The Salem News
---- — On Basketball
LOWELL — They’ve heard all the noise, even when it’s been just a whisper.
There’s been a common misconception the last couple years regarding the Danvers High boys basketball team. As strong as the Falcons have become under John Walsh, people have believed their Achilles’ heel has been depth.
Jake Cawlina and Kieran Beck took it upon themselves — in the Division 3 North final at the Tsongas Center Saturday afternoon, no less — to cast that foolish notion down, once and for all.
Pressed into action out of need, Cawlina hit three three-pointers, including a crucial triple with 56 seconds left, and Beck provided a little bit of everything, most notably a steal with 42 seconds left to help Danvers seal its 57-52 win over Wayland.
Walsh typically plays his starting five big minutes because, bottom line, they produce. Seniors Eric Martin, Nick McKenna, Nick Bates and Danny Connors are the main reason why this senior class has been the most successful in program history.
Sophomore guard Vinny Clifford, the other starter, has shot the ball so well this season that it’s been hard for Walsh to take him off the court.
Against Wayland, however, Connors was in foul trouble from the outset (eventually fouling out in the fourth quarter) and Clifford was struggling with his shot.
Cawlina and Beck were ready and willing to fill out the Danvers lineup.
“We all want to play,” Cawlina, a senior, said. “We all want to be on the court as much as we can so we try to make the most of it and play mistake-free basketball when we’re out there.”
It would have been hard for a player to make more of his opportunity than Cawlina did Saturday.
Despite Danvers’ ability to stretch the floor with the three-point shot, Wayland primarily stuck with its customary 2-3 zone. The Falcons’ usual three-point threats struggled from downtown, hitting only 3 of 10 in the first quarter.
For the game, Danvers shot just 25 percent on threes (8 for 32) and Cawlina boosted that percentage by going 3 for 4. He hit two threes in the second quarter, including a long-range bomb from just inside the NBA three-point line, as the Falcons opened a 31-21 halftime lead.
He had fewer opportunities in the second half, but when the Falcons needed him most, he responded.
Wayland, propelled by a strong third quarter, cut into the Danvers lead and tied the game late. The Falcons, by that point, were pressing to get good shots. Martin forced a shot after a drive, McKenna grabbed the offensive board, but missed the follow. Bates rebounded that miss and kicked the ball out to Cawlina, who made the shot of the game.
“Jake clearly has no conscience shooting, so he just stepped up and hit it,” Martin joked.
Then, it was Beck’s turn to play hero.
Cawlina’s bucket gave Danvers a 55-52 advantage with 56 seconds to go, plenty of time for Wayland to find the answer. The Warriors slowly worked the ball up the court against Danvers’ 3/4 court pressure and Beck jumped in front of a pass headed to the corner.
“The ball was lobbed in the air and Jaleel (Bell) got it, but he didn’t have full possession of it,” Beck explained. “I just dove after it, got it and Eric picked it up.”
And with those two plays, the issue of Danvers lacking depth was finally buried.
“Our starters didn’t play as well as we could have and Jake and Kieran came in and even more importantly, which people probably didn’t notice, was that they defended and rebounded for us,” Martin said. “We didn’t miss a beat with them.”
Matt Jenkins is a staff writer at The Salem News. You can contact him at MJenkins@salemnews.com, 978-338-2676 and follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.