LOWELL, Mass. -- Danvers played like it had been there before. Probably because it had.
When Wayland tied their Division 3 North final matchup at 52 with just over a minute to go, it did not cave to the pressure. After Wayland spend most of the game playing catch up, it felt like the entire momentum of the game had swung in its favor. But not to Danvers.
On its next offensive possession, Nick Bates got the ball and kicked it out to Jake Cawlina on the left wing. The senior let go of the dagger three-pointer that helped propel his team to a 57-52 victory.
“I didn’t know it was that big of a shot at the time, to be honest,” said Cawlina. “During the timeout after, people said nice shot.”
The win was Danvers’ (22-2) second consecutive Division 3 North title.
After Cawlina’s three, Wayland’s (19-5) Yannick Schaefer (7 points) turned the ball over in his own offensive zone. On the ensuing possession, Danvers was able to run the clock down to under 10 seconds. Nick Bates (13 points, 11 rebounds) hit a layup with seconds remaining to stretch the lead to five points.
“We knew how tough it was going to be, how good they are, how talented they are,” said Danvers coach John Walsh. “We’ve played them in the tournament the past three years, so we were in for a fight. We knew that.”
Saturday ended Wayland’s strong post-season, which saw them knock off No. 1 seed North Reading.
“We had won five games in a row, coming into this one, being down at the half, so we’re a second half team,” said Wayland coach Dennis Doherty. “Against a team like Danvers that is that skilled and talented, we need to play better than we did in the first half (was down 31-21 at halftime). Going down 10 against them and coming back is a very difficult task. We left too many possessions out there in the first half.”
Connors controls the post: Danvers is used to playing with a dominant post presence in the lineup. Last season, it was 6-foot-7 George Merry manning the paint. This season, it is senior forward Dan Connors. While he is not 6-foot-7, he is still the team’s most effective post player.
Saturday, one minute into the second half, Connors (4 points, 5 rebounds) picked up his fourth foul, forcing him to the bench. He reentered the game one minute into the fourth quarter, and promptly fouled out one minute later when he was called for an over the back fighting for a rebound.
With such a crucial part of the game remaining, Danvers needed to find some way to be active on the offensive and defensive glass. It found it in its guards, particularly Eric Martin (seven rebounds) and Nick Bates (11 rebounds).
“It effected us offensively, getting the ball inside, because he’s our best post player,” said Martin. “We couldn’t get the ball inside as much as we wanted, but Kieran Beck (4 points, 3 rebounds) stepped up and played great defense. That’s what we needed. And it’s hard to rebound without Danny there, but everybody stepped up and rebounded well.”
Marking Bell: Coming into the game, Danvers’ plan was to stop, or at the very least, slow down Wayland guard Jaleel Bell. The senior and four-year varsity player finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Not bad for a player who was drawing the attention of an entire team’s defense.
“The kid is phenomenal,” said Walsh. “It’s really tough to keep him out of the paint, he’s a phenomenal player. He’s a great high school player. We tried our best best to keep him out of the paint, but foul trouble really hurt us. We tried to mix up our defenses, but he’s still going to get his. He’s that good.”
Bell had only four points at halftime. Coming out of the break, the team ran sets that posted him up under the basket. It was a matchup advantage against Danvers’ smaller guards. He made the most of his opportunities and Wayland went on a 12-4 run, which forced Danvers to switch up its defenses.
“That was something that we tried to do in the beginning of the game,” said Doherty. “We have some offenses where Jaleel posts up. At times they defended it well, and at times he was open and we didn’t get him the ball. He’s such a versatile player, and had such a great game.”
Back to the Garden: With the win Saturday, Danvers moves on to play Martha’s Vineyard Tuesday at the TD Garden in the state semi-finals. It will be the first meeting of any kind between the two teams. The winner of that game will move on to the Division 3 state final next Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester. Danvers knows what to expect as it tries to defend its state championship.
“Every team comes out and they want to beat you obviously,” said Martin. “Every team gives us their best shot, so we just have to be ready for whatever anybody throws at us.”