By Matt Jenkins
---- — The Danvers High boys basketball team has won its first two tournament games by an average of 39 points this postseason.
Falcons’ coach John Walsh expects a very different outcome when his team battles Whittier Tech tonight in a Division 3 North semifinal at Triton Regional (7 p.m.).
It’s not that Walsh doesn’t believe Danvers (20-2) can win, but at this point the blowout victories should be a thing of the past.
Whittier, the No. 3 seed, enters with a 20-2 record and a starting five that Walsh finds really impressive.
The Wildcats feature an extremely dangerous duo in senior point guard Ryan Grant and senior forward Justin Reyes. Grant and Reyes were named co-MVPs for the Commonwealth Athletic Conference Large division this winter.
“You just gotta know where they are at all times. Reyes is one of the better players I’ve seen. You have to limit his touches and even that’s not easy,” Walsh said. “Grant is as good as they come at point guard. They’ve all been together since freshman year and their coach (Tom Sipsey) is a really good coach. You’ll know they’ll be prepared.”
The Reyes-Grant duo combined for 43 of Whittier’s 55 points in its quarterfinal win over Newburyport last week.
Grant is the point guard that makes the Wildcats go, and Reyes is an extremely athletic player who can go inside or out.
“They’re awesome,” Walsh said. “It’s going to be a really, really tough game. I think their starting five is as good as anybody’s in the whole state.”
Grant and Reyes are joined in the starting lineup by fellow CAC all-stars Nate Frangilo and Andrew Wells. Jaylin Deveau also starts for the Wildcats, who lack a little in depth.
Whittier only played its starting five against Newburyport.
The two teams actually have a few common opponents this season. Danvers’ first two tournament games were against Greater Lawrence and Minuteman, both CAC teams, and Whittier defeated St. Mary’s of Lynn twice. The Falcons played, and beat, St. Mary’s in their only meeting this year.
Everything will come down to defense for Danvers.
The Falcons are at their best when their tough, physical defense leads to offense.
“We’ve been working a lot on defense and rebounding the last couple practices because that’s how we lost to Newton North and Brighton,” Danvers senior guard Nick McKenna said. “We know we need to come out defensively and rebound, just take care of those things. Offensively, we’ll worry about that second, but we gotta take care of it on the defensive end.”
McKenna and sophomore Vinny Clifford have had the hot hand for the Falcons through the first two tournament games. McKenna has led the way with a combined 45 points while Clifford has produced 43 in two games.
“I think they’re a good team and we just gotta continue to rebound, play defense and look to run like we did (in the second half against Minuteman),” said Clifford, who hit seven threes in the Falcons’ win over Minuteman.
The health of senior point guard and Northeastern Conference Small MVP Eric Martin has been improving after suffering a groin/hip injury against Brighton in the Comcast Tournament at the end of the regular season.
Nick Bates and Danny Connors will play a crucial role in controlling the boards for Danvers, while reserves Kieran Beck and Jake Cawlina add to the team’s depth.
Whittier’s strength may concern Walsh, but he knows the Falcons have done everything they can.
“I know we’re prepared,” Walsh said. “How we handle that and how we execute remains to be seen.”