CLARK, NJ — Just reaching this late of a point in the Union County Tournament (UCT) was a major accomplishment for resurgent Scotch Plains-Fanwood.
Only a year removed from a 4-17 season, the ten-seeded Raiders found themselves as one of the final four public schools and eight overall remaining in the UCT. However, Scotch Plains-Fanwood ran into one of the state’s best teams and their tournament hopes were diminished fairly quickly during the quarterfinals Friday night.
The second-seeded Lions of Roselle Catholic, consistently one of the best girls’ basketball programs in New Jersey, roared to a 61-28 victory over Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the round of eight at Arthur L. Johnson High School in Clark. The Raiders trailed from start to finish, and despite solid offensive production and even more opportunities, could no where near match the Lions’ firepower.
“We’ve made a ton of progress, because we were 4-17 last year and there are eight teams left in the tournament — four public schools — and we’re one of them,” Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Ryan McKenna told TAPinto.net. “That’s a great sign for this group.”
Point guard Brianna O’Brien continued her monster senior season and dropped a team high 11 points on two three-pointers, but her efforts were outweighed by Roselle Catholic’s wealth of potent scorers.
Tyara McQueen scored 10 points and gathered 10 rebounds to lead Roselle Catholic, which is now 18-4 heading into the semifinal round, where it will meet Westfield. Joining McQueen in double digit scoring was Taniya Hanner, who pumped in a game best 14 points, while Victoria Jacobs added 12 and Jenissa Encarnacion registered 10. Six of the eight Lions who checked into the game contributed at least a point.
Roselle Catholic opened up the game on a scintillating 13-0 run and never looked back. It took nearly six minutes into the opening quarter before Scotch Plains-Fanwood scored its first points of the game on an O’Brien coast to coast layup. The Raiders did then mount a 6-0 run on an O’Brien three pointer and three more points from Corinne Lyght, and actually cut Lions’ lead in half (16-8) at the end of one.
However, that would be the closest they’d come all night.
Quickly ending any more hopes of a comeback, the Raiders were held without a field goal for the first seven and a half minutes of the second quarter. By the time they finally did get a bucket, Roselle Catholic had already put the game away and mounted a 31-11 lead. The Raiders were outscored by their Union County counterparts, 43-20, over the final three quarters.
Roselle Catholic came out in a full court press and remained in one of most of the game, which the Raiders had trouble breaking. The Lions also hit 7-of-10 shots from the free throw line, compared to the Raiders’ 6-for-20 mark.
“We missed four layups and nine free throws in the first quarter and a half,” McKenna said. “We were a little nervous, a little tight, and we haven’t been in this situation before. But I give RC a lot of credit, because they took advantage of all the miscues that we had at the beginning and were able to put up a lead that was tough to come back from.”
In addition to O’Brien’s 11 points, Kaysia Minor added six and Corinne Lyght chipped in five for the Raiders. Lyght and Eboni Davis also added four rebounds.
As the state tournament is fast approaching, games such as Friday’s will prove to be invaluable for the Raiders. Despite the result, playing in front of a packed gym against one of the state’s best programs gives the Raiders experience and toughness heading into their February 27 first round matchup against Elizabeth. It will be Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s first state tournament game since 2016.
“The experience part of it, being in front of a bigger crowd that we don’t normally have with as much energy as there was [is a positive],” said McKenna. “I think that will all pay dividends come state tournament time.”
The Raiders close out the regular season this week, beginning with a Monday 12 noon matinee at home against West Morris-Mendham, and see Roselle Catholic again on Saturday, Feb. 24th. The state tournament begins the following week.