By Jim Whelan
In some respects, Scotch Plains can be compared to your little brother. They are good enough to play with their older brother’s friends when nobody else is around to fill in, but not quite as big.
Every little brother knows once a game starts on the sidelines with the younger kids, the big brother usually tells the younger brother “Go play with kids your own size.”
When the traditional Watchung Conference was dismantled, Scotch Plains was left to fend off the likes of Group IV schools-Plainfield, Linden, and independent-St. Pat’s, all ranked in the top ten in the state. Ironically, Scotch Plains played all three of those schools in one week last month.
“Somebody told me that is a tough week for St. Benedict’s,” said Raider coach Dan Doherty jokingly after a year hiatus from his head coaching post.
“We used to play those schools once a year,” said the Group 3 coach “Now we have to play them twice a year.” Doherty has only managed to beat Plainfield and Linden once in his prior eight-year tenure as Scotch Plains head coach.
Scotch Plains was not always the doormat of the conference. Two years ago, Doherty led the Union County School to its first state championship since the Kennedy administration.
Doherty teaches math at the Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School also is the school’s track coach. Today, high school sports have become more demanding with a 12 month commitment. Doherty was feeling “burnt out” and resigned as the head coach after the 2008 magical championship run.
Doherty left the program in good shape. His top assistant and Scotch Plains alum, Ben Martinez, took over and navigated the Raiders to 15-14 record in 2009.
With some returning players from the 2008 championship squad, the Raiders took time to adjust to their new coach with a pitiful 1-4 start to the season. The Raiders just barely qualified for the State Tournament in 2009 to defend their title. They did pull it off on the cut-off day, taking a must-win game over Cardinal McCarrick 62-61. The Raiders’ 11-11 record earned them the 9th seed the ninth seed in N2G3.
Scotch Plains knocked off top seated West Morris-Mendham, and then fourth seed Fort Lee before falling to their old Watchung rivals Shabazz in the sectional finals. It wasn’t a bad follow up season for Scotch Plains-Fanwood.
In November, then Head Coach Ben Martinez took a promotion as his job, which required later hours and would reduce the time allotted to coaching varsity basketball. Doherty ended his year hiatus.
“I didn’t want the job to go to anybody off the street,” said the Raider head coach “With the season around the corner, we didn’t know how many qualified candidates were out there.” Doherty also has a personal stake in the position as an educator and also as a coach to ensure the team’s continued success. He built up the program to its apex in an eight-year period.
“It is going to be a year by year basis,” he said about his new coaching position. “I knew eventually I would come back to coaching, I just didn’t think it would be this soon.”
After losing a multitude of talented players to graduation the past two years, the re-building process is starting for the Union County hoops club. Scotch Plains has been playing well, just not winning games. They started the season with a legitimate 4-3 record, then the middle-weight moved up to heavy-weight as the Group IV schools Linden, Elizabeth, Westfield, and Union were scheduled as well as cross-town rival Union Catholic. The Raiders then lost eight in a row before beating Westfield on Feb. 4.
“We are starting a lot of sophomores and juniors” explained Doherty.
Scotch Plains Junior guard transfer Charles Oliver from Seton Hall Prep, is a bright spot for the Raiders hoops team. It has been well documented that other programs have been getting fat of Scotch Plains players (Ashton Gibbs-Seton Hall Prep, Jimmy Burke-Seton Hall Prep-M.I.T., Lance Thomas-St. Benedicts-Duke, Derrick Caractor-St. Pat’s/Notre Dame Prep-UTEP, and Sterling Gibbs-Seton Hall Prep).
The 6’2 Oliver is a very good shooter and can get to the foul line, but an unknown to his Watchung Conference foes. “Charles really has to start moving without the ball” said Doherty. “Everybody know he can shoot and now teams are all over him on defense.” His coach believes he is up for the challenge.
Oliver’s classmate, Pat Dougher runs the point for the Raiders. “He is also great ball defender,” said Doherty. Pat Dougher is the younger brother of Bryan Dougher, the schools all-time leading scorer who is thriving at Division I -Stony Brook University. “Pat also has a basketball mind,” said Doherty “You just can’t teach that.”
Sophomore Matt Jegerde, 6’5, is a player who is improving this season. Jergerde had a double-double in the loss to St. Mary’s in the Elizabeth Homeless Coalition game.
With the new division shake up, there might be some tinkering after this year. Ideally, Doherty likes the challenge of playing the Watchung heavyweights, but realistically would like to see a Cranford, Rahway, or a Union Catholic on their schedule
“Union Catholic would be a great game for us,” said Doherty. Union Catholic has a Scotch Plains address and would be a great rivalry for the two schools and was a member of the Watchung Conference. “Rahway has been a better program over a five year period than us,” said Doherty.
Doherty thinks a four-tier system would be a good for conference play for next year instead of the current three-tier system. Teams could jump and play the heavyweights of the county, but only one game a year. Conversely, scheduling the middleweights would help balance the county scheduling.
Going into the stretch run, Doherty believes that his Raider club will need two wins to maybe qualify for the State Tournament. Under the NJSIAA rules if nine teams qualify for the State Tournament, the bracket will move up to 16 teams. That is what Doherty is hoping will happen and all the other Group 3 schools hope will not happen.
“We can be a dangerous team for anybody if we get into the states,” the optimistic coach said.
Who knows what next year will bring. As for this year, the smaller kids are playing their game on the sideline of the big kid’s game, but the big brother has not given little brother the O.K. to go play with the younger kids, yet.
2009-2010 Scotch Plains Roster
- Doran Nelson 6’3 forward
- Al Pawid 6’1 forward
- Dave Watson 5’10 guard
- Chris Nix 5’9 guard
- Denzel Clark 5’8 guard
- Patrick Dougher 5’10 guard’
- Charles Oliver 6’2 guard
- Matt Manns 6’4 forward
- Tim Bonacum 6’0 guard
- Anthony Scalfaro 6’0 guard
- Yale Gordon 5’9 guard
- Matt Jegerde 6’5 F/C
- Ian Johnstone 5’8 guard
12/18 Plainfield Loss 65-33
12/21 Roselle Catholic win 54-51
12/23 Kearny win 65-36
12/27 Rahway Tournament Holmdel win 45-41
12/29 Westfield loss 43-36
1/5 Elizabeth loss 59-45
1/9 Newark Tech win 56-51
1/14 Westfield loss 56-50
1/19 Union Catholic loss 43-41
1/21 Union loss 53-32
1/23 St. Mary’s loss 60-55
1/26 Linden loss 71-31
1/28 St. Patrick loss 83-30
1/30 Plainfield loss 60-49
2/2 Elizabeth loss 65-61
2/4 Westfield win 57-54
2/9 @Union loss 52-55
2/24 Bridgewater Raritan
Jim Whelan can be reached at email@example.com
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