WORCESTER — There’s no denying the level of talent that the Danvers basketball team has produced the past two seasons. From winning its first state title a year ago to becoming the first basketball team in The Salem News coverage area to win back-to-back championships, the Falcons are most definitely on top of the world.
Just a few years ago, the though of Danvers boys basketball winning a state championship would have been unheard of. Now, they have two.
“I love it here at Danvers,” said head coach John Walsh. “Everybody knows that in the beginning it was a little rocky, (but) after that it’s been wonderful.
“I’d be lying if I said I came in with this plan to win two state titles; that wasn’t it. These kids have played enough basketball in their careers for me to believe that there was a chance for us this year. We have a great bunch a kids and they’ve done everything we’ve asked of them through summer and fall leagues. I’m really happy for them because it’s a bond they’ll have for the rest of their lives.”
With Saturday’s win, Danvers (24-2) set a new school record for most wins in a single tournament season with six, topping last year’s total of five.
Since Walsh took over in 2010, the program has exceeded all expectations. Danvers hadn’t won more than one tournament game in a single season before Walsh arrived, but his philosophy and style changed all of that. In his tenure, the Falcons are 13-1 in the postseason.
“Coach Walsh is a phenomenal coach and he came in expecting to win. He didn’t want excuses,” said senior captain Dan Connors. “I think we really listened to that and heard what he said, especially the group of seniors. We were able to come up with some big wins to repeat.
“After last year, we knew we’d have kids back and could possibly contend, and then we started winning some conference games and thought we could have something here again.”
The Falcons will leave Division 3 as the reigning champs. Next year, they’ll move up to Division 2 to square off with the Brightons and North Andovers of the world.
Not known for his free throw shooting, senior captain Eric Martin went an impressive 6-for-8 from the line in the fourth quarter. He’s someone with a knack for coming through in clutch situations.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever coach a kid like Eric Martin again,” noted Walsh. “Basketball-wise he’s so tough — and he just doesn’t lose. It’s as simple as that.”
The fairy tale would not be complete without an impressive fourth quarter showing. Along with Martin’s six points from the line, the Falcons put up 25 points in the final stanza to pull away for the victory.
By the end of third, Smith Academy was only down by seven points. But Vinny Clifford’s eight-point performance in the fourth quarter really helped Danvers put the icing on the cake.
Danvers held Smith Academy’s three-point specialist Matt Sulda to just one three-pointer in the game, coming in the second quarter. Nick McKenna played him man-to-man nearly the entire contest and really limited his scoring opportunities.
“We knew that if we let them get shots off they could be extremely dangerous,” added Walsh. “(Sulda) hit one in front of our bench on an inbounds play and that was out of a 1-3-1 defense, so I was pretty happy with the way Nick was able to defend him that whole time.”