Danvers High guards Jon Amico and Eric Martin aren't your typical basketball players.
By most hardcourt standards, the two Falcon guards shouldn't have their team thriving — let alone still surviving — against the tougher teams in the state. But on the day of the Division 3 state final against St. Joseph's of Pittsfield (DCU Center in Worcester, 12:30 p.m.), Danvers is still playing basketball.
With Amico and Martin in the Falcons' starting lineup, the Blue-and-White are competing at a whole different level.
"It speaks to their competitiveness, to be able to get stuff done without having maybe the entire skill set, but working on it and getting there," said Danvers head coach John Walsh.
Danvers' duo may not be typical hoopsters, but as far as high school athletes go Amico and Martin are the toughest of customers.
Both boys dawned Danvers blue for boys soccer coach Mike Chase this past fall and helped carry the Falcons to the Division 2 North semifinals. Both are standouts on the pitch, but as defenders on the basketball court they're second to none.
"They both can run forever. They can run for days. You never have to worry about them getting tired," explained Walsh. "They compliment each other so well; in practice they go against each other and they don't want to give each other an inch. I'm sure it's the same way on the soccer field."
Walsh is so high on his backcourt that he made Amico, a senior, and Martin, a junior, captains along with senior center George Merry.
Anybody wondering how much of an impact two soccer players can bring to a basketball team hasn't been watching the Falcons soar through the state tournament.
Whether its holding Pentucket 1,000-point scorer Corey McNamara to a pair of field goals, breaking a fierce fullcourt press from Wareham or banking in a huge trifecta during the improbable North semifinal comeback over Wayland, Amico and Martin seem to make plays no matter the size of the stage.
When Danvers played Beverly toward the end of the regular season the Panthers double-teamed Merry, leaving Amico wide-open on purpose. Amico responded with 16 first-half points and the Falcons won handily.
With the stakes raised in the tournament, Walsh has played Amico sparingly at times on offense because of the hot hand of Nick McKenna and the length of Nick Bates. But Amico is still defending and still making an impact.
"He's always going. He doesn't give you an inch," said Walsh. "He'll look for any advantage he can get. If you make a mistake, he's right there to pounce on it."
In the second half against Wareham in the state semifinals and with South champion inbounding the ball on the Danvers baseline, Walsh opted to spell Bates (who was in foul trouble) for Amico. The offense/defense substitution otherwise would have gone unnoticed, but the senior captain made his coach look prophetic when he stole the Crusaders' ensuing inbounds pass and took it the length of the court for a layup.
"I know for me to stay on the court I've got to be playing tough defense, so I'm always looking for where the ball is going and how I can help on the defensive end," said Amico, who talked of playing with his soccer counterpart.
"We have that edge in soccer, too. We do our job and do whatever it takes; we don't like to lose. It's good always having Eric get my back."
'Hard-nosed as they come'
Amico's top sport has always been soccer, but he's played basketball competitively since fourth grade. Martin, however, didn't start up until the eighth grade — something that's made his emergence as the Falcons' primary ballhandler that much more impressive.
"Eric's leadership has been incredible, having him on the court is such a calming feeling for us," noted Walsh. "He never gives in, he never stops. He's as hard-nosed as they come."
Martin has had a handful of big moments this postseason, including 19 first-half points in the Falcons' North quarterfinal win over Pentucket and 10 points against Saugus in the North final.
But Monday's game against Wareham might have been the most indicative of what Martin does best for his team. The junior captain only had five points, but his floor game was sparkling: 12 assists to go with seven boards and five big steals. Most importantly, Martin was able to break the full-court press without forcing the Falcons' offense and getting duped into the fast pace the Crusaders hoped would help them climb back in the game.
Nearly every time Martin got the ball over halfcourt, Martin pulled the ball out and allowed Danvers to get into its offensive sets.
"I have great teammates. On offense, it's easy to let them get the ball and do the scoring," said Martin."There's been a couple games I've scored a lot, but it's usually in transition or going to hoop."
Defensively, Martin's approach focuses on the unrelenting drive that's come to define his athletic abilities. "It's just using your quickness and your speed," said Martin. "And making it personal, to never let anybody score."