CLARK, NJ.- The No. 3 Arthur L. Johnson Crusaders varsity softball team are the 2016 Central, Group 2 State Sectional Champions, defeating the No. 8 Voorhees Vikings 6-2 in a tense contest Thursday afternoon at home.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Crusaders scored four runs to come away with the school’s first state sectional championship for the softball program since 1996.
Junior Shannon Brogan got the game-winning RBI single, as the ball dropped in for a base hit to score sophomore Jennifer Tinger and give the Crusaders a 3-2 lead. This comes just one game after she achieved her personal milestone of 100 hits on Tuesday.
“It’s crazy. I don’t even know what to think,” Brogan said. “I was happy I could help out my team in a clutch position.”
Junior Gianna Randazza delivered the next big hit at the plate, crushing a three-run home run down the left field line and pushing the lead to 6-2. As soon as it was gone, the Johnson dugout and bleachers erupted in a chorus of cheers.
On the mound, Randazza pitched a complete game, recording six strikeouts and walking five batters. She allowed two runs on eight hits.
“We had to go out there and win the next inning to win this game,” Randazza said. “I was all focused as always.”
Randazza and the Crusaders held the Vikings to another zero in the top of the seventh inning, finishing it off with a 6-3 ground out on Voorhees sophomore Paige Fedak.
The game was scoreless through the first three innings. The Crusaders defense held off a threat in the top of the third when, with no outs and runners on first and second, Voorhees senior Morgan Clemens grounded to sophomore Jennifer Tinger.
Tinger stepped on third for the first out of the inning, threw to senior Stephanie Visconti at first, who immediately heaved the ball back to Tinger to get Voorhees senior Tara Morash out at third base.
“I’m just really excited that I could make those plays and my teammate Stephanie can make the scoops and plays to help me and my team out,” Tinger said. “For me, I think my stronger part of this sport is defense. So making those plays make me really excited.”
Voorhees struck first in the top of the fourth inning, when senior Amya McMillan connected for a long RBI double, scoring junior Megan Shaw to give the Vikings the 1-0 lead.
Johnson responded in the bottom half of the inning. With a runner on third base, freshman Victoria Zatko tied the game with a sacrifice fly, scoring Visconti.
The back-and-forth contest continued into the fifth inning, when Shaw connected for a bases-loaded RBI single, scoring Morash and giving the Vikings the 2-1 lead. They were unable to build on that lead, as Randazza got the last two outs without further damage.
With two out in the bottom of the fifth inning, Visconti came through with the game-tying RBI single, bringing Tinger home.
“It’s awesome, I’m happy I could do everything in my power to get my team to win,” Visconti said. “It feels great right now.”
ALJ head coach Mike Mancino was thrilled for his players and assistant coaches on reaching their third goal of the season, the state sectional final win.
“After the counties, I talked about it not setting in for a couple of days,” Mancino said. “This one set in right away. You’re one of the only teams at this point of the season out of 40 teams playing and you recognize the magnitude. I’ve been very fortunate to have state championships in other sports and this one felt great when we got that last out.”
This was Mancino’s first state sectional softball championship in six years as the program’s head coach
“I can’t say enough about the team,” he continued. “We had some innings where we could have scored and we didn’t, we kept our composure and our big bats finally came through and they’ve been doing all year.”
Although coming close in recent years, the Crusaders have not taken the state sectional title in 20 years.
“I feel proud of my team that we could all come together with hard work all season to finally achieve our goal,” senior Gabby Zatko said. “It’s a great feeling when all your work is worth it.”
The Johnson Crusaders (23-8) advance to the NJSIAA Group 2 Semifinals. They will play West Deptford High School, the South, Group 2 State Sectional Champions, at Rowan University at Tuesday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.
The Voorhees Vikings finish their 2016 season with a 19-9 record.