WAYNE, NJ -- At the beginning of the boys’ lacrosse state tournament, Scotch Plains-Fanwood was considered the Group 3 “dark horse” team. In simpler terms, the underdog of their North, Group 3 section.
But now, the Raiders might not be so much of a sleeper anymore.
In one of the relatively young program’s greatest days ever Saturday, the No. 7 seed Raiders rallied to upset powerhouse No. 2 seed Wayne Hills, 8-4, in the sectional quarterfinals. During the game, senior attack Jack Brady became the school’s all-time leading scorer. Brady put in two goals, bringing his career points total to 175, and helped lead his team past the Patriots, who entered play Saturday with an 18-1 record.
“Before we got off the bus when the game started, I said, “Hey, I want to get back on this bus getting ready for practice on Monday,” Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Nick Miceli told TAPintoSPF. “The kids were all about it.”
Coach Miceli’s squad will indeed practice on Monday — and Tuesday — in preparation of the sectional semifinal, where it will travel to play another North Jersey juggernaut, third-seeded Mount Olive, on Wednesday.
Joining Brady in scoring twice and allowing for another practice was fellow attack Aidan Guma and Alex Oslislo, while Tommy Nakonechny added one goal. Guma accounted for the Raiders’ only assist of the afternoon, as the crux of the team’s scoring came on sequences that developed without any passing. Those types of scoring plays became possible because the Raiders were able to win one-on-one matches while attacking Wayne Hills’ zone defense, which held them to just two first half goals.
Trailing, 3-2, at halftime, Scotch Plains-Fanwood completely flipped the script and stunned the home crowd at Wayne Hills by scoring five goals and not allowing any during the third quarter. Oslislo scored twice during the decisive frame, including netting the go-ahead goal after beating his defender in an isolation match, while Brady, Guma, and Nakonechny also found the back of the net during the Raiders’ season-extending offensive uprising.
“They have a highly-touted goalie [freshman Dan Daly], and we had to make him work — he had two saves the whole first half,” Miceli said about his team’s halftime philosophy. “Usually when you see a zone, it kind of takes you away from dodging. We saw that there were some mismatches, and we attacked it. Oslislo scored two nice goals and beat his guy; Aidan Guma had a goal; Brady went; Nakonechny went through two guys and scored. Our athleticism and skill on offense showed in that third quarter.”
Most impressively, the Raiders’ third quarter barrage came after having the ball for just one possession during the entire second quarter, though they did manage a score in transition during that time frame.
However, the team’s stout defense — anchored by stalwarts such as Harrison Parada and Nick Route — and stellar play of goalie Tom Bruckman (11 total saves) held a high-powered Wayne Hills offense to just four opening half goals. And three of the Patriots’ goals came on a man-up, turnover, and fastbreak — plays were defense is usually not at full strength.
Despite trailing, the Raiders weren’t worried at all.
“They don’t get phased,” Miceli said about his resilient squad. “The guys never get down. We’ve played our best lacrosse in May. The tough schedule and tight games during the regular season have helped us prepare for the state tournament.”
Miceli credits late regular season triumphs such as the one over St. Peter’s Prep, and even a tough loss to powerhouse Westfield, as strength builders for his team entering the tournament.
Brady’s two-goal performance put him ahead of Kevin Kerby ’15 as Scotch Plains-Fanwood's top all-time leading scorer. As a freshman, Brady was a starter alongside Kerby, who now plays at Widener (PA) University, for a team that also made the state tournament. Brady has now played in the postseason all four years.
“It’s been a bit of a monkey on Jack’s back [to become the all-time leading scorer], but today, kudos to him,” said Miceli. “He’s had an outstanding career for us, and played like our best player today.”
Brady also got the scoring started for the Raiders with his first quarter goal, which tied up the score at one after one. Guma added a goal in the second, though Wayne Hills scored twice during the frame to extend their lead to two at the half.
This is the second straight year that Scotch Plains-Fanwood will play in the sectional semifinal, though the Raiders are optimistic that this season will yield a different result. The team will look to avenge last year's semifinal loss to Summit when it travels to Mount Olive (15-4) Wednesday, with a start time TBA.