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March 8, 2014

Shades of 1964 seen in this year's Danvers hoop squad

(Continued)

Forwards Jeff Ryback and Steve Lenz, center John Keane and guards Bonner and Cunningham formed the starting five. Pat O’Shea was the sixth man and rounded out what was for the most part a six-man rotation (like Walsh’s design this season), though Mike Sauchuk and Bob Maher provided reliable spot fill-in duty off the bench.

In the preseason, Danvers loomed as a middle-of-the-pack team in what was then an eight-team league comprised of Swampscott, Marblehead, Amesbury, Winthrop, Newburyport, Andover, Woburn and Danvers. Marblehead was the heavy favorite that winter, but Danvers stunned the Magicians twice in what proved to be the difference between first and second place and Danvers’ first NEC title in 11 years.

McGrath would follow with additional titles in 1970 and 1975 in what could be described as a golden era in Danvers High basketball. Of course, what Walsh’s teams have accomplished the last three years has created a golden era the likes of which no North Shore program, let alone no Danvers program, has ever experienced.

“We had brains as much as we had talent on that squad,” said McGrath, who coached Danvers a few years later to its first Eastern Massachusetts Class B baseball championship. “Cunningham went to Harvard, Bonner to Bowdoin, so I couldn’t go wrong having them in charge on the floor. And with the other guys year-round basketball players, they all picked up on my new system quickly. Ryback was our purest shooter and best offensive player, but all six kids could score — and did — in double figures, and they played our 1-3-1 matchup defense quite effectively.

“There were those who wondered if Keane, a lean, tall kid, was tough enough to play in the middle, but he scored, rebounded and defended just as we hoped. Lenz complemented Ryback at both ends of the floor. Bonner and Cunningham were terrific two-way players, though Bonner’s offense was restricted somewhat after he broke his wrist during football. Shea was the ideal spark we needed coming off the bench.”

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