They came from opposite sides of the basketball tracks.
When you consider all of the championship-caliber teams on the North Shore in the last 60 years, perhaps the unlikeliest pairing for a fantasy matchup would pit Bishop Fenwick against Danvers High.
On the one hand, you have the Bishop Fenwick Crusaders, who were 32 minutes away from winning a Division 3 state title under coach John Jaworski in 1975 when they lost to Notre Dame of Fitchburg. Fenwick has generally been a respectable and often outstanding program ever since, with marquee players such as Casey Arena (Maine), Sean Connolly (Providence, Ohio State) and Mike Clifford (Buffalo) getting snapped up by Division 1 college programs.
Connolly was the best of the bunch, finishing as one of the state’s all-time top scorers with 2,473 points. The Mike O’Brien-coached Crusader teams he played for from 1995-98 went 82-10, including seven postseasons wins. They were a legitimate contender to capture a Division 3 state championship during those four seasons.
Danvers, on the other hand, was never in such a prime position — for several decades. Its most severe drought extended from 1974 to 1992, when it didn’t win a single postseason game.
There was no hint of a turnaround for the next 19 years either, but then Danvers hired Watertown assistant John Walsh as head coach beginning with the 2010-11 season. Though barely 30 years old, Walsh was dynamic, knowledgeable and extremely well-organized. He also had the right mix of athletes, soccer players and basketball players who could get along and play with a purpose.
Walsh set the bar high, both for himself and the team, and the Falcons delivered more than even the most cockeyed optimists could imagine, winning consecutive Division 3 state championships in 2012 and 2013. Except for Lynn Classical in the mid-1990s, no North Shore team had ever accomplished that feat.