By Gianna Addario
---- — LOWELL — Four years ago, when John Walsh first took over as the head basketball coach at Danvers High, nobody could have predicted the amount of success the program would soon have.
The type of coach that rarely calls offensive timeouts, Walsh puts more emphasis on his team’s defense and being able to break down the opponent’s game plan. So after it took five seconds for New Mission to hit a basket during Saturday’s Division 2 North final, Walsh let his team play out the first quarter before switching up his defense from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone.
The move worked for a half. Senior captain Kieran Beck gave Danvers its first lead of the game with 1:41 left until intermission on a left-handed layup. The Falcons held New Mission to just five points in the second quarter and took a 25-23 lead into halftime.
But New Mission was adjusted defensively as well. After averaging 61 points-per-game in its first three playoff contests, the Falcons were held to just 50 by New Mission Saturday, including just seven points in the third quarter.
“We knew defensively we were OK. They scored 61 points and (some) were from foul shots at the end,” noted Walsh. “It was the offensive part that we had to try and come up with something and get to the ball better to try to score. That was the problem.”
Under Walsh, the Falcons are now 16-2 in the postseason. Danvers had only seven tournament victories in more than 50 years from 1955 until Walsh arrived in 2009.
Despite being down at the half, New Mission coach Cory McCarthy loved his team’s chances going into the locker room — and it showed when they took the court in the third.
“I thought we (had) Danvers right where we wanted them (at the half),” explained McCarthy. “We thought they were a little bit tired and we tried to step up the tempo in the second half. We were able to get (the shots) we wanted.
“Danvers makes very few mistakes. They’re very well coached. They have quality players and had a quality plan that was effective early, but the outcome favored us. Because their plan of attack happened early, we were able to figure out and make adjustments. If it happened in the fourth quarter, we would’ve been going home.”
Danvers’ eight third quarter turnovers helped New Mission establish a double-digit lead to start the fourth quarter (42-32).
McCarthy’s big adjustment was simple, but it had a major impact. New Mission starting trapping once the Danvers ballhandler crossed halfcourt. The tactic forced the Falcons to slightly speed up their tempo and while they ended up getting some good looks when it didn’t turn the ball over, it couldn’t convert enough.
Danvers’ patience was amazing in the first half and it resulted in a 12-for-19 shooting performance. All of that fell apart in the third quarter, though, when the Falcons made just 3-of-16 attempts.
“We just weren’t getting shots against their man. When they started trapping we got shots, but we didn’t convert,” Walsh said.
“I just think that we’re young and sometimes we’re used to winning, which is good, but with youth sometimes things can get away from you quickly. Sometimes kids think they can score six points on one play, rather than just relax. They start going too quick and not calling a play out and not doing what we’re supposed to do. I think maybe it gets away from you — not the actual speed, but the mental part.”
Danvers ended up shooting 41 percent (22 for 54) for the game while New Mission finished at 40 percent (19-for-48).
Beck wrapped up a stellar career with a typical do-it-all game. As usual, Beck played outstanding defense, attacked the basket and chipped in on the glass and with the ballhandling. He hopes to continue playing in college next year and feels he owes a lot of his success to his coaches and his current and former teammates at Danvers High.
“I learned a lot. Coach Walsh showed me how to play defense when I was a freshman; I was getting blown by all the time (before that),” Beck said. “I had to go head-to-head with Eric Martin my sophomore year. He’d kill me, so I’ve grown a lot.”
Danvers dedicated its 2013-14 season to beloved math teacher Colleen Ritzer, whose life was taken tragically last October.
“She always made everybody feel warm and welcomed,” noted Walsh. “I think more than the winning or the losing, we dedicated the season to her as a person. Hopefully our kids become great people just like her.”