Continuing a look back at the 1963-64 South Plainfield Boys Basketball team’s historic season, GMC Hoops re-visits the 1964 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 3 Semifinals. In this game, played on March 9, 1964 at Rutgers, South Plainfield was taking on Sayreville. These two teams were no strangers to one another, and both featured talented underclassmen that would make their mark.
1964 Central Jersey Group 3 Semifinals–The Particulars
South Plainfield (20-1) vs. Sayreville
Where: Rutgers University College Avenue Gym–New Brunswick, NJ
Capacity: 3,200 seat gym
When: Monday, March 9, 1964
Time: 7:00 PM
South Plainfield Head Coach: Anthony Cotoia
Sayreville Head Coach:
1963-64 South Plainfield Tigers–Team Roster
|Greg Cisson||Forward||6’4 1/2″|
|Wally Cirafesi||Guard||6’1 1/2″|
Heading into the CJ Group 3 Semifinals–1963-64 South Plainfield Tigers
After losing to Dunellen on February 22, 1964, South Plainfield regrouped by winning its last two regular season games. First, the Tigers dispatched Watchung Hills, 57-34 by pulling away from a 22-15 halftime lead with a 35-19 second half surge.
Then, SPHS defeated Middlesex for the second time that season 67-43. Once again, a strong second half showing was the difference. Leading only 28-19 at the intermission, the Tigers put together a 39-24 onslaught over the final two periods to win easily.
In the victory over Watchung Hills, Greg Cisson led the way with 17 points while Richie Steele chipped in with 16. Cisson also led the way in the win over Middlesex with a monster double-double of 19 points and 20 rebounds while Roger Catarino added 14 points.
These two teams were no strangers to each other when it came to state tournament play. South Plainfield and Sayreville were meeting for the third time in four years. In 1961, the Bombers defeated the Tigers, but SPHS returned the favor in 1963 before losing to Somerville in that year’s CJ Group 3 Championship. Sayreville had won two Group I state titles in 1951 and 1952, and appeared in the 1954 Group II state championship.
An Encounter of Two Future Stars
Little would many know at the time, but this would be a meeting of two future all time standouts from the two schools: Jeff Osowski (Sayreville) and Wally Cirafesi (South Plainfield).
Osowski was one of Sayreville’s top players competing in this game. A 1965 graduate of Sayreville High School, Osowski earned all state boys basketball honors his senior year. Moving on to the University of Pennsylvania, Osowski played three varsity seasons for the Quakers.
Coached by Dick Harter at Penn, Osowski was also teammates with East Brunswick standout and eventual New Jersey Nets head coach, Dave Wohl. Inducted into the Sayreville War Memorial High School Hall of Fame in 2007, Osowski was the first 1,000 point scorer for the Bombers, and was the all time leading scorer at SWMHS from 1965 to 1974. Currently, Osowski ranks 3rd on the Bombers all time scoring list with 1,421 points.
Wally Cirafesi–South Plainfield
Cirafesi was an up and coming star in South Plainfield at this time. Only a sophomore, Cirafesi didn’t play varsity his freshman year. Instead he averaged 20 points per game for the undefeated 1962-63 SPHS Freshmen Team. Moving up to varsity, Cirafesi became South Plainfield’s first 1,000 point scorer after surpassing Paul Thievon as the school’s all time leading scorer his senior year.
Upon graduation from South Plainfield, Cirafesi, considered perhaps the greatest athlete ever to roam the halls at SPHS, was recruited by Joe Paterno to play football at Penn State. He contributed to two undefeated Penn State Football teams in 1968 and 1969, and was teammates with the likes of Franco Harris (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Lydell Mitchell (Baltimore Colts).
Reigning as the all time leading scorer in boys basketball at South Plainfield from 1966 to 1986, Wally Cirafesi tallied a total of 1,304 career points. Cirafesi currently ranks 3rd on the SPHS all time scoring list behind Marquis Jones (2005) and Joe Thompson (1986).
Did You Know?
South Plainfield’s JV boys basketball team also had a solid season. After the JV Tigers opened the 1963-64 campaign with a 49-38 loss at Somerville, they didn’t lose another game and finished 20-1 overall. At times, the 1963-64 SPHS JV squad demonstrated that it could be just as dominant as the varsity. Over a stretch of 6 games following the Somerville defeat, South Plainfield averaged 59.5 points per game, and won by an average of 27 points per contest.
1964 Central Jersey Group 3 Semifinals–The Game
According to an article written by Tom Gannon for the South Plainfield Suburban Review on March 12, 1964, the Tigers got off to a slow start and Sayreville took advantage to jump out to a 14 point second quarter lead. Making matters worse, South Plainfield was hampered further when big man, Laney McLaughlin had to leave the game in the first half with a sprained ankle.
Nevertheless, the Tigers remained focused and determined to get the win, and it would pay off. Led by Cisson (18 pts), Cirafesi (17 pts), and Steele (16 pts), South Plainfield rallied by outscoring Sayreville by 12 over the remainder of the second to pull within two at 35-33 going into the intermission.
SPHS then took over the game in the second half with a 24-9 showing in the 3rd period followed by a 17-12 showing in the final frame. Outscoring the Bombers by a margin of 41-21 over the last two quarters, the Tigers won going away 75-56 to earn another trip to the CJ Group 3 Championship.
Once again, the Tigers overcame adversity to emerge victorious in the 1964 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 3 Semifinals, and earned a trip to its third straight sectional championship game. In that contest, South Plainfield would face another familiar foe in Piscataway.
|South Plainfield (21-1)||15||18||24||18||75|
|Field Goals Made||29||21|
|Free Throws Made||17||14|
|Number of Players Scored||7||7|
|Number of Players Scoring in Double Figures||4||3|
|Number of Players With 15 Points or More||3||0|
|Percentage of Team Scoring by Players in Double Figures||82.6%||58.9%|
|Biggest Runs of the Game||24-9 in 3rd||13-4 in 2nd|
South Plainfield Box Score
Sayreville Box Score