Falcons Capture State Title, Set Program History
The Falcons were named Division Three State Champions on March 17.
WORCESTER—George Merry just kept on practicing. But he heard them.
St. Joseph’s Central fans were riding him during pre-game warmups, saying he couldn’t dunk in a game. The 6-foot-7 center just kept on practicing layups.
But late in the fourth quarter, when it was already clear that Danvers would momentarily be crowned Division III State Champions, Merry found himself on the end of a breakaway pass and slammed home a dunk. A small personal triumph amidst a larger, collective one. Predictably, the Crusaders fans didn’t have a lot to say by then.
Danvers defeated St. Joseph’s Central of Pittsfield, 59-47, to capture the Division III State title yesterday at Worcester’s DCU Center, doing so despite the Crusaders largely handling the presence of Merry down low.
“This is the greatest feeling ever,” said the Danvers center following the win. “You know, we’ve been doing this since summer league. We’ve been together, working hard and we just figured today we would put everything on the table and do what we can to win.”
The word on the street has been the same all season: As Merry goes, so go the Falcons. Yesterday, however, Danvers proved they are no one-trick pony, as junior guard Nick McKenna scored 15 of his game-high 18 points in the second half, leading the Falcons past St. Joseph’s Central.
“You try to just do what you can for the team, and at the time I had open shots and I just hit them,” said McKenna. “It’s an incredible feeling to have right now. I can’t even speak right now.”
The Crusaders were paced by 13 points from Taverick “Tank” Roberson, and 12 each from Mike McMahon and Mike Carpenter.
“We knew coming into this game that we were going to play a very good team,” said Crusaders head coach Paul Brindle. “You don’t get to the state finals, in any division, unless you’re a very good team, and well coached. So we knew that. We knew exactly what we were up against, and I thought we did a very good job.”
Apart from McKenna, Danvers High won its first ever Division III State Championship behind the efforts of Dan Connors (17 points) and Merry, who finished with 11 points and six blocks despite being the focal point of the majority of St’ Joseph’s defensive efforts for much of the contest.
“We just hit some shots; sometimes it’s as simple as that, we hit some shots and they didn’t,” said Falcons coach John Walsh. “It feels wonderful, I can’t even explain it. Words wouldn’t even do it justice. You know, all year, we thought that we had the ability to get to this point ... I’m just so proud of my guys.”
Merry, a senior team captain, blasted out of the starting blocks, collecting seven points and thee blocks in the first quarter as Danvers jumped out to a 13-9 lead. Carpenter came off the bench for Brindle’s Crusaders and answered, however, scoring seven of his own as St. Joseph’s cut the deficit to 25-24 at the half.
McMahon, a 6-foot-5 senior center, did a job on Merry in the second stanza, holding the Falcons’ big man scoreless. Junior forward Lavante Wiggins also chipped in for the Crusaders on that score.
“I thought we did an incredible job on [Merry],” said Brindle. “I thought our small guy, [Lavante] Wiggins did an incredible job on him.”
The Crusaders put Danvers back on its heels in the third, opening up a six-point lead with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter, but three free throws by McKenna cut that lead to three and sparked a 7-0 run that culminated with an enchanted 3-pointer at the buzzer that McKenna drilled from NBA range while falling backwards, ultimately landing on his back by the time the ball tickled the twine, to give the Falcons a 38-37 lead after three quarters of basketball.
“Truth be told, I didn’t even see it go in,” said McKenna of his buzzer-beating heroics. “I thought I got fouled. I hit the floor, I looked up and the ball was in the hoop and everyone was going nuts. It definitely gave me a little confidence.”
Walsh agreed that taking the lead on McKenna’s miracle shot was a huge shot in the arm for his ballclub.
“When we took the lead 38-37, even though it was only one point, it was a huge momentum swing,” said Walsh. “We were down 37-31 at one point.”
McKenna put that newfound confidence on display and would not relent during the final frame, scoring 10 of his team’s 21 points in the fourth quarter.
“At the half, coach said ‘it’s on the Nick’s to create our offense,’ because they were playing [Merry] very well and very physically,” said McKenna. “So we had to do what we could to get some pressure off of George and get back into it.”
Danvers finishes its magical season at 21-4—the first 20-win season in program history.
“This is my second year here,” said Walsh, who worked with his cousin Steve Harrington in Watertown previously and has incorporated much of that system into his approach at Danvers. “It’s a copycat league, and we just try and copy what they do, and it’s worked really well for us ... The kids put the time in, they worked hard and executed. They did what we asked them to do and here we are.”