(Worcester) No last-minute heroics needed by Danvers this time.
After coming dangerously close to exiting from the tournament in the D3 North finals (Wayland) and the state semifinals (Martha’s Vineyard), Danvers pulled ahead of Smith Academy by double figures for good early in the final quarter and won the state title, 66-50, on Saturday afternoon at the DCU Center in Worcester.
This was Danvers (24-2) second straight Division 3 title.
(Both teams are the Falcons.)
DHS was hot during the first nine minutes against the SA zone burning the visitors from Hatfield with five three’s (Nick McKenna 3, Nick Bates and Eric Martin 1 each) and getting a 22-6 spread. Was this going to be a blowout? Hardly.
You live by the three, you can also die by it. Danvers cooled off in the second quarter and Smith rattled off thirteen unanswered points. While Danvers was pointless for nearly seven minutes SA closed to 22-19 before a Nick Bates layup in the last three seconds.
That five-point halftime lead (24-19) would shrink to two (24-22) and even one (26-25) on an old-fashioned three by Seaver Rickert (13 points) just a minute into the second half.
Nick Bates (12 points) responded with an old-fashioned three of his own and Seaver Rickert scored from in close on a pass from Derek McMahon.
At this point Danvers lead was a mere two points (29-27) with 6 ½ minutes to play in the third quarter. This was when the pull away began for the Eastern Mass champs.
Danvers crafted two minutes of unanswered offense (seven points) getting a jump shot from Nick Bates, a free throw by Danny Connors (12 points), and two jump shots by Nick McKenna (20 points). Suddenly, Smith Academy was down nine (36-27).
The Western Mass champs would cut the lead to six (38-32) before Vinny Clifford (11 points) struck from the corner on an inbounds play.
This make was crucial for Danvers because cold Vinny had now become hot Vinny. The 6-2 sophomore had been through a disastrous first half missing every shot (including several air balls) and had a couple of turnovers.
But now Vinny was hot and he scored the next eleven Danvers points, including eight of them in the first two minutes of the final quarter.
While Vinny was making shots (a jump shot and two 3’s), SA was making only three-of-six free throws. The result of all this activity was a 50-37 Danvers lead with six minutes to go.
Smith rallied to within ten (58-48) as David Longstreeth connected from long range and Will Halloran put in a layup with 2:19 left.
But Danvers took the “scary” out of the rest of the game by making six straight free throws and getting a Nick McKenna layup off of a steal to notch their second straight championship.
All five of the Danvers starters ended up in double figures.
Eric Martin (11 points) was at his best in the second half when Smith moved to full-court pressure in the second half. There were very few Danvers turnovers.
Nick McKenna’s defense was a key to the win as he guarded Mat Sulda (11 points). The speedy 5-10 lefty had been averaging 19.3 points per game.
Nick Bates had a double/double getting thirteen rebounds to go along with his twelve points.
This was the first state final for Smith Academy since 1992.
Mat Sulda ended up with 1579 career points. Both his uncle and his grandfather were 1000-point scorers at Smith.
Danvers returned four starters to this year’s team but graduated was 6-7 George Merry (WPI). The 2012-13 squad had to adjust significantly. Gone were George’s interior defense and inside scoring. But credit Coach John Walsh, the team adjusted well enough to win a second title.
(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)