago, able to defend against the other team’s top scoring forward – or center if Moriarty is not in the game. He is the team’s defensive stopper for the second year in a row and is an exceptional rebounder for his size. He may prove to be a pivotal contributor on offense as well after the electrifying 17-point performance he delivered at Lynn English and the ultra-clutch three pointer he made from the right corner in the late stage at Saugus against Malden Catholic. Mike, an all-star two-way player for the football team, displayed his “athletic” nerve by swishing that “trey” after being shut out to that point.


Tahg Coakley can play guard or forward as the sixth man and figures to increase his positive impact on the team’s fortunes as the season continues. He can hit the perimeter shot or go to the basket and has the quickness to defend against most any rival, large or small, because of his foot and hand quickness. I anticipate his role will expand as he gets more playing time.


(The next three players have shown in six games that they are the heart and soul of the team, excelling at both ends of the floor, capable of breaking up any pass, disrupting any player’s dribble, electrifying with or without the ball in his hands.)


Kenneth “Tre” Crittendon, Rashad “Rudy” Francois and Devonn Allen comprise “The Big Three” of Falcons Basketball, at least after six games. All three have amped up their all-around, two-way games, since last season. All three can make a decisive individual play on either side of the timeline. All three have shown stunning athleticism in different situations. All three are defensive stoppers and all three can take their defender 1-on-1 to the basket or step back and sink a “three” from long range. Allen is capable of making like Stephen Curry, pulling up off the dribble at any point outside the circle and canning a three-pointer. The trio has enjoyed mind-boggling success with their rainbow three-point bombs, but they’re equally effective taking the ball successfully to the hole, no matter how much traffic they must contend with. Their offensive explosiveness makes it challenging for rivals to defend them. Each has shown he is capable of taking over a game offensively and scoring a big number.


John Walsh has shown his coaching brilliance with limited talent and with an abundance of talent. Both situations require unique coaching qualities. He has devised a variety of plays to take full advantage of his team’s offensive potential. What has set him apart even more from his coaching peers is his ability to maximize his players’ defensive capabilities geared to a man-to-man defense, spiced with sudden trapping, zoning or fullcourt pressure. He is doing it again with his current crew. Lacking depth and overmatched on paper against both Lynn English and Malden Catholic, his coaching played a major role in putting the Falcons in position to win both those games, though they resulted in temporarily crushing defeats. Walsh’s coaching talents can never be overrated.










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