NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ-  The New Providence High Pioneers squared off in a home game against the Arthur L. Johnson Crusaders and got off to a hot start with their offense. However, it was the Crusaders who chipped away at the early deficit to take the lead late, capturing a 9-7 victory Thursday afternoon in New Providence.

The Crusaders scored first, a sacrifice fly from senior Vin Crisafi, but the Pioneers got hot the following inning. Following two walks and an error led to the game-tying run. New Providence senior Eric Martin broke the tie with an RBI single, making it a 2-1 game.

The big blow came off the bat of sophomore Ryan Sherman. He doubled and cleared the bases, giving the Pioneers a 5-1 lead. Junior Tommy Jankowski connected for an RBI double to make the game 6-1 before the inning ended.

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The Crusaders cut into the lead in the top of the third inning. Junior Joe Turek recorded a sacrifice fly, cutting the lead to 6-2. Crisafi followed with an RBI groundout to make it a 6-3 New Providence lead. Another run came in on an error, cutting the lead to 6-4 after three innings of play.

In the bottom of the fourth inning, New Providence got a run across the plate from an RBI single off the bat of senior Michael Magnani, to make it a 7-4 game. Johnson added a run in the top of the fifth inning from an RBI single by senior Brendan Stanzione, cutting the deficit to 7-5.

The top of the sixth inning would be the turning point of the game. Johnson's junior Mike Casalino walked and stole second base. Two batters later, senior Mike Sot cashed in for an RBI groundout to cut the deficit to 7-6. Turek would tie the game with an RBI single to continue the hitting spree for the Crusaders.

“I don’t know about the momentum, but I do know that we’re playing with confidence,” Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy said. “We’ve gone through a bunch of stuff this year, stuff that was negative that we weren’t able to overcome. There’s been a lot that we’ve been able to overcome. These guys are sticking together and they’re finishing games.”

Junior Kevin Metz gave Johnson the lead with an RBI single, as the Crusaders have their eyes set on the rest of the upcoming schedule.

Stanzione followed with his second RBI base hit of the day to complete the comeback and give Johnson the 9-7 lead.

New Providence would not go down quietly and fought in the bottom half of the inning.

“We need to get out early on teams, make sure we’re defensively-sound, maintain our leads by pitching good strikes and make sure we make all the plays,” Sherman said.

Two straight singles with two outs and an error loaded the bases, but Sot struck out Martin to get out of the jam.

“I always have confidence when I’m out there [on the mound],” Sot said. “I just pitch to contact, like Coach [Kennedy] tells us to do. I trust my guys out there to make the plays, so all I had to do is throw strikes and get the job done.”

Johnson couldn’t add anything else, as the game remained 9-7 heading to the bottom of the seventh inning. Junior Anthony Caldiero came on, looking to close the game out, but New Providence continued to try and get back in the game.

“You just keep plugging away, trust the process, trust what you’re doing and eventually, the balls fall [in the right direction] for you,” New Providence head coach Chris Brodeur said.

They loaded the bases, but Caldiero got Pioneers senior Max Rivkees to ground out, ending the game.

The Pioneers are confident with their remaining games this season and focused on what lays ahead for them. “We just have to keep fighting on,” Martin said. “We have a great group of guys and we have a shot to go far.”

The New Providence Pioneers (6-9) remain home to take on Linden HS Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m.

The Johnson Crusaders (9-7) will take on Westfield HS in the Union County Tournament Semifinals in Cranford on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m.

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