MassLive.com online sports producer Jay King and I break down each of the three MIAA boys basketball State Championships taking place Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester. I'll be providing Eastern Mass. perspective, while Jay handles Western Mass.
DIVISION 3: DANVERS VS. SMITH ACADEMY
The Falcons were our preseason pick to repeat as Division 3 state champs, and outside of a forgettable showing at the Comcast Tournament in late February (against Division 1 competition, mind you), they have done nothing to dissuade from that. Danvers head coach John Walsh is a cousin of Watertown coach Steve Harrington, winner of D3 state titles in 2007 and 2009, and has brought elements of Harrington’s four-out motion offense to Danvers for dramatic results.
Overall, Danvers is one of the most well-conditioned squads in Eastern Mass., able to win track meets when the game calls for it. Part of that is due to several players’ success on the soccer pitch during the fall season. The bench is considered deep for the long haul, but in the short term the Falcons typically keep it to a seven-man rotation. And those seven can all shoot from deep.
-- Brendan Hall
Eric Martin, 6-0 Sr. G – One of several soccer standouts on the squad, the Northeastern Conference MVP is one of the region’s better distributors.
Nick Bates, 6-4 Sr. G – Another soccer star, and another terrific shooter from long range.
Nick McKenna, 6-0 Sr. G - Missed a month of action during the regular season with mononucleosis, but has come on strong in the playoffs, including Tuesday night’s win over Martha’s Vineyard.
Dan Connors, 6-3 Sr. F – The weak-side pivot in Walsh’s four-out offense, he’s not as big as 2012 All-State center George Merry, but has certainly held his own with the best of them.
Vinny Clifford, 6-2 Soph. F – Sharpshooter is the younger brother of current Merrimack College forward Mike Clifford.
Road through the playoffs
North First Round: beat Greater Lawrence, 78-41
North Quarterfinal: beat Minuteman, 81-42
North Semifinal: beat Whittier, 69-51
North Final: beat Wayland, 57-52
Eastern Mass. Final: beat Martha’s Vineyard, 50-47
School: Smith Academy
At halftime of the Western Mass. final against St. Joe’s, I joked with a Smith Academy assistant coach that I could use one of the team’s patented scoring runs to liven my day. He looked at me and said, “And it might come from anywhere.”
Anywhere? Well, it’ll probably come from one of the top five scorers. Smith Academy’s top five scorers account for 86.5 percent of the team’s points, with 64.4 percent of that coming from the top three scorers. Smith Academy’s sixth-best scorer averaged just four points per game.
But that’s okay, because the Falcons’ heart of the order can hit for both power and average, and the supporting cast features role players willing to get their hands dirty. The mixture forms a potent offensive team that can score in a hurry. During the first half of an opening-round playoff game against Ware, Smith Academy drilled an obscene 12 three-pointers.
After surviving a St. Joe’s attempt at the buzzer of the Western Mass. final and rolling Littleton by 16 points in the state semifinals, Smith Academy has reached the school’s first state championship game in 21 years. The Falcons are now 22-3, with those losses coming by a combined five points.
-- Jay King
Mat Sulda, Sr. G (19.3 points per game) – Sulda doesn’t have much of a conscience, and there isn’t really any reason for him to have one. The lefty, who has 76 made 3-pointers this season, can hit tough shots from almost anywhere on the court.
Keith Natale, Jr. F (14.3 points) – Natale’s a smooth wing who can hurt opponents in a lot of ways. His off-the-dribble, spinning jump shot from just inside the free throw line provided the final margin in Smith’s 3-point Western Mass. championship game win.
Derek McMahon, Jr. G (10.4 points) – A couple of his teammates score better, but McMahon’s court presence and cerebral play are quite important ingredients.
Road through the playoffs
West Round 1: beat Ware, 85-39
West Round 2: beat New Leadership, 67-46
West Semifinals: beat Renaissance, 57-45
West Final: beat St. Joe’s, 66-63
State Semifinals: beat Littleton, 72-56