Danvers senior George Merry scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds, leading the Falcons to a 68-45 victory over the Wareham Vikings in Monday’s MIAA Division 3 State Semi-Final at the TD Garden. Danvers will play the winner of Tuesday’s Whitin Christian-St. Joseph’s semi-final for the state championship Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester.
Down 30-22 at halftime, Wareham came out firing. Senior Stefan Montiero drilled a three-pointer, then Aaron Baptiste sank another on the next possession. An offensive rebound and basket from center Jeff Houde (14 points, four rebounds) tied the game 30-30 just a minute into the second half.
Junior Darien Fernandez’s bank-shot gave the Vikings their first lead since early in the first, but the 10-0 run kick-started the Falcons. Juniors Nick McKenna and Nick Bates (17 points on 7-for-11 shooting) combined for three consecutive three-pointers, putting the Vikings up 39-32.
Wareham may have used up all of its energy on that one push, because they never again matched Danvers’ speed, defensive intensity nor scoring proficiency. Danvers finished the third quarter on a 15-4 run that put the game out of reach, with McKenna scoring 10 points of his 12 points in the third.
“I didn’t even have to call a time out,” said Danvers coach John Walsh. “The seniors stepped up, showed some leadership, and got the ball to who they were supposed to get it to. We made a good run”
Though contained a bit in the second and third, the 6-foot-7 Merry reasserted his presence inside in the fourth. After assisting on Bates’ strong slash to the basket to start the quarter, Merry got himself to the free throw line. He drained both attempts, completing a night in which he missed his first two and then sank his next eight.
“I’m always the first person at the foul line, shooting until I make as many as I feel satisfied with,” Merry said.
Merry also assisted on a post-up jumper by junior forward Dan Connors, then grabbed his own offensive rebound off a miss and scored for a 64-45 lead late.
Knowing that Wareham often used full-court pressure on opposing guards, Walsh put ball-handling responsibilities primarily on Martin. The move worked, as the Vikings stole seven balls (the Falcons stole 10) but couldn’t go on more than couple of fast-breaks.
“At first we were a little shaky, but then all the big man started coming back and flashing for the ball,” Martin said. “We just started moving the ball well, and everyone was just playing hard, and it all just worked in the fourth quarter for us.”
Along with anchoring the offense with 12 assists, Martin proved to be a pesky defender, both helping out in the backcourt with Fernandez (19 points, seven rebounds) and roaming underneath the basket, positioning himself for long rebounds. He finished with five boards to go along with five points, three steals and no turnovers.
“We do drills every practice, just trying to get to the ball,” Merry said. “We take pride in getting to the ball, and we make it personal to get to every loose ball that we can.”
Danvers out-scored Wareham 21-9 in the first quarter, exploding for 13 points following an 8-8 tie. McKenna’s fast-break layup following a steal highlighted the quarter, but Merry led with eight points. He dominated play underneath the basket, using his height and reach to easily get around whoever the undersized Vikings threw at him.
“We just want to go inside all the time,” said Walsh.
The Vikings started forcing the Falcons away from the basket in the second quarter. The Falcons began settling for jump-shots and three-pointers instead of working inside, and they missed far more than they hit. The Vikings out-scored the Falcons 13-9 in the second – the Falcons’ worst quarter of the game, and the only quarter won by the Vikings.
“We just switched from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone and said, ‘all right, we’ll take our chances from outside and see what happens,’ because they were hurting us on the inside,” said Wareham coach Kevin Brogioli.
Though successful, Wareham’s second-quarter defense may have indirectly hurt the team. The extra looks Danvers’ shooters got in the second likely translated to more confidence and rhythm in the third, when three-pointers put the game away for good.
“Pick your poison,” said Brogioli. “It worked in the second quarter … but it was only temporary.”
Wareham finished its season 24-1. Danvers is now 20-4 with one game left.