WESTFIELD — Against one of Union County’s most consistently dominant girls’ basketball programs, Scotch Plains-Fanwood had to play a nearly flawless game for a chance at an upset Saturday night.
Though the Raiders were competitive and mounted a convincing rally against a very powerful Westfield team that beat them by 31 points last season, a shoddy first half, turnovers when facing the full court trap defense, and missed layups ultimately cost SPF a victory that could’ve been attainable.
Despite outscoring their neighboring rivals, 16-8, in the fourth quarter and pulling within eight points during the final frame, the Raiders couldn’t overcome Westfield’s once 17 point advantage and a game-best 15 points from the Blue Devils' Molly Ryan. Westfield went on to claim a 43-33 victory.
Brianna O’Brien led the Raiders with a team-high 12 points, while Nya Downing added eight points and nine rebounds and Abbe-Gayle Burton also scored eight points with seven boards.
“We’ve matched up with everyone in our county and we’ve won most of the games we’ve played in our county,” said Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Ryan McKenna. “Westfield is one of the top teams, and I think we hung right with them. That gives our team a lot of confidence. We played at their gym, which is always a tough thing to do. I hope we can see them again in the counties.”
After being held to just 10 total points during the first half while falling behind, 22-10, Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s deficit grew to 17 points by the end of the third quarter. With Westfield seemingly in complete control, the Raiders put together a rally and made things a lot more suspenseful during the final eight minutes.The Raiders changed the game’s complexion and opened up the fourth quarter on an 11-2 run, pulling within three possessions of Westfield at multiple stages throughout the quarter.
Leading the ’ late charge was Burton, who scored six of her eight points during the fourth quarter and also took a key charge on Westfield’s Grace Elliott with four minutes, 33 seconds remaining after the Raiders opened up the frame with eight unanswered points. O’Brien would hit a huge three-pointer about a minute later, which cut Westfield’s lead to 36-28.
However, Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s fourth quarter comeback was outweighed by Westfield’s complete dominance during the first 24 minutes. Using a devastating full court trap defense, the Blue Devils caused numerous turnovers and converted them into open layups. On the occasions that they did manage to cross half-court, the Raiders were limited to just five field goals during the first half and scored just once during a nearly seven-minute span of the third quarter.
Molly Ryan was at the forefront of the Blue Devils’ hot start, as the senior banked all of her six total shots, including a three-pointer, during the first three quarters.
“I think we came out really tight, and that showed when we only scored 10 points in the first half,” McKenna said. “[W]e started to do things that we don’t normally do and they [Westfield] took us out of our game a little bit.”
“We showed a lot of resiliency in the second half, came back and made it a game, and it was a fun fourth quarter,” the coach added.
Westfield’s defensive style in the half court set took away some of Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s strong interior game. As a result, the Raiders resorted to taking more three-point shots than they are accustomed to, but Brianna O’Brien adapted to the new game plan pretty easily. The senior point guard drained a bucket from downtown once during the second, third, and fourth quarters.
The Raiders never held a lead during Saturday’s contest and only got even with Westfield once, which came when a Nya Downing two-point field goal tied the game up at four just 75 seconds into the game.
Looking to get back on the winning track, the Raiders hit the road and travel to Rahway for their next game on Thursday.