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 (GL) boys 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 Raiders remain perfect through their first eight games of the season and hold first place in the UCC-Valley division.

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. GL 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 their opponents to score again. Sophomore Ryan Davey led the Highlander comeback scoring nine of his career high 22 points in the 4th quarter as the home team hit six 3 balls in the last quarter.

The game started sluggishly 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.

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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 GL had cut the Raider lead in half, and it looked like they had worked their way back in the game. Yet once again, the Raiders bumped their lead back to double digits. Davey kept the Highlanders in the game as he started to heat up, scoring nine of his team's 15 third quarter points. The Raiders countered with 16 points in the quarter and expanded their lead to 14 on a Teddy Willmott three-pointer. 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 their run going. The animated, hometown favorite Keegan connected on a three pointer from the corner that brought the GL student section to its feet. Pencek who scored eight of his 12 points in the run, then scored on a drive and stunned the Raiders when he connected on the Highlanders 9th three of the game giving the home team its first lead of the game, 52-51.

However, the Raiders ended the 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. SPF closed out the game by knocking down six consecutive free throws as the Highlanders were forced to foul. The Raiders outshot the home team 16-7 from the line, while GL held a 9-7 advantage from behind the arch.

Scotch Plains-Fanwood has now won more games this year (8) than they did the past two season combined. Second year coach Steve Siracusa has engineered a quick turnaround as his young team keeps gains confidence and grinds out victories. The Raiders will be looking to make it nine in a row when they face Cranford on Thursday afternoon in Cranford.

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