“Sensation at Salem:” The Legendary Babe Zaharias’s Historic 1954 U.S. Open Victory at Salem Country Club

New from Gary Larrabee……….

“Sensation at Salem:” The Legendary Babe Zaharias’s Historic 1954 U.S. Open Victory at Salem Country Club…

…is considered the greatest single tournament achievement by a woman professional golfer to this day.
The story of the week when Babe staged an amazing performance on a suburban Boston golf course while battling cancer and carrying a colostomy bag, defeating the field by 12 strokes, is chronicled like never before!

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Coach Giddings Era Begins for Danvers High Boys Basketball Program

The Jahron “Jay” Giddings Era has officially begun for the Danvers High boys basketball program.

The Falcons are in their second week of workouts, which have included a scrimmage jamboree during which they took on Reading for a half and Watertown for another at Burlington last Saturday, December 3. The players are making progress individually and collectively, Giddings reports.

“The kids have worked real hard. I’ve challenged them every step of the way and they’ve answered those challenges in a positive way,” says Giddings, 30. “It took us a while to calm down the first half of the jamboree. But once we found ourselves and got a little rhythm going, we settled in and play pretty well. I thought we were better offensively against Watertown  and pretty solid defensively in both halves. We need to improve our rebounding though, first and foremost.”

Several players caught the coach’s eye on an upbeat note. “I have been impressed with Teddy Vaillancourt,” Giddings said. “He’s going to play a lot at forward. He’ll be important for us defensively”

Giddings also liked there sophomore guard play from Mike Ward and Anthony Yebba. “The kids are slowly getting used to playing the style I’d like them to use,” he said. “I want them to be a reflection of me on the court, the way they should play together and especially  on every defensive trip. Boom line at this point is that I’m excited about our prospects.”

Giddings and his players are in a tough spot. They have won five straight NEC division titles and four of the last five NEC overall titles, in the process winning a remarkable three state championships in a four-year period, all under departed coach John Walsh, who finished with an unprecedented 123-24 record, the best six-years run in North Shore hoop history.

Giddings is expecting big things by his two key returning players, co-captains Kieran Moriarty and Tahg Coakley. Moriarty will return as the Falcons” man i the middle and Coakley returned as a small forward adept at banging the boards and penetrating to the basket. Bot enjoyed stellar seasons for the 9-2 DHS football team.

“I have to give the football players a little more time to get into basketball shape, but by the second week, where we are now, I expect them to be working smoothly,” Giddings said.

The coach also has high hopes for three-point bombers Sean Rooney and Justin Roberto.

 

“Justin has not yet realized how good a player he can be for us,” says Giddings. “Hopefully he’ll learn after just a few games.”

The coach says he will carry a varsity roster of 11, with four starting spots already settled, with one more to come before they open defense of their NEC titles Friday December 16 at home against Lynn English.

 

 

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Jarhon Giddings’ Time Is Fast Approaching

 

Jarhon Giddings, meet Gene Bartow.

For those who aren’t old enough to remember, Gene Bartow was the highly-respected coach from the University of Illinois who succeeded the great John Wooden when the latter stepped down as the UCLA basketball coach after winning his 10th NCAA championship in 12 years. The year was 1975. Bartow lasted two years at UCLA. Tough succeeding a legend.

Well, Giddings now get’s the same kind of chance succeeding a legend, John Walsh, as the Danvers High boys’ basketball coach. Giddings up close and personally what made Walsh the greatest state championship-winning coach in Danvers High history.

Three state championships in four years, five Northeastern Conference titles in a row and an astounding six-year overall record of 123-24.

“I’m excited and I’m ready to get started,” Giddings, 30, said as he final days of October passed and he looked ahead to the first day of practice on Monday, November 28.

Giddings, who grew up in Blacksburg, Virginia, has taken a fascinating route to arrive in this position after serving as one of Walsh’s varsity assistants the last three years.

After an illustrious high school (Blacksburg High, R.J. Reynolds High) and college career (at University of Richmond), the 6-9 Giddings played professionally in Cyprus, Bahrain, Israel and Rochester, N.Y. (Premiere League).

He also worked several summers at basketball camps at Wake Forest and Richmond, as well as in the basketball departments at professional gyms in the same region.

Landing in Danvers with wife Hannah, his college sweetheart, three years ago, the 6-feet, 9-inch Giddings walked one day into Danvers High School soon thereafter, asked principal/asst. supt. Sue Ambrozavitch if he could meet the boys’ basketball coach. Ambrozavitch called Walsh on the spot and the next thing he knew Walsh boasted the tallest assistant coach in Eastern Massachusetts; as well as one of the most astute hoop aides in the NEC.

“I couldn’t pass up Jay’s terrific background as a player and his potential as a coach,” Walsh told this observer on more than one occasion.

On more than one occasion, Walsh also asked Giddings if he had any head coach aspirations. “I told John every time that I would love to be a head coach – anywhere. But I needed to get some experience under my belt first. And I got the very best experience watching and working with the best the last three years.

“Then, when John confided in me that last season was going to be his last as head coach, and I said I would be very interested in applying for the position, he advocated for me in the hiring process.”

That was like getting the ultimate blessing from the divine being of DHS hoops.

Now in his third year as the high school’s academic intervention specialist (i.e. the provider of assistance in helping students who fail classes to get back on track and gain credits so they can graduate, hopefully on time), Giddings is ready to take the reins and follow a legend.

“Most important,” says Giddings, who still plays ball competitively in a few North Shore YMCA and other men’s leagues, “I want my players to get better as players and young men as our season progresses. I want them to use their basketball experiences to also learn life lessons for whatever they face down the road. The wins and losses always take care of themselves, but growing as persons is a little different. As in other sports, a lot of relevant lessons came from playing basketball, especially at the high school level, that can be used in other phases of their life, no matter what their age.”

In succeeding the most successful six-year varsity cage coach in Massachusetts high school basketball history, Giddings “welcomes the challenge,” as he says, “and I want to continue what John has built with our winning tradition and outstanding coaching. It’s still amazing to think about how hard John worked, how much he put into the team on practice and game days.

“As a coach, I want the players to be good teammates, to remain coachable and to give it all they have every time we’re together as a team, whether it’s for practice, scrimmages or games. I want them to hold nothing back, to take everything about being a Danvers High basketball player seriously and to remember they’re representing their school, their town, their family and themselves. And I’ll be telling them a lot of time what my father told me: ‘you only get out of your effort what you put into it.’”

Giddings will follow Walsh’s credo in that “defense will be the centerpiece of everything we do; the defense will spark our offense.”

He does not consider himself on any kind of hotseat. “No reason to be,” he explained. “This is a new chapter. Everyone’s been supportive. Everyone knows this is a new man taking over. They also understand that wins will come if we do things right and the kids keep the right attitude as players and students. For me, it’s all about developing players from the youth level up and keeping them hungry to succeed at every level on which they compete for Danvers.”

Giddings, whose first name comes from the proper name of God in the Hebrew Bible, Yahweh, has his staff in place. Matt McQuaid will serve as his junior varsity and assistant varsity coach, while Peter Speros returns as freshman coach.

Let the Giddings Era begin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Walsh Resigns As Danvers High Boys Basketball Coach After Historic Six-Year Run; 123-24 record, 23-3 In Post-Season, Five NEC Division Titles, Four NEC Overall Titles,Three State Titles

John Walsh, the boyish looking first-time head coach who led the Danvers High boys to achievements reserved for the Cambridges, Charlestowns and Catholic Memorials of the Bay State schoolboy hoop world, resigned Tuesday as Falcons’ head coach after six years on the job.

He arrived on the scene with no varsity coaching experience except as his cousin’s assistant varsity coach for five years at Watertown. He led his first Falcon varsity to a stunning turnaround from the prior year, posting a 13-10 record and guiding his charges to two EMass tournament victories for the first time in program history.

It only got better after that:

  • Division 3 state championship, 21-4 record
  • Division 3 state championship, 24-2 record
  • Division 2 North finalist, 20-3 record
  • Division 2 state championship, a perfect, history-making 27-0 record
  • Fifth-time NEC Division champ, first year in NEC Large, 18-5 record, accomplished with a group that was wiped out in the frontcourt, losing three superb players who made up the most productive — and tallest — forward-center package in the state

Walsh, a father of three young children and a devoted husband, almost bowed out last year, but wanted to see it through one more year to be a part of the senior seasons of three of his favorites, Rashad Francois, Mike Nestor and Tre Crittendon.

Walsh finishes with a sensational 123-24 record, 23-3 in the post-season and won 30 straight at home before falling to Brighton in their Division 2 North quarterfinal 10 days ago.

The last five years his regular season record was 89-12, 100-21 over six years.

Walsh made Danvers a state powerhouse/dynasty. The Boston Globe ranked the Falcons No. 1 at the conclusion of the 2014 and 2015 regular season. They were ranked No. 13 at the end of the 2016 regular season.

Walsh was honored as The Boston Globe Division 3 Coach of the Year once and the Division 2 Coach of the Year a year ago.

He reached the 100-win milestone the fastest of any North Shore coach.

Walsh will make his final public appearance as the Danvers High coach at the team’s breakup banquet on Tuesday, March 29.

 

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No State Title, But A Terrific Season Nonetheless For Danvers High Boys Cagers; NEC Large Championship To Boot

There’s been a lot to love about each of the first five John Walsh-coached Danvers High boys basketball teams.

First off, they surprised us in beautiful ways each season, from winning two tourney games for the first time, to winning back-to-back (“Can you believe it?”) state D-3 titles, to winning 20 games when only 10-12 were expected and reaching the Division 2 North title game, then to winning ALL 27 games , including the D-2 state championship.

But I have loved this sixth Walsh-guided, Fantastic Falcon team the most — and for the obvious reasons. They had some good players returning, but they did not have any of their Big 3 frontline fortress back. They’d all gone to college. That meant mucho points and rebounds and feet no longer part of the mix.

The Falcons went from being the biggest, most feared quintet in the Northeastern Conference and Division 2 to one of the — supposedly — less dangerous groups in the NEC; especially since they were switching places with Salem in the NEC alignment, with the Falcons moving up to the NEC Large Division and Salem moving down, based on a regularly scheduled review of enrollment numbers.

To the surprise of none, the Witches ran roughshod over the NEC Small, though they barely got past Danvers in their one meeting (68-63 at Salem). As this is being written Coach Tom Doyle’s kids are prepping for tonight’s (Thursday’s) D-2 North semifinal showdown with Brighton at Beverly.

To the surprise of almost everyone, but not this observer, the Falcons were not expected to put up much of a defense of their NEC title (four straight NEC Small crowns, four straight NEC overall titles), not without any size, their tallest regular standing only 6 feet, one inch.

But powered by Walsh’s brilliant direction and the players’ maximum clutch effort, three-point shooting and trademark in-your-face defending (despite little or no bench depth, depending on the opponent), they captured the NEC Large in their first attempt, lost three NEC games by a combined nine points and finished a stunning 18-5.

Walsh had some serious talent to work with, thanks to the improved skills of whirling dervish Rashad “Rudy” Francois, Kenneth “Tre” Crittendown, Mike Nestor, Kieran Moriarty, Devonn Allen, Tahg Coakley and Justin Roberto.

It is not a stretch to declare the Falcons — the target of every team they faced this season as defending state champs — could have gone undefeated this past regular season as well. A controversial two-point loss at Lynn English, the team they beat out for the NEC Large title by one game; a one-point loss to Malden Catholic in the Saugus Christmas Tourney final, made possible by a missed long-shot miss, then an in-close put-back at the buzzer; the five-point defeat at Salem that went right down to the wire after the Falcons trailed 20-3 early; and the two-point loss at Beverly (68-66) in which the Falcons had good shots in the final minute that might have swung the pendulum their way.

They could have been 21-0.  But 17-4 ain’t chopped liver.

It was pretty much inevitable that the team’s lack of depth and height would catch up with them in their MIAA D-2 state title defense. No matter how extraordinary was the six-man rotation’s endurance, team defense and team rebounding during the regular season, March Madness would likely lead to one game where those shortcomings would be obvious.

It happened against Brighton in the D-2 North quarterfinals. Leading 42-39 midway through the third quarter, the Falcons appeared to be sitting pretty. But from that juncture on, Brighton, with depth, speed, size and a Danvers-like pressing defense, was in control, The Falcons hung tough, tied at 53-53 for the last time, but Brighton rolled from their, even when Danvers closed within 63-59.

An unpleasant way to end their title defense, but the Falcons stood tall in defeat.

So yes, this is, honest to goodness, my favorite of these six historically successful — all lovable — DHS teams that made them one of four of the most successful programs in Massachusetts high school basketball annals dating back to the start of the divisional alignments in the early 1970s. And maybe next year’s group, led by Allen, Moriarty, Tagh Coakley and Justin Roberto, will surprise us as well with another strong team we love to watch.

For the moment, I salute Francois for his incredible energy level, his eclectic offensive repertoire and his ability to defense, make steals and rebound like no one else on the team.

I salute Mike Nestor for his gorilla-like defense and rebounding and mightily improved offense. If not for there being several teammates who could take over games offensively, he would have more than those two memorable offensive games.

I salute Tre Crittendon for his all-around intelligence, his three-point radar, his magnificent defensive thievery.

I salute Kiernan Moriarty for his underrated defense against bigger rivals virtually every night, his rebounding tenacity and his inside scoring threat.

I salute Devonn Allen for his electrifying ability to cash in those pullup threes a la Stephen Curry, his, like Francois, indescribable penetrations to the basket, his reliable rebounding and 150% defensive effort; and his ability to win more center jumps to start the game than his opponents.

I thank Tahg Coakley for his sixth man ability to shake things up and get the Falcon engine humming at both ends. He could prove to be a major offensive force next year, combining his three-point efficiency with his desire to plow his way to the basket inside.

I salute Justin Roberto for coming up huge the two games he filled in for the injured Allen and on other occasions when he canned a three here and there that made a difference.

I salute the little-used bench players for their patience, for pushing the regulars in practice and for their commitment to next season, when they will get the chance to become part of the playing rotation.

Lastly, I salute Walsh (and his staff) , for giving us a sixth consecutive team who exceeded virtually everyone’s expectations (yes, even the Year 3 and Year 5 state champions). It’s been a stretch that compares with the Larry Bird/Celtics era.

Six seasons for the ages. Nothing less.

 

 

 

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Marvelous, Magical Season (18-5) Ends For Danvers Boys’ Cagers; Brighton Depth And Defense Too Much For Falcons To Overcome In 74-62 Division 2 North Quarterfinal Loss

This was not the way the Danvers High boys basketball team wanted to end its defense of the Division 2 state title it won last March. But visiting Brighton took advantage of its depth, defensive quickness and rebounding advantages in tsunami-like fashion in the second half Saturday afternoon in their North section quarterfinal battle in the near-capacity DHS field house.

The result was a convincing 74-62 Brighton victory, moving the Boston school into the semifinal round next mid-week against the winner of Monday’s Wakefield at Salem meeting. The win not only gained revenge for last year’s 65-58 Danvers decision in the semifinal round at Woburn, but snapped the Falcons’ 30-game homecourt win streak as well.

The Falcons, who surprised everyone but themselves by winning the Northeastern Conference Large Division title in its first year moving up from the NEC Small, thus finish another remarkable season at 18-5, the fifth straight year they have won at least 18 games and won an NEC division title.

Of course it’s a letdown after last year’s once-in-a-lifetime 27-0 state championship run. But to win 18 games and the NEC Large when “the experts” projected the Blue to win 12, 13 games at best, well, this has been one superb campaign.

We thought the season might still be alive when the Falcons owned a 42-29 lead over Brighton  midway through th third quarter after Rashad “Rudy” Francois (17 points, tops for DHS) canned a three-pointer from the left side.

But at that stage Brighton got its offense untracked and started to get results from its fullcourt press. Danvers led by six at 48-42, but Brighton ran off the last nine points in the last 1:19 of the quarter and led, 51-48, entering the fourth. Devonn Allen (11) and Francois responded with three-pointers to open the fourth to tie the score at 50 and 53, but from that juncture Brighton turned on the jets and pulled away, though Danvers trailed by only 63-59 with three minutes left. The Falcons got no closer as fatigue, erratic passing and shooting doomed their bid for victory.

The Falcons could not have played with more heart nor effort for 32 minutes, but Brighton had too many horses. They played fresher, stronger and quicker the second half, sparked by Jordan Galloway’s (No. 4) 19 points, Tyrone Perry (No. 11) and Jerrod Clark No. 12) each with 13 and Izaiah Winston-Brooks (No. 13) with 12.

“They were the better defenders, the better rebounders and the better shooters the second half,” conceded senior forward Francois, whose two-way brilliance figured mightily in Danvers’ 18 wins. “We wanted more, but we just didn’t have the push we needed the fourth quarter; didn’t quite have the energy we needed.

“But this won’t take away from a great three years here. We’ve been a family and we’ve had our times, most of all the perfect record last year.”

Trey Crittendon gave the Falcons a big boost with 12 of his 14 points coming in the first half, much of which was played without mate Allen, who was saddled with two early fouls. Mike Nestor had one of his best offensive games of the year with 11 points, nine coming on three treys, and Tahg Coakley played big off the bench with eight points. Inside man Kieran Moriarty did not score but still had one of his finest defensive/rebounding games against a variety of bigger Brighton bangers.

“Brighton deserved this one,” said Danvers coach John Walsh, who finishes his sixth season with a 23-3 tournament record and a 123-24 overall mark. His record the last five years: 110-14.

“We had the upper hand for a while and outplayed them into the third quarter (when Brighton scored a shocking 28 points against one of the best defensive units on the North Shore),” he added. “But Brighton’s that good, the way they got rolling and never let up on us. The had shooters, defenders, rebounders. We couldn’t quite keep up.”

Walsh knows he was playing with fire this year, using primarily a six-man rotation. Of course, that’s what he used last year with zero serious injuries allowed, but last year he also had an all-world frontcourt with stupendous size. This year he went without any serious injury all season again (except for a two-game absence for Allen).’

But against a team that boasted 10 athletic, cat-quick players, all of whom could shoot and press, the six-player rotation was not able to hold up. It also didn’t help that the Falcons committed an uncharacteristic eight fourth quarter turnovers and did not make a field goal in the last 4:35. When the usually-reliable Francois missed two straight threes and Allen missed one soon thereafter, all occurring at 59-63, we had a sinking feeling.

But WHAT A SEASON!! Four nailbiting, down-to-the-wire losses in regular season based on a combined 10 points. a Clutch win late season at Lynn Classical. Winning two gutsy games at Holliston to win the Keough Tournament, then the last-game victory at Peabody that earned the Falcons the NEC Large title. How sweet it was.

A terrific opening game comeback tourney win here the other night over Melrose, then the season-closer against Brighton.

“It’s been a great year,” Walsh said. “Our first goal was to qualify for the state tournament. To win the Conference Large was a wonderful a achievement by the kids. I can’t tell you how proud I am of them. I could not have asked for more. What effort, what determination, what commitment. They’ve made a large contribution to the Danvers winning tradition we’ve created here these last six winters. I just feel bad their season had to end like this. I just hope they’re as proud of what they’ve accomplished as we coaches are. They deserve all the credit.

So another chapter in what has developed into the greatest run by a high school boys basketball team in North Shore history is over. But it should be celebrated here in Danvers for years and years to come.

Thanks coaches. Thanks players, led by Captains. Francois, Crittendon, Nestor and Allen. There’s a good nucleus returning in Moriarty, Allen and Coakley, with Justin Roberto expected to step in next year. Who else will join them? Tune in next December.

Gentlemen, thanks for the memories.

 

 

 

 

An exhilarating season filled with memorable victories of every nature,

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Danvers Boys Cagers’ Sensational Season Secure No Matter What Happens From Here

Win or lose Saturday — and we surely anticipate a win — in their Division 2 North quarterfinal matchup in the DHS field house (4pm start) against old foe Brighton (remember last year’s delicious win at Woburn?), the Danvers High boys’ basketball team has already earned a “greatness” label based on what it has accomplished.

We will talk for years about the milestones Coach John Walsh and his charges have accomplished in each of their first five seasons, including three state championships the last four years, a feat of historic proportions statewide dating back to the institution of the division setup in the early 1970s, and a feat of local proportion which has never been equalled and probably never will be.

But to take this year’s team singularly, I state unequivocally that they have surpassed expectations to a higher degree than any of the five teams that preceded them. The facts are indisputable.

Last year’s “Team for the Ages,” 27-0, featured the biggest and arguably the most talented front court threesome in North Shore annals —  6-10 Peter Merry, the Northeastern Conference MVP, 6-5 Devon Harris, who became Danvers High’s first back-to-back Globe All-Scholastic hoopster, and 6-4 Vinny Clifford, arguably the best long-range shooter in the region and probably the best in Falcon history.

So take away all that size, plus approximately 45 points, 20+ rebounds and six blocks a game and you’ve got troubles for the following season. Especially when you return a team whose biggest player is 6 feet, one inch tall. From the biggest team around to the smallest. But Walsh, recognized throughout Greater Boston as one of the bright young star coaches, figured it out nicely.

Most preseason predictors liked the Falcons to win between 10 and 12 regular season games. Instead they went 17-4, lost four games by a combined 10 points and won the NEC Large in their first year moving from after winning four straight NEC Small titles. Amazing.

Walsh didn’t make his players change so much as he changed for his players. He kept the offense simple, providing multiple options for the playmakers, i.e. Devonn Allen and Rashad “Rudy” Francois, with Tre Crittendon another option with his dangerous three-point accuracy and penetration ability. Suffice to say, Allen and Francois, as the team’s top two scorers, have proven capable of creating a scoring opportunity from pretty much anywhere on the floor, firing away or driving to the cylinder.

Mike Nestor and Kieran Moriarty have been relied on to bang the boards inside, while Tahg Coakley has been marvelous off the bench, hitting threes, scoring with a strong power game inside and rebounding in timely fashion. Justin Roberto has been a clutch three-point bomber off the bench and Jon Weimert is another bench possibility based on his clutch play in the Masconomet game.

Walsh has given his players freedom to shoot from pretty much anywhere and go 1-on-1 whenever the situation presents itself or calls from it.

But as observers of Walsh’s flyin’ Falcons realized early in the season, they were going succeed or fail this season based on their small-man, quick-footed, steal-minded defense. And with few exceptions they have thrived, applying defensive pressure from anywhere on the floor and creating turnovers in numbers of which Betty Crocker would be proud.

The speed of the “Big Five” —  Allen, Coakley, Francois, Crittendon and Nestor — with Moriarty often in the deep position, has been a thing of beauty. I have to believe that the Falcons have scored at least one-quarter of its points off turnovers.

Moreover, with few exceptions, this group has handled the pressure of defending state champions, with a target on their backs every night, like, well, champions.

I won’t be surprised if the way they responded to Wednesday’s horrid state title defense debut at home against Melrose serves them well as their tourney trip continues. From a 4-12 first quarter deficit while shooting 1-for-13 and a 10-22 deficit in the second quarter, the Falcons kept their cool, made some Walsh-inspired defensive adjustments and outscored the Red Raiders the rest of the way 39-18.

Now they’re 18-4, hoping they can win their 31st straight at home against Brighton and then get a second crack at No. 1 seed and NEC rival Salem in the North 2 semifinals. That will pack ’em in no matter where they play it.

No matter. This has been a sensational season for Danvers High boys basketball; Year 6 in the Golden Era of John Walsh-coached Danvers High Basketball. Walsh’s shortest team in those six years has never stood taller.

 

 

 

 

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Defense Saves The Day Again; Danvers Boys Hoopsters Open State Title Defense Surviving Against Melrose, 49-40; Next Up Brighton At Danvers 4 p.m. Saturday

The defending state Division 2 champion Danvers High Falcons have been winning games this season —  17 coming into Wednesday night’s Division 2 North tournament opener against a surging Melrose squad — and nearly winning four others that ended up being tight losses — because of a dogged, thrashing, merciless, clawing defense. A defense that usually led to the opponent committing on average twice as many turnovers as the Falcons (with one notable exception).

So no wonder it was that attacking, strength-sapping, ball-stealing defense that bailed the Falcons out  in a near-capacity DHS field house and resulted in a 49-40 Danvers victory, their 30th straight homecourt win spanning three years.

“Our players are so tough, so determined and play so hard, that we know our defense normally will make good things happen for us,” Danvers coach John Walsh said after the Falcons converted a 22-10 deficit with two minutes left in the second quarter into a 37-30 advantage after three sessions.

At 39-30, 19 seconds into the final quarter, this one looked like a lock. But shoddy shooting, as had been the case in the early going, allowed Melrose (12-9), winners of five straight and seven of eight entering the fray, to close within 41-40 with 3:44 left. But that’s where the Red Raiders’ offense was topped dead in its tracks. Tre Crittendon’s floater in the lane was Danvers’ final bucket making it 41-38 with four minutes left until Mike Nestor, a beast defensively and on the boards once again, laid the ball in with 13 seconds left to close out the scoring.

The numbers defy the observer to comprehend how the Falcons, 18-4, 23-2 in tourney  action in the John Walsh Era, won this game.

First Quarter: Falcons shoot 1-13 from floor, 0-9 in three-pointers, and do not force a Melrose turnover until 6:05 has elapsed, and are lucky to trail only 12-4 at the horn. One key: by the end of the quarter, Melrose has committed five turnovers to Danvers’ 2, or it might be a 12- or 14-point deficit rather than an eight-pointer.

Second quarter: Falcons trail 22-10 with 1:55 left in the half, but ol’ reliable Justin Roberto sinks a three coming off the bench, Kieran Moriarty scores two on a put-back and Rashad Francois cans his first three with 10 seconds left after missing his first four three-point attempts. Amazingly, the local forces trail by only 24-18 and a strong buzz filled the building, interpreted as a sense that Danvers would take control after halftime.

And they did, temporarily. The Falcons delivered on five of nine three-point fires in the third quarter, powered by three bombs in a row by Devonn Allen, shot 6-for-11 overall for the stanza and led by 37-30 with eight minutes left. In the process, Melrose committed eight turnovers in the quarter and went scoreless for 5:20.

This should have been put-away time for the five-time Northeastern Conference Division champs, but at 39-30 they missed four consecutive threes and allowed Melrose, coached by Danvers resident Mike Kasprzak, to run off eight straight to draw within 39-38. Crittendown made a critical floater in the lane (41-38) and Melrose’s Avery Davis (8) drove to the bucket (41-40) and it was anyone’s game with 3:44 left. But Melrose never scored again.

From this juncture there occurred a comedy of misplays on the part of both teams, but Danvers’ universally feared defense came up with several big plays,starting with an Allen steal that led to, at the other end, a questionable fifth foul call on MHS super penetrator T’Mahri Mercer (6 assists). It was either Allen travel, Allen losing ball out of bounds or Mercer foul, and the official called the fifth foul.

“Big break for us, because the call could have gone either way, but it was all set up by a fabulous  play by Devonn; the perfect example of how vital are the individual and team efforts we get on defense,” said Walsh.

It was still up for grabs, but the Falcons made virtually all the big plays, mainly defensively, meaning four Melrose turnovers in the last 2:50, while Danvers missed several shots but three foul shots from Allen and two from Nestor with 27 seconds left to salt the game away.

Fourth quarter: 2-11 overall, 0-7 in threes. For the game: 8-34 on threes, 14-for-50 overall.

Final turnover tally: Melrose 24, Danvers 8.

“The offensive statistics weren’t good, but they were all, for the most part, good shots. Just have to make more,” Walsh said matter-of-factly. “Sure we live and die some games by our shooting, but our defense has bailed us out many a time and tonight was another example of it. The kids know when they play so hard, they’re usually rewarded, like tonight.”

Allen (17, 4 threes) and Francois (112, 3 threes) led Danvers in scoring. But all seven who played made big plays, including sixth man Tahg Coakley, whose value can never be overestimated.

How they pulled this one out defies belief in some respects, but when you’ve got one of the most productive defenses in Massachusetts high school basketball, even with your biggest man 6-foot, 1 inch in height, anything is possible. Exhibit A: Danvers 49, Melrose 40.

Next up: Brighton, whom the Falcons beat last year, 65-58, in the Div. 2 North semifinal at Woburn. This time it’s the quarterfinals at DHS Saturday at 4 p.m.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Danvers High Boys Cagers: A Surprising Season Of Title Success; Coach John Walsh: Author of Historic Extended Success

A few thoughts about the Danvers High boys, 17-4, before they begin defense of their Division 2 state championship as the No.3 or No. 4 seed in the North section. Seedings and pairings should be announced Friday or Saturday.

  • We should not be surprised. John Walsh has provided us with a historic surprise every single one of his six seasons as the Danvers High boys basketball team. In the process he has created a record of excellence that NO OTHER program on the North Shore can match. Year 1 gave us a 13-10 record, after only two wins the year before, and two tournament victories for the first time in program history. Year 2 produced a Division 3 state championship. Who would have imagined???? Year 3 a repeat Division 3 state title. Who would have believed??? Again???? Year 4, with several key players graduated, a magnificent 20-3 record, powered by the arrival of Hingham High junior transfer Devon Harris, and, now moved up to D-2, a D-2 North title game loss to New Mission.  Year 5 — this cannot be happening — a perfect 27-0 record, a fourth straight NEC division and overall title and the D-2 state championship. And now Year 6, with a big chunk of scoring, defense and rebounding graduated in the form of Harris, Peter Merry and Vinny Clifford, the Falcons, now quick and small, defy the experts and produce a 17-4 record, 10 points (not 11, as I have written previously) shy of a possible 21-0 mark and, in the Falcons’ first year in the NEC Large Division, the NEC Large title with a 13-3 mark. It’s almost like we DHS rooters of the past 40 years have died and gone to high school basketball heaven. Only that this heaven has come true for us earthlings from Danvers.
  • As blessed as the Falcon program has been with a large group of exceptionally talented, improve-oriented and coachable players over the past six seasons, none of this would have happened without the coaching of John Walsh. I know. This is a recording. In his varsity head coaching opportunity, Walsh has become a legend in his own time, no matter what happens in this upcoming post-season or beyond; whether he stays at Danvers one more year, 10 more years or no more years. Walsh found the perfect place to maximize his coaching pedigree (five years as asst. varsity coach to his cousin at Watertown High), and then-DHS athletic director John Sullivan found the perfect solution to his coaching vacancy. Walsh suffered one bump in his rookie year when he had a most public verbal disagreement on the fieldhouse homecourt with a disgruntled player’s parent after his second game at the helm. After that, it’s been all positive historic milestones that have created a 122-23 record never before attained by a varsity hoop coach on the North Shore.
  • It seems unrealistic to believe Walsh won’t be gone sooner rather than later to a high-powered Division 1 program, most likely a Catholic Conference entry, so enjoy every game you get to see him coach as the man in charge of the Falcons. Hopefully several more games in the MIAA tournament.
  • Following the afterglow of last year’s once-in-a-lifetime 27-0 campaign, thoughts naturally turned to the 2015-2016 season, This observer figured, unless we secure another transfer miracle like Devon Harris, the next Falcon squad will be lucky to reach the tournament at 10-10. How astuipid could I have been?
  • Veteran returnees Devonn Allen, Rashad “Rudy” Francois (love the way that last name flows off my tongue) and Kenneth “Tre” Crittendon (please read my feature on Tre that appeared in the February 245 edition of The Salem News) all exceeded my expectations in terms of how much they can improve from a year ago.They have all been spectacular with rare exception, bombing away from three-point range (canning 136 among them), spearheading a devil-may-care recklessness on defense that has created a zillion rival turnovers and taking the ball to the basket every time the opponents give them even the slightest opening.
  • Thanks to Walsh’s genius in adapting his offensive and defensive approaches based on his talent (in this case with no one taller than 6-2 sixth man Tahg Coakley but fired by astonishing quickness), this has been yet another Falcon edition no one wants to play, especially not in the post-season.
  • Additionally, Walsh’s approach in giving his players (most of them anyway) freedom to fire up threes from most anywhere and attack the basket in a 1-on-1 situation if the chance arises, has borne great fruit.
  • Francois has taken over games single handedly at both ends of the floor, witness Wednesday night’s NEC title-clinching win at Peabody. His quickness and speed have never before been seen in this town.
  • Allen is another who can take over a game on his own, owner of an instant offense and theft-producing defense.
  • Tre Crittendon  has also made huge strides from last year, able to take over at the point so Allen can move down to the wing, with terrific three-point range and some gorgeous maneuvers attacking the basket and a third who can cause turnovers at any time.
  • Mike Nestor is the heart and soul, with Kieran Moriarty, of Danvers’ rebounding and inside defense, and Nestor has improved his offense by light years from a year ago. He’s a threat to can the three or step to the rim with his effective dribble.
  • Coakley has made a huge difference effectively guarding players bigger than him all season and getting some clutch baskets, as was the case at Peabody./
  • Sophomore Justin Roberto has been a major factor with his three-point accuracy off the bench and came up huge filling in for the injured Allen in games against Swampscott and Marblehead. Add Jon Weimerth to the list of potential game-makers coming off the bench.

Now ;let’s see how they apply all this wonderful regular season winning experience as title defense time gets under way.

 

 

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Danvers Boys Cagers NEC Champions Again; Pop Peabody, 62-53, For First NEC Large Title; Finish 17-4; Should Be Seeded No. 3 Or No. 4 For Defense Of Their Divisiion 2 State Title

How do we love this overachieving, never-quit, buzz-saw defending Danvers High boys basketball team?? Let us count the ways — take a deep breath — after their second-half blitzing 62-53 victory over host Peabody Wednesday night in the PHS “dark” house.

  • For winning, in their first attempt, the Northeastern Conference Large Division championship with a 13-3 record, edging Lynn English by a single game.
  • For winning five of their last six regular season games, all on the road, to finish the regular season an amazing 17-4 — when pre-season prognosticators figured the defending Division 2 state champs, minus their three big men (top scorers and rebounders at 6-10, 6-4 and 6-3) graduated and left the returnees with no one bigger than 6-1.
  • For earning the No. 3 or No. 4 seeding in Division 2 North for the Section tourney that gets under way next week, with the Falcons expected to get two home games at the start.
  • For turning back a vastly improved Peabody squad that was coming off strong victorious efforts against Somerville and Beverly and hungry for revenge after losing its earlier game at Danvers by 41 points.
  • For leading 13-10 after one quarter despite shooting 4-for-18 from the field, 3-for-14 in threes, and aided by causing seven Tanner turnovers while committing only one themselves.
  • For leading 25-23 at halftime, keyed by successive three-pointers by reserve launcher Justin Roberto (3 threes for the night) and a blood thirsty ball-hawking defense that created 12 Peabody turnovers to DHS’s four; all the while as top scorers Rudy Francois was shooting 1-for-11 from the floor and Devonn Allen, after swishing his first trey attempt of the game for an early 3-0 lead, was making 1-of-5 while being badgered by a pesky Peabody box-and-1 defense. And, despite the fact the Falcons were at that point 5-for-21 in threes.
  • For the phenomenal job Mike Nestor and then Allen, an underrated defender, did guarding Peabody’s top player, 6-3 Junior Estrella, whom they held to four points for the night after he scored 20 in his most recent game against Somerville.
  • For responding to a shaky second half start, falling behind 28-25, by running off 12 straight points on three nifty inside power moves by sixth man deluxe Tahg Coakley, plus three-pointers from Francois and Tre Crittendon. Coakley scored a career-high 16.
  • For taking command at 41-32 after three quarters, a 16-9 eight-minute stretch in which the Falcons coughed up the ball once to Peabody’s six times.
  • For the way the Falcons once again showed a fourth quarter killer instinct — this is getting gloriously routine — never letting the Tanners (11-10) get closer than seven points the rest of the way, much of it the result of Danvers’ smothering, ball-stripping defense engineered by the Superman-like, stamina displayed by Francois, as well as by Crittendon, Coakley and Allen.
  • For the beautifullky balanced scoring, from Francois (19) to Coakley (16), Crittendon (9), Roberto (9), Allen (5) and board banger Kieran Moriarty (4).
  • For winning the turnover battle 11-21, when it was 7-21 until the final two garbage time minutes.
  • For the unwavering mastery of Coach John Walsh, who is now 122-23 in six magical seasons as the man in charge, with five straight NEC titles, four in NEC Small, this one in NEC Large, plus the three state titles, plus the four NEC overall titles before Salem, the NEC Small champs, beat them out this time around.
  • For the joyful comments expressed after the game by Walsh, Coakley, Francois and Allen.
  • From Coakley: “This is a great feeling. These wins and titles don’t come without a lot of hard work,. Coach makes sure we work hard so that the games don’t seen so tough pressure-wise or stamina-wise. I got a great feeling being able to contribute this way offensively. Their defense gave me room to attack the basket so I took it.”
  • From Francois, whose overall brilliance from one end of the court to the other, even during his rare cold shooting streaks, seem to play a huge factor in every game: “They (Peabody) made it hard for us, but this was a must win for us. We never let up. We kept attacking them on defense and it paid off. We also don’t want to let each other down, so we seem to always have more energy than the other team. It’s helped, too, that we’ve stayed healthy this year, like last year. Very fortunate.”
  • From Allen, after arguably his finest defensive effort of the year, no matter who he was guarding, but especially when he was handling Estrella: “It’s exciting to win another title. You never get sick of winning games or titles. We were in a little trouble the second half, but we stuck together, we stepped up our defense especially and got results. The offense picked up too (36 points) and we finished them off.”
  • From Coach Walsh, who has attained a six-year won-lost record that may never be matched on the North Shore, Greater Boston or the state on the boys side: “I’m happy for the kids. They deserve this title. It’s another nice award for the kids, the program and Danvers High. Tahg was just immense off the bench. The defense got the job done the second half — Peabody shot the ball like a very tired group — and Rashad was just wonderful once again. He leads us all over the floor and seems to be our top player for disrupting opposing offenses.”

Now we wait for the Div. 2 North seedings by the weekend, with the Falcons expected to be awarded two home games, assuming they win the first.

For right now, though, Hail the Falcons — the NEC Large Division champions!!!!!!!!

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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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