Melrose nearly upset state champ Danvers in 49-40 loss

Published in the March 11, 2016 edition

JULIAN NYLAND'S 15 points weren't enough for the Melrose Red Raider hoop team who fell to 4th seeded Danvers in the opening round of the Div. 2 North playoffs on March 2. (Donna Larsson photo)

JULIAN NYLAND’S 15 points weren’t enough for the Melrose Red Raider hoop team who fell to 4th seeded Danvers in the opening round of the Div. 2 North playoffs on March 2. (Donna Larsson photo)

MELROSE — The Melrose Red Raider hoop team’s playoff journey ended on March 2 in the opening round of the Div. 2 North tournament against current state champ Danvers, in a 49-40 loss at Danvers High School.

Melrose entered the game 13th seeded but certainly didn’t play that way. They dominated the 4th seeded Falcons (17-4) in the opening minutes of the game, taking a lead of 12-4, much to the dismay of the home Falcon crowd. After all, Danvers was playing in their 4th straight North sectional, defending their state title and was riding a 30 game home winning streak. But it was a horrendous first quarter for the Falcons, who earned just one basket in 13 attempts, including three straight missed treys. Melrose capitalized, with senior captain Julian Nyland (15 pts) tallying 10 points in the first and baskets from Melrose’s Sean Prendergast (8 pts). By halftime Melrose held a healthy (but not insurmountable) lead of 24-18.

Danvers turned the game around in the second half with a stunning run by Devonn Allen (18 points) who launched four straight 3-pointers, which flipped the game in the Falcons’ favor. His teammate Rashad Francois also added treys, hitting two in a row which gave Danvers its first lead of 27-26 with 5:00 left in the third.

Melrose responded in kind thanks to team stalwart Julian Nyland, who hit back-to-back baskets and a well timed layup by Raider Sean Donovan (off an impressive fed by TMahri Mercer) made it a 39-38 Danvers game. A basket by Melrose’s Avery Davis (6 pts) kept the game tight at 41-40 with 3:00 to go in the fourth. With 1:18 to go in the game Melrose remained down just two at 42-40. However, a trip to the foul line proved costly for Melrose as Allen made 2 free throws and Danvers’ Tre Crittendon forced a Melrose turnover that resulted in a Falcon basket, which helped give Danvers the win, 46-40.

After the game, Melrose coach Mike Kasprzak noted the Raiders’ third quarter challenges. “Toward the end of the game we played with a lot of intensity, maybe too much, which contributed to turnovers and lack of concentration and we took some bunny shots. There was  a questionable foul called against [T’Mhari] but we had our opportunities. Overall, I’m definitely proud of them. To hold a Danvers team averaging 70 points to high 40s says something.”

Of his seniors, James Liles and captain Julian Nyland, the coach credits their work and contribution over the season. “James had a great senior year. He kept things light for us and became a very great teammate. And this is Julian’s fourth tournament appearance for us. I can’t say enough. He is a true role model, a three sport athlete coming off football season. We will miss him. Both these guys have really bright futures ahead of them.”

Worth noting is a number of starters who return next season, including two of their top scorers, T’Mahri Mercer and Avery Davis. There is plenty of talent to go around with big guy Sean Prendergast (center) and playmakers Sean Donovan, Devondre Williams and Malik Monteiro also returning. Kasprzak also points out the contributions of newer players such as Dylan Veinot, Joe Stanton and Anthony Coluzzo who all had “great seasons and really came through for us.”

With a little polish and senior experience, this could be a Melrose team with a successful playoff run ahead of them in 2017. As the coach notes, “We’re optimistic. I told the team they need to really focus and work hard in the off season. The league is going to be just as tough next year;  lot of teams will have returning talent. We’re keeping an eye on the competition.”