SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — After struggling at times through the rigors of a challenging regular season schedule, Scotch Plains-Fanwood is embracing the new life that the state tournament presents.
At the beginning of the week, the Raiders’ record was essentially reset. Two games through, the Raiders are perfect after convincing wins over J.P. Stevens in the first round, and now Plainfield in the quarterfinals.
Ryan Widman and Owen Murphy scored in the first and second halves, respectively, as No. 2-seeded Scotch Plains-Fanwood downed No. 10 Plainfield, 2-0, on a blustery Friday afternoon at Wexler Field to advance to the North 2, Group 4 semifinals. Just four wins now separate the Raiders from a coveted state championship, but that road will be hard, starting with Monday’s semifinals against archival and No. 3-seeded Westfield.
The Raiders have now outscored opponents, 5-0, in both state tournament games so far.
“We all set out in the beginning of the season to win a state championship,” Widman said. “Four games sounds easy, but with some of the teams we’re going to go against from now on — even so far, we’ve had a good test — and we’ve got one of the best teams in the state waiting for us if we can get past the next round. We’ve got to take it one step at a time and not look too far ahead, because if we do, then we’re going to be in trouble.”
It may be the state tournament, but starting Friday, it essentially became a second version of the Union County Tournament for the Raiders, who, if victorious in the section, likely will have done so by way of defeating three straight Union County teams. The first of those three tests — Plainfield — is passed, but now the Raiders must get past Westfield and likely Elizabeth, the top seed, in order to win a sectional title for the first time since 2016.
The prospective opponents may provide a sense of comfort to the Raiders, who were battled-tested both inside and outside of the county all season, and appear to have been sharpened by those challenges.
“People can argue all they want to argue, but we play one of the toughest schedules in the entire state,” said head coach Tom Breznitsky. “Now it's within our county and within our conference — we have Westfield the third time, had Plainfield the third time, and already played Elizabeth three times and could be four. We’re tested with the difficult schedule that we play, and that’s not be accident — that’s by design.”
Widman was the catalyst Friday, severing a scoreless deadlock with a goal in the 26th minute to give the Raiders a lead they’d never relent.
As Scotch Plains-Fanwood was moving the ball in its offensive zone, Alvaro Furfaro played a ball over to Widman just outside of the 18-box. Widman received it, took a look at the goal, aimed for the bottom corner, and followed through on a shot just as he drew it up. The goal was impressively scored into the wind, which was strong all afternoon.
“Once you get a team like that down, it’s kind of hard for them to get back — especially against us, they were kind of sitting back a little bit,” Widman, who had missed out on a similar opportunity about five minutes before the goal, said. “It’s really important to get that first goal — especially for our confidence — because we haven’t been able to score that first goal. Once we get that early one, it just raises our level a lot, so I think it was really important.”
Plainfield had a few chances to get even during the second half, but the lead was held in tact by the Raiders’ defense, which on this day was highlighted by Danny Coyle, who came up with six saves in the shutout. That allowed the Raiders to hold on to the momentum and eventually convert on another opportunity later in the game.
In the final stages of the second half, Murphy finished a quick inside feed from Nkem Okorie to make it 2-0 and secure the Raiders’ ticket to the semifinals.
“We lost it at first then got it back; I think it was Vinci who did a good job and got a touch on it,” Murphy said. “He played it back to me, I had some space in front, so I dribbled and played it to Nkem. He did a fantastic job to just play it right back in front of me. I took a touch, looked up, slotted it away and put a dagger in them. It always feels good to score, but always feels better to win."
"I’ve played four years and I’ve played Plainfield in the state tournament three times," Murphy added. "I know who they are and what they’re about, and they’re definitely going to put up a fight every single game. We came out ready today."
Friday's win was convincing, and the Raiders will be looking to continue the momentum into Monday afternoon's showdown, which will kickoff at 2:00 p.m. at Wexler Field.
"We finally got a couple guys back and have been more consistent with our lineup," said Breznitsky. "You always set the same goals conference, county, and state. We’ve had some tough breaks, but once you start the states, it’s a whole new season. I thought the guys did a good job today, especially under the conditions."
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