CLARK, NJ-  The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity baseball team found themselves trailing by six runs to the South Plainfield High School Tigers coming into the home half of the seventh inning and attempted a late rally to get back in the game.

The eighth-seeded Crusaders added four quick runs to get closer, but came up short, losing to the ninth-seeded Tigers 7-5 in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 First Round Monday afternoon in Clark.

Sophomore Saul Lopez and seniors Mike Casalino and Zach Thornton recorded singles with no outs to load the bases for the Crusaders. Senior Joe Turek stepped up, looking to keep the rally going. He recorded a single to left field, scoring Lopez to cut the deficit to 7-2 and still going.

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Senior Kevin Metz knocked one into the outfield, scoring two more to make it a 7-4 game with still no outs.

“If you play the game a long time, you always want the opportunity to be a swing away and we were. That’s the really good thing about what happened in the seventh inning,” Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy said. “We still lost, but that’s the really good thing about it.”

Sophomore Steve Harrington kept the rally going with a deep flyball to left field for a sacrifice fly, scoring Turek to cut the deficit down to 7-5.

The Crusaders would not be able to push across any more runs, as South Plainfield rebounded by getting the next two outs to close the door and punch their ticket to the next round of the state tournament.

Pending weather, with the Johnson Crusaders scheduled to host Union Catholic HS Tuesday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., the careers of seniors Anthony Caldiero, Mike Casalino, Kevin Metz, Ryan Spallone, Zach Thornton and Joe Turek officially come to a close.

Some of the players reflected upon their careers with the Johnson varsity baseball team.

“The bond started from eight-year-old travel [baseball] to now. It was great to play with all of these guys for so long and share so many great memories with them,” Mike Casalino said.

“The best thing was playing with all my friends since I was a little kid and watching us grow as a team was special,” Joe Turek said.

“I feel like what separates the typical athlete is the family a Johnson athlete makes,” Ryan Spallone said. “My brothers were more than supportive and involved in my recovery and they were there for me every step of the way, which only made me want to get back out there faster.”

Spallone pitched three innings out of the bullpen to keep the score as it was heading to the final inning.

“I loved being out there again this year with them and couldn’t ask for a better way to end my career,” he added.

The Crusaders got two runners on base in the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings but couldn’t draw closer as they still trailed by six runs heading into the final innings of action.

Earlier on, South Plainfield broke through with two outs in the top of the second inning. In a double-steal strategy, junior starting pitcher Billy Keane stole home to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. Junior Chris Born drove home another run on a single to make it a 2-0 lead.

Another run came in on an error in the top of the third inning to give South Plainfield a 3-0 lead. Turek got Johnson on the board with an RBI double in the bottom of the third inning, cutting the deficit to 3-1.

South Plainfield pushed across three more runs in the top of the fourth inning, when senior Mike Stanczak drove home one with a deep double to make it 5-1. Junior Rob Gonzalez drove home two more runs with a double as the lead became 7-1.

The South Plainfield Tigers (19-9) advance to the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 Quarterfinals. They will travel to play at top-seeded Governor Livingston HS Thursday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.

Their next game is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Perth Amboy HS at 12:00 p.m.