Danvers High Boys Cagers Eye NEC Large Championship Wednesday At Much-Improved Peabody


It’s been one phenomenal regular season for the Danvers High boys basketball team. A 16 and 4 record, a perfect 8-0 home mark (extending the Falcons’ unbeaten DHS fieldhouse win streak to 29). Winning the Holliston High/Keough Tournament over dangerous rivals Natick and Franmingham. And the chance to marvel at the coaching wizardry for a sixth straight year of John Walsh.

But the regular season will not be considered a complete success to many– let’s not try and compare this fascinating group of players to last year’s dream-come-true, 27-0 Division 2 state champions —  unless they defeat 11-10 Peabody Wednesday night in the Tanners’ Veterans Memorial Fieldhouse.

Granted, the Falcons, projected in preseason to be a .500 squad or a tad better than that, have far exceeded expectations, winning eight in a row at one point and losing the four games by a combined 11 points. Their stunning development this winter, despite not playing a cager over 6 feet, one inch tall, is a marvelous tribute to the players and Walsh and his coaches.

But they want very much at Peabody (7 p.m. tap)  to continue an unprecedented championship run and capture their fifth consecutive Northeastern Conference division title. They won the previous four in a row in the NEC Small (as well as four NEC Overall titles). Now, having moved up to the NEC Large with the big boys from Peabody, Lynn Classical and English, Revere and Beverly (with Salem moving down to NEC Small, the changes based on periodic enrollment reviews) they need this game to win NEC Large outright and not have to settle for a shared title with English. The Lynners forced the iossue Tuesday night by staving off visiting Beverly, 72-69. English finishes 12-4 in the NEC Large. Danvers must beat Peabody to finish 13-3.

The Falcons showed a renewed killer instinct in finishing off Natick and Franklin in the fourth quarters and, most recently, host Masconomet in the third quarter Sunday.

And added incentive for the Falcons at Peabody is the likelihood that a win will earn the Falcons two home games when they begin defense of their MIAA Division 2 tournament state title next week. But Peabody, coming off strong wins the last few days against Somerville and Beverly, has major incentive as well. The Tanners are still smarting over the 77-36 pounding they suffered at Danvers in December. It is expected that Peabody, led by Junior Estrella, who had 21 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in a 54-49 non-league win over Somerville Monday, will be a vastly different team than the one that traveled to Danvers two months ago.

The Falcons will be tough to beat. They are 4-1 in their last five, all road games, and have won 12 of their last 13, the lone defeat a blood-curdling 68-66 setback at Beverly two weeks ago in a game the players and coaches know they should have won.

But it’s been a new page turned over ever since, and one doubts any of the sizable contingent of Division 2 North coaches who watched them Sunday at Masconomet have any desire of meeting up with them in the post-season.

The Falcons may be playing the best they have all year these last three games. Devonn Allen and Rudy Francois have carried the offense the last six games. Allen has scored 20 or more in four of them, while Francois has hit the 30-point mark twice. They each have scored at lEast 15 points in all six encounters, five of them wins.

Tre Crtittendon, Mike Nestor, Kieran Moriarty and sixth man Tahg Coakley have all looked sharper of late, while Justin Roberto has become a solid seventh man and sophomore Jon Weimart impressed in a second quarter stint at Masconomet and figures to get more playing time beginning at Peabody.

Most important, Walsh and staff have become happier with the team’s commitment to their nasty, chest-to-chest defense, which sets up a good chunk of their offense.

The Peabody game will be yet another good test for the Falcons, winners of three state titles the last four years. Might they be building for a surprise fourth in five years?






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