SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — Anthony Porter, his teammates, and head coach Nick Miceli admitted that their Scotch Plains-Fanwood team got a little complacent during the second half of Monday’s state tournament opener.
With perhaps a bit more of a relaxed mindset after jumping ahead, 6-1, at halftime, the Raiders’ lead quickly began to shrink when 10-seeded Wayne Valley made some key second half adjustments, and battled back to make it a one point game late in the fourth quarter.
But ultimately, the Raiders’ consistent and balanced offense overcame the team’s struggles with focus and crispness during the final two quarters. Through its constant scoring production and some big saves by goalie Tom Bruckman, Scotch Plains-Fanwood held on for a 9-8 victory over Wayne Valley in the opening round of the North Jersey, Group 3 state tournament at a rainy Wexler Field.
The Raiders will travel to Wayne and take on the town’s other school, second-seeded Wayne Hills, in the quarterfinals Saturday.
“We had a great first half; we kind of slowed down and got a little complacent and lazy [in the second],” Porter, who scored two goals and dished out three assists, told TAPinto.net. “We didn’t pick up the ball, we didn’t get it up and out, and between the lines we didn’t play that well.
Fortunately, in the fourth quarter, we stepped it up and found a way to get the win.”
Porter’s play in the second half, which featured a pair of momentum-altering goals and crisp facilitating of the offense through his passes, helped the Raiders hold off Wayne Valley’s ferocious rally. Jack Brady and Noah Costanzo each scored three goals, all of Brady’s coming in the first half, and Aidan Guma also found the back of the net in helping Scotch Plains-Fanwood stay ahead for the game’s entirety. Tom Bruckman came up with ten saves in goal.
Coming out of halftime, Wayne Valley struck for two goals to cut its deficit to 6-4 and the Raiders went nearly 10 minutes without scoring before Porter intercepted a pass in front of the Indians’ goal and netted a shot past goalie Nick Beninati with 2:45 left in the third quarter. Porter struck again later in the fourth quarter, after Wayne Valley once again made it a two-point game (8-6), and the junior’s second goal of the half, coming with 6:11 left to play, ended up standing as the game winner, since the Indians netted two goals late to make it 9-8.
To go along with his two goals, which chronologically sandwiched Noah Costanzo’s fourth quarter score, Porter racked up five points when combining his three assists, and leads the team in the points category (72).
“In the first quarter, I had a great move and I just couldn’t finish inside,” said Porter. “That kind of got me down a little bit, but I didn’t stop playing and those two goals were pretty big.”
While it was Porter making things happen in the second half, Jack Brady highlighted a dominant opening two quarters for Scotch Plains-Fanwood.
Brady, playing in his fourth state tournament as a Raider, netted three goals in the first half. Joined by fellow attacks Noah Costanzo, who scored twice during that timeframe, and Aidan Guma, owner of one opening half goal, the Raiders mounted a 6-1 lead at halftime.
“We were just doing well against their [Wayne Valley’s] zone,” Brady said. “Really, we sent the ball around, getting open shots, and just scoring off those open shots. That’s what really helped us take the lead.”
While Wayne Valley came out in a man defense and new life offensively to reverse the script coming out of halftime, things could’ve been a lot worse for the Raiders if it weren’t for the play of goalie Tom Bruckman. The senior net minder made 10 saves Wednesday, perhaps none bigger than the shot he stopped with under a minute left, which would’ve tied the game at nine had it eluded him.
Bruckman also had to deal with a plethora of shots during the third quarter, in which Wayne Valley scored four times and limited the Raiders to no more than three possessions.
“[Bruckman] was huge,” head coach Nick Miceli said. “He made the big save at the end, and I thought he had a great first half, too. I think we were up 6-1, and it could’ve been 6-3 or 6-4.”
“I think we got a little complacent, to be honest,” Miceli added about the Raiders’ second half. “I don’t think we had a penalty in the first half; I believe we had five or six in the second half, which killed us.”
Though the afternoon was not exactly a defensive clinic for either side, the Raiders’ defense came up with a huge stop to preserve a 9-8 lead in the game’s final seconds. Harrison Parada helped hold down the backline and was instrumental in the defensive sequence.
“We had that lead, but I wanted to keep pushing it,” Parada said. “I feel that when our team starts to get complacent, my energy on the field or Jack [Brady’s] energy on the field can change the entire outlook for our team with the way we perform.”