Sports

Highlanders Push Unbeaten Scotch Plains-Fanwood to Brink Before Falling 59-52

Gov. Livingston fourth quarter surge wasn't enough in Tuesday's 59-52 loss to undefeated Scotch Plains-Fanwood. Credits: Kaitlyn Escott
Credits: Kaitlyn Escott
Credits: Kaitlyn Escott
Credits: Kaitlyn Escott
Credits: Kaitlyn Escott
Credits: Kaitlyn Escott

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Gov. Livingston boy's basketball team fought back from a 14 point 4th quarter deficit, before their fierce rally fell short as they dropped a 59-52 decision to unbeaten Scotch Plains-Fanwood (8-0) last night in Berkeley Heights.

The Highlanders went on a late 22-7 run to take a one point lead with 1:49 left in the game, but could not hold on as the Raiders defense did not allow Gov. Livingston to score again. Sophomore Ryan Davey led the Highlander comeback scoring 9 of his career high 22 points in the 4th quarter as the home team hit six three balls in the last quarter.

The Raiders were paced by Tommy Drubulis (12 pts) and Teddy Willmott (11 pts) who accounted for six of the seven 3-pointers Scotch Plains-Fanwood hit in the game. The Highlanders who were coming off a two game win streak fall to 3-5 on the season and, are now 0-3 in UCC-Valley division play. The Raiders are perfect through their first 8 games of the season and remain in first place in the UCC-Valley division.

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The game got off to a sluggish start as both teams had a difficult time finding their range. The Raiders jumped out to a 5-0 lead before Kevin Keegan (5 pts) scored Gov. Livingston's first hoop mid-way through the first quarter. The two teams offensive woes continued for the remainder of the quarter with both teams struggling to find a rhythm. Billy Pencek (12 pts) did manage to bring the home team crowd back into the game as he stole a pass and scored on a floater as time expired ending the first quarter with GL trailing 8-5.

The deliberate pace of the Raider offense coupled with an effective Highlander zone defense kept the game close early in the quarter before both teams went on mini runs. After Liam Wolfe (5 pts) scored down low to bring the Highlanders to within one, the Raiders scored the game's next five points. The Highlanders countered with an Evan Reiner drive and Davey’s first of his six threes of the game bringing GL back to within a point once again. However, the Raiders took advantage of the Highlanders' sloppy ball handling and opened up a 10 point lead prompting Highlander Coach Loeffler to call a timeout to get his team settled down. Coming out of the timeout the Highlanders broke the Raider press with Chas DeAngelis feeding Wolfe down low for a bucket. Wolfe converted an and one to bring GL back to within seven. The Raiders got a lift from Peter Warren who scored 8 second quarter points including a buzzer beater to put Scotch Plains-Fanwood back up by 10 as the half ended.

Three minutes into the second half Gov. Livingston had cut the Raider lead in half and it looked like they had worked their way back in the game. Yet once again, the Highlanders allowed the Raiders to bump their lead back to double digits by not protecting the ball. Davey kept Gov. Livingston in the game as he started to heat up, scoring 9 of the Highlanders 15 third quarter points. Scotch Plains-Fanwood countered with 16 points in the quarter as the Raiders expanded their lead to 14 on a Teddy Willmott three. With two seconds left on the clock, Davey gave the Highlanders some life as he nailed another three. That shot, as it turned out, set the stage for the Highlanders' dramatic fourth quarter run.

Gov. Livingston could have easily folded up as they trailed by 13 a minute into the last quarter, but Davey along with senior Billy Pencek had something else in mind. Over the next 5 minutes of the game, the Highlanders whipped the home town fans into frenzy as they hit six three pointers erasing the 14 point deficit. First Davey lit up the scoreboard hitting back to back threes to bring the Highlanders to within three.  The Raiders managed to stem the tide a bit with Tommy Drubulis scoring five points, but Governor Livingston seniors Pencek and Keegan both hit huge shots to keep the Highlander run going. The animated home town favorite Keegan connected on a three pointer from the corner bringing the Governor Livingston student section to their feet. Pencek who scored 8 of his 12 points in the run then scored on a drive and then stunned the Raiders when he connected on the Highlanders 9th three of the game giving the Highlanders their first lead of the game at 52-51.

However, the Raiders ended the Highlanders comeback bid as they forced the Highlanders to turnover the ball on consecutive possessions after they had taken back the lead on a baseline jumper with 1:07 left in the contest. The Raiders then closed out the game by knocking down six consecutive free throws as the Highlanders were forced to foul. For the game, Scotch Plains-Fanwood outshot the home team 16-7 from the line. While Governor Livingston held a 9-7 advantage from behind the arch.

"We gave everything we had and out played them in the second half. We handled their pressure, and forced them to turn it over," said Gov. Livingston head coach Chris Loeffler. "The problem was that we spotted them 10 points in the first half because of offensive rebounds and missed layups. (8-22 for the game from under the basket). That's a big deficit to overcome against any team, nonetheless an undefeated team. But we played hard and will continue to learn and grow from these close, competitive games."

Last night's game was the  latest in a season of late defeats for Governor Livingston, which with a little luck could be an above .500 team. But it comes down to fourth-quarter execution, as the 8-0 Raiders showed in the final minute of Tuesday night's game. The Highlanders have played three UCC games (Rahway, Johnson, Scotch Plains) that have come down to final minute, but fell in all three.  Despite the tough losses, second year Coach Loeffler certainly has his program heading in the right direction  Gov. Livingston will look to get a conference win when they travel to Summit on Thursday night to take on the Hilltoppers.

As for Scotch Plains-Fanwood, they have won more games this year (8) than they did the past two season combined. Raider second year coach Steve Siracusa has engineered a quick turnaround as he has his young team keeps gaining confidence as they grind out victories. The Raiders will be looking to make it 9 in a row when they face Cranford on Thursday afternoon in Cranford.

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