CLARK, NJ- The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders boys varsity basketball team took to the floor, looking to get back in the win column. The need for a victory was especially important, as the team honored their senior players before the opening tipoff of their game against the David Brearley High School (Kenilworth) Bears.
Eric Bretz, Marcos Castro, Brandon Hund, Sean Kennedy, manager Simone Yanogacio and senior cheerleaders Julianna Rizzuto and Victoria Torres were honored for their years of hard work and dedication towards the basketball/cheerleading programs.
For the seniors, the game and their careers have been centered around the idea of being a family, as well as a team.
“It means a lot,” Hund said of his time in the program. “Coming in as a freshman, just everyone I’ve met through the program, I still talk to everyone even from my freshman year, Mitch [Becker], Tommy [Colicchio], Sean [Kovatch] and Mike [DeMarco]. It’s really a family here.”
“You have your ups-and-downs in practice and the games, but in the end, we’re all brothers, we’re all great friends. We have respect for each other and we all have each other’s back. You really see it when we’re all together,” he added.
Head coach Dave Kennedy had words of praise for the seniors and what they’ve been able to do in their years of being in the program.
“I think they’ve all led by example and they still want to get better,” Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy said. “They still have things they want to accomplish, so that’s a credit to them. We try to stress that each legacy is how we’re going to be better as a program next year and so on. That’s our goal and our senior class has definitely fulfilled that.”
Once the game started, Johnson went right to work against Brearley and were able to give the seniors a boost on the night. The Crusaders pieced together key stops on defense with key shots on offense to defeat the Bears 64-51 Thursday night in Clark.
As the game started, the teams played a close game, with Brearley holding a 7-4 edge with 3:11 left in the first quarter, but Johnson would bounce back with an 8-0 run, powered by Hund, sophomore Tino Puentes and junior Ben Kosiek knocking down their shots, giving Johnson a 12-7 lead after the first eight minutes on the floor.
It was all Johnson after that.
The Crusaders offense took over as the quarter rolled along, with Hund scoring eight straight points (11 in the quarter). In an offensive outburst led by Hund’s seven points, Johnson grabbed a 20-11 lead with 5:01 left in the second quarter. After free throws from sophomore Brandon Castro and junior Bobby Lukasiewicz, Johnson built a 25-14 with lead with 2:59 left in the second quarter.
Junior Matt O’Connor knocked down a shot, while Brandon Castro and all scoring via free throws, giving Johnson a 30-18 lead into halftime.
Johnson outscored Brearley 18-11 to extend their advantage.
“It’s a pleasure to play with these guys,” Castro said. “We have a high scorer [in Brandon]. He teaches us everything we’ve got to do. We’ve just got to take care of it and help [Brandon] out.”
“I’ve actually been through a lot. I’ve worked really hard during practice,” Sean Kennedy said. “I was really happy to be in this team since day one. I just want to get better. Coach [Kennedy] wants us to get better since day one.”
In the third quarter, the other players added to the scoring to keep the lead intact. O’Connor and Bretz led the way for Johnson as the second half started. They combined to score the first 14 points of the quarter for their team.
“So, of course, we’re trying to win for the seniors. It’s their night,” O’Connor said. “We want them to do as much as possible, but also, we want to do our share. When I was out there tonight, I was really trying to help Brandon, Marcos, Eric and Sean get into their groove. I just played within theirs.”
Those points allowed Johnson to extend their lead to 42-23 with 3:36 left in the third quarter. On the defensive end, Johnson wasn’t allowing too many chances earlier in the quarter, knocking down key shots to extend the lead and those shots were needed to counter any offensive production they got.
“It’s really been great. I really feel like this is a family here,” Bretz said. “We all have each other’s backs every night and even on the tough nights, supporting each other and that’s really what you need.”
Johnson held a 52-36 lead heading into the fourth quarter and coasted to a win, ending a four-game skid and getting a win.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best basketball yet,” Kennedy said. “One of these days, [offense and defense] are going to be for a strong portion of the game. That’s what we’re working towards.”
In the win, Hund led his team with 25 points, while O’Connor added 14 points. Bretz contributed eight points in the win, while Puentes scored six points.
The Johnson Crusaders (7-13) head out on the road to play at Roselle-Abraham Clark HS Friday night at 5:30 p.m.
The Brearley Bears (10-11) return home to take on Kinnelon HS Wednesday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.