By Matt Jenkins
---- — The numbers are staggering.
Over the last three seasons, the Danvers boys basketball program has produced a 57-16 record, including an absurd 12-1 postseason mark. The Falcons have won games by an average of 24.7 points, and tomorrow they’ll have a chance to make it two straight Division 3 state championships when they play Smith Academy of Hatfield at the DCU Center in Worcester.
It’s not a coincidence that the Falcons had a major turnaround when John Walsh was hired as head coach three years ago. Danvers had failed to even qualify for the tournament in the previous five seasons and the program wasn’t known as a threat in the Northeastern Conference, let alone on a statewide level.
Still, Walsh spins the credit in another direction.
“It’s such a tribute to the senior class,” Walsh said. “They’ve improved so much in such a short time. They deserve so much credit for working so hard; they’ve done everything we asked them to do.”
Walsh isn’t just talking about his four senior starters.
Eric Martin and Nick Bates have been starting since their sophomore year at Danvers High, and Danny Connors was a part-time varsity player in Walsh’s first season. Nick McKenna transferred to Danvers from St. John’s Prep for his junior year, and since then that quartet has helped the Falcons go 44-6.
The stats and production may tell a different story, but Walsh and those seniors know the strength of the senior class goes deeper.
Jake Cawlina, Duncan d’Hemecourt, Justin Woodbury and Evan Eldridge have each had varying degrees of playing time and in-game success this season. Regardless of how much time or how many points they have scored, each senior has played a major role in raising the bar for the Danvers basketball program.
“It’s incredible what they’ve done. Duncan was the Defensive co-MVP of the Year in Northeastern Conference football; you don’t get many kids like him. It would be so easy for him to walk away because he doesn’t play as much (in basketball) as he would probably like,” Walsh said. “He’s one of the most-liked kids on the team, a phenomenal athlete and great student. He shows up every day. Without kids like him, we don’t get to where we are.”
The group of senior reserves aren’t disruptive; rather, their contributions in practice have helped the Falcons become better.
“Our practices are very demanding and the fact they stick through it and give 100 percent says something for their character,” Walsh said. “They show up every day, don’t have attitude problems, and they help us get better. They’re fantastic.”
Danvers’ effort and focus in practice has paid off late in games, especially the last two against Wayland in the North final and Martha’s Vineyard in the state semifinal.
The Falcons weren’t able to run away from either squad and have needed big plays down the stretch to win both games. In each instance, players have come off the bench to make things happen, whether it’s Cawlina or junior forward Kieran Beck.
“Someone steps up, a different person every game,” Connors said. “Cawlina did against Wayland, Nick McKenna made two huge free throws (against Martha’s Vineyard), Eric made a big shot at the foul line and Bates came up with some big rebounds. It’s just been a complete team effort.”
It’s been a team effort ever since Walsh walked through the door at Danvers High. Now, only one step remains for the team to reach its goal.
“It’s awesome,” McKenna said. “It’s what we’ve been working for all year, all fall, all summer. We’ve all been working for this, and it’s exactly what we were looking for.”