CLARK, NJ- The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders girls varsity basketball team held a 27-17 halftime lead over the Governor Livingston High School Highlanders and everything appeared to be going in the right direction. However, as the second half started, foul trouble settled in, allowing the Highlanders to take control of game and win the road contest Saturday night, 56-44.
In total, the Crusaders committed 28 fouls on the night, with senior Sabrina Parin, and juniors Tina Palella, Amy Wysocki and Sydney Zamboni all fouling out of the game.
GL freshman Skylar Dowling led her team in scoring, contributing 20 points in the win; 15 of those points came in the second half.
“Our first half, we didn’t play the best we could be,” Dowling said. “We came out at halftime and wanted to win. We changed up our defense and we slowed it down, made sure we didn’t force up shots and took our time.”
The Crusaders took early control of the game, leading the Highlanders 18-7 as the buzzer signaled the end of the first quarter. The juniors led the scoring with Amy Wysocki contributing seven points in the quarter, Tina Palella adding six points and Kellie Bonaccorso sinking a three-point basket.
They built a 25-10 lead with 2:09 left in the second quarter, taking advantage of Highlander turnovers and missed chances. However, Governor Livingston would storm back within the final two minutes and the game changed.
GL senior Lindsay Gerrato scored two free throws and a basket. Senior Lara Romano added a basket as the first half ended to make the halftime deficit ten points.
The Highlanders kept the momentum going, opening the second half with an 8-2 scoring run and narrowing the Johnson lead to 29-25. Earlier fouls would come back to haunt the Crusaders.
As the third quarter went along, Governor Livingston kept coming back and making shots. Dowling scored eight points in the quarter, while Gerrato added five points.
The game was tied 36-36 heading into the final quarter of play, but the Highlanders wanted more and they took the game by storm in the last eight minutes of play.
The last even score was 40-40, but the story was all GL from that point on. They outscored the Crusaders 16-4 to finish the job and capture a crucial conference win.
“Pride and defense, because that was what we were lacking in the first half,” GLhead coach Vin Gulbin said was the discussion to his team at half-time. “We were getting beat off the dribble, we weren’t helping and they were getting wide-open layups or jump shots. We made some adjustments defensively and I think that threw them off just a little bit for us to get back in the game.”
“We’re looking forward to the conference, so right now we’re 6-2 in the conference and in the hunt for first,” Gulbin continued. “We’re playing at Rahway on Thursday and that’s a big game for us. If we win at Rahway, then we’re tied for first place with Johnson.”
Gerrato, who leads her team in scoring this season and finished the night with 14 points, described the effort her team put forth to turn the game around.
“I think we realized what we were doing wrong in the first half,” Gerrato said. “I was being doubled [by two Johnson defenders] and another senior, Lara Romano, stepped up, killed it in the third quarter, got us back up there. We needed four stops to get back in this game. We came out and got them and we were back in this game.”
For the Johnson Crusaders, the story on the night was their foul trouble. At the free throw line, the Highlanders went 20-for-38 with the foul shots.
ALJ’s Palella finished the night with 18 points in the loss, while Wysocki scored nine points.
The Johnson Crusaders (7-8) will try and snap their three-game losing streak Tuesday night in a home game against Cranford HS, scheduled for a 5:30 p.m. start.
The Governor Livingston Highlanders (9-6) head back home for a game Tuesday afternoon against Westfield HS at 4:00 p.m.