BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Arthur L. Johnson Crusaders and Governor Livingston Highlanders girls varsity basketball teams came into their first face-to-face matchup undefeated in conference play and a chance to take the lead in the Union County Conference Mountain Division. The Crusaders won the tight back and forth battle with a final score of 46-41 Tuesday night in Berkeley Heights.
The teams battled through the first four minutes exchanging points, with Governor Livingston leading 7-6 with 1:45 left in the first quarter. The Crusaders answered with a 6-0 run to close out the quarter, with senior Sabrina Parin connecting on a shot and junior Shelby Lynes draining two free throws. It was junior Danielle Hartzler who played a huge part for the Crusaders -- hitting three 3-pointers in the quarter alone, with her third one being a buzzer-beater to extend Johnson’s lead to 13-7 after the first quarter. Hartzler finished leading the team with 16 points and four 3-point baskets on the evening.
“We play a lot of tough teams and, in my opinion, conference games matter the most,” Hartzler said. “It’s important for us to go 3-0 in the conference, especially that Governor Livingston was 2-0 [coming into the game], so we put them behind, it was a really big win.”
The Governor Livingston Highlanders would respond to the Crusaders’ big first quarter with a huge second quarter of their own. They outscored the Crusaders 20-13 to build a 27-26 halftime lead. Highlanders senior Lindsay Gerrato, led with 19 points in the first half to keep the Highlanders out in front.
After a slow start to the second half, Johnson struck first when sophomore Bailey Rosenmeier gave her team a 29-28 lead, answered by Gerrato connecting on one of two free throws to tie the score at 28 apiece.
Johnson senior Meaghan Gallagher scored back-to-back layups with the score 28-28, adding six of the team’s ten third quarter points.
The back and forth battle continued with junior Michelle Coyle and sophomore Fiona Kerr each sank baskets.
Gallagher and Parin scored on back-to-back layups to give the Johnson Crusaders a 36-32 lead after three quarters of play. On the night, Gallagher finished with eight points for the Crusaders.
As the fourth quarter started, the Crusaders tightened up on defense, which proved to be a major factor, slowing down the Highlanders’ leading scorer Gerrato. Crusaders junior Kristina Palella scored two free throws and junior Amy Wysocki drained a layup, extending the Crusaders lead to 40-34, before the Highlanders called a needed timeout.
Gallagher scored another layup, making it 42-34 with 4:49 left, but the Highlanders wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Trailing 43-36 with 1:21 left, Gerrato cashed in on a shot and was fouled, completing the three-point play to cut the lead to 43-39. She would connect on another basket to make it 43-41 with 0:50 remaining.
Despite the efforts, they couldn’t get the tying shot off and Johnson sophomore Victoria Zatko cashed in on an insurance shot to extend her team’s lead to 45-41. One more free throw would be made by the Crusaders before they sealed the victory.
Gov. Livingston head coach Vin Gulben recognized his team's missed opportunities in the loss. “We need to decrease turnovers, that’s what really hurt us and we need to make layups,” Governor Livingston head coach Vincent Gulbin said. “We had some open looks for layups and we just didn’t hit them and we’re forcing shots. Those three things really prevented us from maybe extending the lead, or keeping the lead that we had.”
“Johnson did a great job of pressuring us, taking us out of our game a little bit, but we need to be a little more patient and work the ball a little bit and not take so many quick shots,” Gulbin added. “If we do that, we don’t turn the ball over and we make our layups, it could be a different game, but it wasn’t, they were the better team than us.”
Gerrato scored 25 points for the Highlanders in the loss, while senior Lara Romano added six points. Kerr and Coyle scored four points apiece.
“Our defense, we knew we had to shut down their girl on the inside and they had a girl on the outside who’s a shooter,” Johnson head coach Joe Marino said. “In the first half, [Gerrato] was getting open. In the second half, we ended up shutting her down and I think that was the turning point.”
“They hustled hard, they’re a good team,” Marino added. “We knew they were 2-0 in the conference and we were 2-0 in the conference, so we wanted to come out here really strong and we did.”
The Governor Livingston Highlanders (4-3) face Rahway in a home game Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m.