That was how long it took for Scotch Plains-Fanwood, No. 2 in the NJ.com Top 20, to assert its dominance over No. 9 Hackensack, which had proven itself to be one of the best teams in the state during the most important and hyped week of the season.
But over those 48 minutes, Scotch Plains-Fanwood proved to be one thing that Hackensack, and not many other teams this season, have been: elite.
“Our confidence is through the roof right now,” Tim Ennis said. “We’re ready and going to carry that into Saturday.”
In just two sets (25-14, 25-15), the top-seeded Raiders (30-1) trounced the third-seeded Comets (24-3) in the North, Group 3 title game to repeat as sectional champions and move on to the Group 3 final against Colts Neck on Saturday.
Against Hackensack, the Raiders were clinical offensively, defensively, and while serving, and each one leaned into the other. It forced Hackensack into difficult returns off its serves that led to free ball opportunities on offense.
It’s defensive gameplan to contain the Comets duo of Matthew Peralta (nine kills) and Daniel Porto (six kills) led to well-timed blocks. When the ball did get through the blocks, either of Ennis (11 kills, nine digs, three aces) or Zach Chung (10 digs) would be in the back court to keep the play alive. Nicholas Schmidt (18 assists, three kills, two aces) would then set it to any of Ennis, Jeremy Zimmerman (five kills, nine digs, two aces), or the other plethora of lanky talent the Raiders feature at the front of the net.
While the Raiders “core four” of Ennis, Schmidt, Zimmerman, and Chung performed at a high level, it was the surrounding talent that helped to make that gameplan click.
Kevin Indoe (four kills), Ryan Pierson (three kills, two blocks), and Guy Varela (two blocks) all took advantage of their opportunities. Varela’s blocks helped close the match out, while Pierson and Indoe executed offensively when players like Ennis and Zimmerman were the main focus of the defense.
“Brock talks about the core four but it’s honestly everyone who participates,” Ennis said. “The depth we have on our team is more than enough to rely on. If someone isn’t playing well, we can sub someone else right in.”
“I know for a fact that every single team is asking for a film on how to stop Tim, Jeremy, and Nick, and how to serve around Zach,” Raiders coach Brock Hor said. “Our depth players are sometimes ignored. We know who our opponents are focusing on so when their opportunity comes, maximize it. Ryan Pierson has been a revelation this entire season. He’s gone beyond what I thought he could do. Kevin wasn’t supposed to start with me, but he proved me wrong. He’s earned his spot and gotten better as the year has gone along. Guy Varela did the same thing. We don’t achieve anything without them.”
Hackensack led 2-1 early in the first set before the Raiders went on a big run to eventually take an 11-5 lead that forced a timeout from the Comets.
Ennis was sending line drive serves over the net that put pressure on Hackensack early. The Comet always attempted a return back but would either send it out of bounds or return it too strongly, which allowed Zimmerman and Indoe to slam the ball back over on two separate occasions.
“If I’m in the front row and we get a good pass, it’s hard for the other team to block me because it opens up a lot of other areas,” Ennis said. “Getting that first run, especially when Nick and I were serving the first two rotations, it’s really hard for the other team to get balanced and get good side outs on one. It’s easier for us to get a lead and hold that lead.”
Daniel Ennis had an ace and kill on back-to-back points that forced the timeout. Out of the timeout, Tim Ennis had back-to-back blocks which pushed the score to 13-5.
It was much of the same for the rest of the set, as Schmidt connected with Zimmerman for a line shot kill that ended the first set at 25-14 to the Raiders.
The defense kept up in the second set, as the Comets began to force sets to Peralta in the middle, or Porto on the outside. That duo was contained much more than usual, along with Chris Amon-Pulla finishing with his least number of assists (18) in a game since April 24.
“We understood that they were going to set middle to [Peralta] almost every ball, but they didn’t set opposite one time,” Ennis said. “They set middle and outside, especially when [Porto] was on the front row. We just shifted our blocks over a bit and if it was an outside, I’d cover back to get a little bit more court because they tip a lot. We calmed that down a bit and they started swinging a little bit more which gave our blocks more of a chance.”
Once again, Hackensack led early at 2-0 but then the Raiders ripped off seven straight points to force another timeout. Throughout the rest of the match the Raiders never let go of the lead, and eventually closed the match out on a Schmidt kill and clinched its second straight sectional title.
Both a county title and a sectional title can be checked off for Scotch Plains-Fanwood this season. In its five-year history the Raiders haven’t won a group title.
The Raiders seem to be peaking at the right time to accomplish that goal.
“We’re playing our best volleyball of the season right now,” Hor said.