CLARK, NJ -  The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity baseball team took the field to get their run in the state tournament started against the Raritan High School Rockets. However, Raritan came in and took care business, as the No. 9 seeded Rockets defeated the No. 8 seeded Crusaders by a final score of 6-0 Tuesday afternoon in Clark.

The Rockets wasted no time. Following a leadoff walk by sophomore Tyler Bruno and a double from junior Dan Vanmeerbeke, senior pitcher Matt Birdsall put the ball in play, allowing Bruno score on the RBI groundout, giving Raritan an early 1-0 lead.

In the top of the second inning, Raritan continued to create scoring chances, as sophomore Tim Hayes launched a deep fly ball to center field and out for a solo home run to put his team ahead by a score of 2-0.

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On the mound, Birdsall was in full control against a Johnson lineup that would do a lot of work at the plate. He struck out 11 batters and allowed only three hits to lead his team to a state tournament win on the road.

Still maintaining a 2-0 lead, Raritan would add to that lead in the top of the fifth inning. With runners on second and third base and one out, Birdsall helped his team at the plate, a deep fly ball, scoring Bruno to make the score 3-0 Raritan.

The next batter at the plate, junior Alex LaMatina blasted a deep fly ball to deep center field that found its way out for a two-run home run to make the game 5-0 with Raritan in front.

An RBI double from Vanmeelbeke made the game 6-0 and the Rockets would seal the deal on the Crusaders’ season.

The Johnson hits came from junior Joe Turek and seniors Vin Crisafi and Mike Sot. The senior players reflected upon their time with the baseball program and spoke about their thoughts of the program moving forward.

“Just never take anything for granted,” Vin Crisafi said. “It’s going to fly by. With me going to college next year and not playing baseball, it’s kind of weird, but for those of you who are playing a sport in college, just never take this for granted. It’s fun and make the most of it because it’s going to be over quick and it’ll hit you at some time in your career. Have fun with it next year.”

“I want to say thanks to Coach Kennedy for everything that he’s done. I feel like I learned a lot as a man from him,” Mike Sot said. “Some of the best moments we’ve had were last year in the state tournament, this year’s county tournament, especially knocking off GL, that was a great run for us.”

“I hope [the underclassmen] can see the potential they can have next year,” Brendan Stanzione said. “They can be a really good team, one of the top teams in the county and they need to start putting in the work sooner and hopefully the results come because they have the potential to be a better team next year.”

The Johnson Crusaders finish their 2017 season with an 11-14 record. Head coach Dave Kennedy provided his thoughts of the season.

“We had a lot of really good wins, a lot of tough losses and were very competitive,” Kennedy said. “I’m sad to see the seniors go. Hopefully we learn from a lot of the experiences this year.”

The Raritan Rockets (16-6) advance to the NJSIAA Central, Group 2 Quarterfinals, where they travel to take on No. 1 seeded Governor Livingston HS Thursday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.

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