By Dan Harrison
---- — LOWELL — With Danny Connors having fouled out, the Danvers High basketball team was down to its last leg against Wayland in Saturday’s North Division 3 title game after a double-digit halftime lead was reduced to nothing with just a minute left.
But the Falcons stood tall on defense, and with a little help from Jake Cawlina off the bench clinched their second straight North championship with a 57-52 win.
Danvers (22-2) will play the South titlist Martha’s Vineyard (17-5) tomorrow at the TD Garden in Boston (4:15 p.m.) in the state semifinals.
Wayland’s Harrison Leavitt converted a layup with less than two minutes left to tie the game at 52-all after Danvers had led the entire second half. With the game still tied two possessions later, Danvers senior captain Nick Bates grabbed an offensive rebound with a minute to go, but was corralled too far under the basket to get a shot off. He wheeled around in desperation and hurled a perfect pass to Cawlina, who buried his third three-pointer of the game.
“I got the rebound but I was posted underneath the basket, so I couldn’t get up a shot,” said Bates. “So I turned around and was looking for Nick (McKenna) or Vinny (Clifford), to be honest. But I saw Jake and he was there — and I knew he could hit that shot. He’s a great shooter.”
Wayland (19-5) called time out with 56 seconds left, but when it attempted to bring the ball across the halfcourt line, the Falcons threw a trap at them and Kieran Beck was able to force the ball loose. Bates then converted a layup with 14 seconds left and Beck stole the ensuing inbounds pass to seal the victory.
Turnovers were a theme in this game. While Danvers had some bad ones (particularly in the second half) the Wildcats turned it over with far greater consistency. The Falcons held a 16-4 advantage in the category.
“That’s how we play. We like to turn them over,” noted Danvers (22-2) head coach John Walsh. “We started pressing them in the second half. It really gave them problems and I didn’t really expect it to, but it was working so we stuck with it.”
It was third straight year Danvers defeated the Wildcats in the postseason, bu the first time in the North final.
This year’s Falcons, which has eight seniors, doesn’t have any one go-to guy it can overly rely on, so Saturday was a perfect example of multiple guys stepping up at different points in the game.
“Everyone plays hard. Even when the shots weren’t falling, someone stepped up,” said senior captain Eric Martin. “Everyone bought in defensively and we showed we can win different ways. It was a great team win.”
Connors was active on the glass early and hurt Wayland down low, but he picked up three fouls in the first quarter and played sparingly until fouling out early in the fourth quarter. Clifford was never able to get his shot going, and McKenna (10 first half points) couldn’t get his shot to fall much in the final two quarters. But Cawlina came off the bench and hit three big trifectas while Beck played phenomenal defense to help keep Danvers afloat.
And then there was Bates. With Connors on the bench Bates had to elevate his game, especially on the glass. He finished with 13 points, was credited with 13 rebounds, had a huge block in the second half and led the team in scoring in the third and fourth quarters.
“I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to win a game more than that one right there,” said Bates, who had a firm grip on the Division 3 North trophy after the game. “I really just wanted to be a senior and help my team out as much as possible and get every board. Especially with Danny out, I just felt like I had to do it.”
Wayland played zone for almost the entire game. Early on, Danvers remained on the perimeter and hoisted three-pointers. Some fell; some didn’t. But the Falcons were able to hold Wildcat stud Jaleel Bell to just four first half points and with some fine shooting by McKenna (14 points) took a 31-21 lead into the break.
Bell, who torched the Falcons for 36 points last year in the semifinals and was fresh off a 34-point performance in Wayland’s win over North Reading. Things weren’t so easy Saturday as the senior guard managed just 17 points. Martin was the primary defender on Bell, but since Danvers plays so much zone every Falcon on the court guarded him at one point or another.
“We had won five games in a row being down at the half,” noted Wayland head coach Dennis Doherty. “Against a team like Danvers that’s that skilled and talented, we needed to play better first half. We left too many points out there in the first half.”
agateHed:Danvers 57, Wayland 52
agate_boldCentered:Division 2 North final
at Tsongas Center, Lowell
agate_lineQuarters:Wayland: Bell 8-0-17, Leavitt 3-3-9, Schaefer 3-1-7, Bonner 3-0-6, Karpacz 3-0-6, Williams 2-0-5, Garcia 1-0-2. Totals 23-4-52.
agate_lineQuarters:Danvers: McKenna 6-0-14, Bates 5-2-13, Cawlina 3-0-9, Martin 3-1-7, Clifford 2-0-6, Connors 2-0-4, Beck 2-0-4 Totals 23-3-57.
agate_lineQuarters:Halftime: Danvers, 31-21.
agate_lineQuarters:3-pointers: W, Bell, Williams; D, Cawlina 3, McKenna 2, Clifford 2, Bates..
agate_lineQuarters:Records: D, 22-2; W, 19-5.