By Jean DePlacido
---- — DANVERS — It came as no surprise to Danvers coach Pat Veilleux that the Division 2 North first round contest with Gloucester would be a hard fought battle all the way. It was back-and-forth until the Falcons took charge in the final quarter to earn a well deserved 50-42 victory.
The Northeastern Conference rivals had split their games during the regular season with Danvers winning by seven points at home, and then dropping a one point decision in overtime on the road.
“That was a weird game I hope never to see repeated,” said Veilleux. “The score was tied after three, and neither team scored a single point in the last quarter. We knew we’d be in a fight tonight, but give Gloucester all the credit in the world because they had to win four in a row to qualify. They really gave us a battle, especially in the first half. I’m proud of the way my girls came back in the second half to pull it out.”
Veilleux said the difference in this third meeting of the season was freshman Hannah Llewellyn, who came off the bench to spark the Falcons in the second half. Llewellyn finished with a dozen points, including three big treys after intermission.
Gloucester clung to a one point lead at the half, 25-24 after Kasey Sherry hit a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to cut the deficit to a point. The Falcons were able to open things up in the second half, outscoring the visitors, 26-17 led by four bombs, three by Llewellyn and another by Sherry, who had a team high 16 points.
“Llewellyn missed the overtime game in Gloucester because she was sick,” said Veilleux. “She did a great job tonight, especially taking some of the pressure off Kasey because she was getting tired. Llewellyn is coming off a sprained ankle, but you’d never know it the way she played.”
Gloucester took a brief lead early in the third quarter after game high scorer Sophia Black (17 points) hit a jumper and was fouled. She made the old-fashioned three to put the Fishermen ahead, 28-25. Julianna Costanzo (nine points) scored to increase the lead to five points midway through the quarter before Danvers went on an 8-0 run to regain the lead and never looked back.
Llewellyn started it with a 3-pointer, and freshman Devin Walsh (six points, six rebounds, three steals) put in a rebound to tie it up. After Ashley Arnoldy made a free throw Walsh made a layup, and Llewellyn hit another 3-pointer.
“Hannah has a really nice shot, and it was huge when she made those 3’s,” said Sherry, a senior captain. “I was getting a little tired, but I knew I had to keep shooting, and they’d start falling. I was confident my teammates would pick me up.
“It’s no surprise this was a close game; it always is any time we play them. After going 5-15 last year we worked too hard to let it go in the first game. Coach made some changes that worked. Usually we sit in a two-three zone, but he mixed it up by going man-to-man which worked. I’m just sorry I won’t be able to play with Hannah next year; she’ll take over my role and do a great job.”
Llewellyn had a monster third quarter, scoring seven points, the same total the Gloucester team had in that eight minute span.
“Once I hit a couple of 3’s I felt confident,” Llewellyn said. “Kasey has helped me so much; she’s the best captain ever. The whole team has been so welcoming it’s been a fun year for me.”
Arnoldy was high rebounder for the Falcons with eight while Delaney Zecha had six points and six big steals. Veilleux calls Zecha (six points) the “silent assassin” because she can control the game even without getting a point.
Gloucester had a 6-10 record with four games left, and got hot at the right time to earn a tournament berth.
“Nobody thought we’d be here so the fact that we made it is amazing,” said Fishermen coach Brandon Lewis. “I thought we had them on the ropes, but defensively we lost our way. Offensively we had a hard time getting baskets. Defensively we did some silly things, and those 3-pointers were daggers.”
Danvers (13-8) will face Wilmington in the quarterfinals at Burlington on Sunday at 5 p.m.