The Danvers High girls, needing one more win to qualify for the Eastern Mass. tournament, fought back twice from nine-point deficits in the second half but came up short in crunch time Thursday night at Beverly High, succumbing 54-47 in the Henry Cabot Lodge Fieldhouse.
The Falcons, 9-9 after a 7-0 start, now must win one of their two remaining games, both part of the second annual Eddie Gieras Memorial Tournament, also known as the Gieras Games, slated for Tuesday and Wednesday at DHS. They either take care of Newburyport Tuesday at 7 p.m. or in their game Wednesday, either in the third place game at 5:30 or the title game at 7.
“We got off to a good start,” Danvers coach Pat Veilleux said, “but then we struggled offensively the rest of the half and had to play catch-up virtually the rest of the game. But the girls rallied on two different occasions and had chances down the stretch but couldn’t quite pull it off.”
Beverly beat Danvers, thus avenging a narrow 31-29 defeat at Danvers earlier in the season, by making four first-half three-pointers, three in the final two minutes for a 29-20 intermission lead, then by making four more in the second half. Senior guard Natalie Mellinger led the way with a career-high 31 points. She and Brooke Baekey combined to make eight threes, which offset Danvers’ two spirited comebacks, one to 29-25, the other which gave the Falcons a 37-36 lead early innate fourth on a Sarah Unczur turnaround in close.
There Falcons had drawn within 36-333 after three quarters thanks to an 8-2 run in the last 2:17, the final score an all-the-weak steal by sore shouldered Nicole White, aided on the double team by Unczur.
The fourth quarter was a barnburner, Lydia Runnels scoring inside to tie it at 39, then Elena Clifford knotting it at 42 on her third three of the game, seconds after Baekey, a sophomore, hit one for the Panthers.
Danvers drew within one at 46-45 with 1:14 left on a Siobhan Moriarty three and again at 48-47 on a White baseline pop with 30 seconds left. Maligner sank 6 straight foul shots the last 30 seconds to seal it while all the Falcons could do was misfire on one three-point attempt. Mellinger shot 11-for12 from the foul line.
After leading 10-6 early, the Falcons could have stolen this one down the stretch with a little luck. Beverly got their share of good fortune, especially on an off-the-glass two-point Baekey made from the top of the key with 38 seconds left that gave Beverly a 48-45 advantage.
Three Falcons had nine points each — Clifford, Unczur and Moriarty.
Now it’s all about the Gieras Games and there need to capture win No. 10 Tuesday so that the pressure is off Wednesday, at least in terms of making the post-season tourney.
Let’s hope it happens Tuesday.