CLARK, NJ-  For the third consecutive game, the Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity softball team found themselves in extra innings. In a classic game, the Crusaders came up just short, losing to the Governor Livingston High School Highlanders 9-7 in 11 innings Friday afternoon in Clark.

One run came in on an error and a single from senior Aislinn O’Keefe to give the Highlanders the edge in extra innings.

“We tried to clean up the fielding, towards the end, we fixed all the mistakes that we made,” O’Keefe said. “Earlier on in the game, we made some errors that they were able to capitalize on and brought us to the back-and-forth, so we continued cleaning up our game and putting the ball in play.”

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In the bottom of the seventh inning, with Governor Livingston holding a 5-4 lead, Johnson came to the plate, looking to keep the game alive. Junior Victoria Zatko singled and stole second base, putting the tying run in scoring position.

Senior Lauren Donah hit a sharp groundball and was out on the throw to first base, but Zatko suddenly broke for home plate and scored before a chance at a tag could be made, tying the game at 5-5 and sending it to extra innings.

After neither team capitalized in the eighth or ninth innings, the game shifted to the tenth inning. The Highlanders struck first in the first frame with the international tiebreaker rule. With junior Jessica Schmidt at second base, sophomore Erica Kulback singled, scoring Schmidt to give the Highlanders a 6-5 lead.

Senior starting pitcher Jamie Belfer subsequently doubled, scoring Kulback, making it 7-5, but Johnson would not go away in the bottom half of the inning.

With Cassano at second base via the international tiebreaker rule and advancing to third base on a groundout and scoring on another groundout from sophomore Megan Tinger, the Highlanders lead became 7-6 with two outs.

Brogan stepped up to the plate and down to their last out at the time, connected for the game-tying hit, a long double to center field, knotting the score up at 7-7. The game would shift to the eleventh inning, where the Highlanders took control with the two runs to escape with a win in a game that took over three hours.

“It speaks a lot about the girls, to go up two runs in extra innings and then to give it back and then start all over again and get those two runs back and finally finish off the game the way they did,” Governor Livingston head coach Mike Roof said.

“The all-around team effort, everyone contributed this game and that’s what makes it really fun to watch and be part of it, it was awesome,” Belfer said.

Governor Livingston received a sacrifice fly from junior Julia McConekey and a two-run home run from junior Julian Lopes to take a 3-0 lead early, but the Crusaders found a way to get back in the game.

Johnson took advantage of a few Governor Livingston fielding errors for two runs to score in the inning, cutting the deficit to 3-2. Junior Hannah Brogan tied the game at 3-3 with an RBI single, scoring senior starting pitcher Nicole Cassano. Junior Bailey Rosenmeier gave Johnson a 4-3 lead with a sacrifice fly.

“Just as quickly as we took the lead, we gave it away with some miscues, walks or hits, but you have to give Jamie (pitching-wise) and the rest of the girls credit for persevering through all the dramatics,” Roof said.

“As the game progressed, it started to look bleak as we kept leaving runners in scoring position on, even though we were putting the ball in play extremely well,” he added. “Decisions on the field, players reacting well/not so well to pressure situations. You have to give credit to Johnson though as they came back from deficits in their last at bats multiple times.  Despite all that, my girls were able to handle the pressure a little better and take advantage of some opportunities.

The last time the two teams played, the Crusaders defeated the Highlanders 9-5 in Berkeley Heights on May 1.

Governor Livingston tied the game and took the lead in the top of the sixth inning, via an RBI single from O’Keefe and another run scoring on an illegal pitch, taking a 5-4 lead.

With the loss, the Johnson Crusaders are looking ahead to their remaining schedule, with the upcoming state tournament, the Union County Conference Watchung Division title remains within reach for the Crusaders.

“Upsetting losses like this really bring the team together and get the one goal to win the next game,” Rosenmeier said after the loss. “Given that we have one more chance to win the conference, that’s our goal as of now and we’ll move forward with whatever happens Monday at Cranford.”

“Definitely was a playoff-type atmosphere,” Johnson head coach Chris Di Nucci said. “I told [the girls] whether they believe me or not, it’ll make us a better team in the end when we get to tournament time. The bottom line, two teams, two rivalry teams battled it out. Give credit to GL, they got us today. We didn’t take care of business.”

The Johnson Crusaders (14-5) head out on the road to play at Cranford HS Monday night at 5:30 p.m.

The Governor Livingston Highlanders (12-7) will head back home to take on Westfield HS Monday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.