WORCESTER, Mass. -- On this Holiday of Obligation in Ireland, the whole world feels a little Irish. And from the sound of the alarm at the end of the first half until the final buzzer sounded Danvers' 59-47 win over St. Joseph Central, Nick McKenna's ancestors wielded cudgels for him fervently and fought for him.
The junior guard scored a game-high 18 points, including a three-point buzzer beater at the end of the first half to pull the Falcons within one in addition to 5 of the 7 points in Danvers' run at the end of the third quarter that put them ahead for the final time, St. Joseph Central High School unable to beat back McKenna and his army.
“I think St. Patrick was looking down on us,” said Danvers coach John Walsh. “The luck of the Irish I think was with us today.”
With 3:32 left in the third quarter, St. Joseph had seemingly quashed Danvers' attempt at recovery, having outscored Danvers 12-7 in the third and Mike McMahon (12 points, eight rebounds) just completing a three point play. But the free throw was ultimately his last score on the day.
After the Falcons only taking two trips to the free throw line in the first quarter netting one point (Eric Martin failing to complete a three point play, George Merry icing his shot), McKenna took back-to-back trips to the line and went 3-of-4, closing down the St. Joe's lead to three at 37-34.
Merry dropped a deuce followed by a McKenna score, which put Danvers up 38-37. St. Joseph attempted a shot in the last 10 seconds of the third, but a miss and a rebound by Dan Connors (15 points, 11 boards) sent the Falcons into the fourth with the lead and an intangible energy that was planted in the locker room at halftime by Walsh.
“[Taking the lead 38-37] was a huge momentum swing,” said Walsh. “We were down 37-31 and we went on that 7-0 run and then had another little run in the fourth quarter. That kind of separated the game and we were able to finish with the win.”
Starting the fourth quarter, the teams traded baskets, but Danvers had the momentum and they were able to take a five-point lead at 44-39 with just less than seven minutes to go in the game.
At 5:50, the Crusaders' junior point guard Taverick “Tank” Roberson (13 points) hit a shot, making it a 3-point game. The score would mark a drought for the Crusaders. Connors hit two free throws with 4:30 to go and McKenna hit two more at the 4:02 point, spreading Danvers’ lead to nine with a spread leg, underhand roll, off the backboard, ring-around-the rim layup that somehow found the bottom of the net, leaving the score at 50-41.
“Sometimes, it as simple as we hit some shots and they didn’t,” added Walsh. “That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
With 2:50 to go, a St. Joe's intentional foul showed the team’s desperation. Although the effort netted one point at the line, Danvers kept the ball and the game turned into a foul and Hail Mary match for the Crusaders, but Danvers’ had been ordained the Division 3 champs from a higher power with McKenna being the conduit of the blessing.
Conditioning as an Achilles’ Heel, Weapon: Late in the game, Danvers was able to put on a couple of runs. The first ended with them coming from behind to go into the fourth leading by one, the second spread the score out to 10 and put the game out of St. Joseph’s reach for good.
“Honestly, I think it was just focus,” said St. Joseph’s Mike McMahon. “I think we started getting worn down a little bit because we weren’t mentally in it, we weren’t making smart plays... plus we weren’t playing defense.”
On the back end of the fatigue end, Danvers prepared for a prolonged battle and fourth quarter conditioning is something that they rely on like a sixth man according to Dan Connors.
“We work hard in practice... all year," he said. "So come the end of games we’re in very good shape, we get our free throws and close out games.”
Danvers’ center George Merry (13 points, 7 blocks, 2 steals) led the charge down low with Connors.
The Shot: “I’m still not sure how the first one went in,” said McKenna of his shot that brought his team within one at the end of the first half. “I tried to get the ball and get a good look at the hoop. I decided to get a shot at the basket... I didn’t see the ball go in but I just heard everyone go nuts.”
“Kind of ridiculous,” is the way Walsh hestitantly described the basket. “But someone put that in for us.”
Coming Back: Last year, Nick McKenna had an injury that kept him out for the whole season, so this year, he has had incremental growth as a player which pleases coach Walsh, but McKenna’s easy going demeanor, smile and good feel he brings to the team is the most value part of his game according to Walsh.
“He’s a great kid too; better kid than he is a player. “He didn’t play last year so he starting to peak just now.”
Coming back with three out of their five starters, and if all goes well McKenna joining that starting line up, the future for Danvers looks like they’ve got lots of luck in store for next season.