Danvers High boys cagers win 8th straight; stave off Classical, 68-63, behind balanced, clutch offense and timely defensive plays; clinch NEC Large title tie

After an eight-day forced layoff caused by two snowstorms, thus two postponements, the surging Danvers High boys basketball team started a six-game road trip to end the regular season with a tense, always-in-doubt 68-63 victory Wednesday night at Lynn Classical.

Keyed by balanced scoring from the “Big 4” — Tre Crittendon and Mike Nestor 16 each, Devonn Allen and Rashad Francois 15 apiece — the Falcons notched their eighth straight victory and improved to 13-3 overall, 12-2 in their debut season in the Northeastern Conference Large Division.

As a result, the Falcons, who won the NEC Small and the overall NEC titles the last four years before making the divisional move because of changed enrollment, have cinched a tie for the NEC Large crown and can win the title outright with a win Thursday night at 12-5 Beverly, owner of a six-game win skein. Second place Lynn English has four NEC losses and Classical now six. Beverly is now in third place in the NEC Large and can spoil the Falcons’ intentions after our favorites outlasted BHS by only 53-49 at Danvers earlier in the season. It was a narrow escape and the host Panthers will try and gain revenge Thursday night at 7.

This was a terrific team win at Classical, a squad the Falcons led throughout but could not put away until the final horn. Matters looked promising after a 21-12 opening quarter, not as much so with a 31-26 advantage at halftime, then a tad  better with a 50-42 cushion after three sessions. After a dazzling penetration drive layup by Allen made it 57-42 with 5:55 left, it appeared the Falcons were home free. But a frantic comeback powered by Erik Solis (15), Dyrrell Rucker (15) and an assorted cast of contributors, drew the Rams within 62-57 with 1:34 remaining and Crittendon having just fouled out for the first time this season.

But Allen snuck away from a Ram fullcourt press on a nice lead pass from Francois for a layup (64-57), Rashad drove to the basket for an uncontested layup against a tired Classical trapping defense (66-59, 47 seconds left), and Nestor, who made some huge rebounding/keep the ball alive at the offensive end plays, sank two clinching foul shots with 4.5 second left. Game time.

The only negative was the facial injury Francois suffered with 6.6 seconds left, apparently a bloodied lip and a woozie head, as Classical attacked the basket. He did not return for the final few seconds and was attended to by the Classical trainer and others before heading to the Danvers locker room. His status for Thursday night will not be known until sometime Thursday to determine the overnight swelling or otherwise.

It was far from an artistic triumph, but committing only 11 turnovers was a huge improvement from the 36 committed in the 10-point home win over Classical a few weeks ago. Moreover, each of the “Big 4” made clutch shots to keep the Rams at bay, as well as sixth man Tahg Coakley and seventh man Justin Roberto. Classical committed twice as many turnovers.

When one recalls that the Falcons’ prospects were unknown on the opening day of practice in late November after losing to graduation their “Big 3” of last year’s 27-0 Division 2 state champions, the Falcons have had an outstanding season to date, losing three games by a total of nine points. They should be proud, though they are hungry for much, much more.

They can begin satisfying that hunger Thursday at Beverly, followed by the Holliston tournament Sunday (1 p.m. versus Natick), Monday’s game to be determined, followed by a non-leaguer at Masconomet on Sunday the 21st at 2:30, then the regular season finale at Peabody on February 24.  That’s 21 games. The Fakcons would love to win at Beverly and make the Peabody game meaningless at least in terms of title implications.

The Falcons could win out for a 13-game win streak and an 18-3 mark or stumble somewhere, most likely, if at all, at Beverly.

No matter. The Falcons and coach John Walsh have put together a phenomenal regular season. Let’s hope it continues Thursday night at Beverly.

The Falcons were a disappointing 7 for 25 from three-point land after a 4-for-6 start. Coakley finished with four personals and played most of the fourth quarter without getting nabbed for the No. 5 disqualifier.

Walsh’s record at DHS is an out-of-this-world 118-22.



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