CLARK, NJ- The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity baseball team returned to their home field for the second of a four-game stretch over the next four days, as they took on the Summit High School Hilltoppers. They got timely hits, with sophomore Steve Harrington right in the middle of the action.
In a three-run first inning, Harrington drove in two runs with a single to center field (was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double), but his biggest hit came in the bottom of the fifth inning.
After his team fought to tie the score at 4-4, his go-ahead RBI single with two outs in the inning scored sophomore courtesy runner Saul Lopez to lift the Crusaders past the Hilltoppers 5-4 Wednesday afternoon in Clark.
Down 0-2 in the count, Harrington made contact at the next pitch that came his way and sent it to shallow center field, scoring Lopez to give his team the lead. Lopez set up the baserunning with stealing second base to get into scoring position for Harrington.
“I was trying to look for a fastball because [Will Hellings, Summit starter] wasn’t pitching me any of his curveballs. He threw me two curves in a row, that worked. I got the last fastball and I had to swing because [there were] two strikes.”
Earlier on, it was the Crusaders who struck instantly after going to work on offense. Senior Zach Thornton led off the bottom of the first inning with a double and sophomore Max Carmino reached on a bunt for an infield single. Senior Joe Turek walked to load the bases with no outs. Senior Kevin Metz grounded out to third base, scoring Thornton to give his team the 1-0 lead.
Harrington followed with his two-run single to deep center field to give Johnson a 3-0 lead.
As the game shifted to the top of the second inning, the Hilltoppers found a way to solve Johnson sophomore starting pitcher Patrick Grady after being retired 1-2-3 in the top of the first inning.
Junior Justin Weiss singled to left field with one out and junior Mike Competiello followed with one of his own to put two on base. Senior Andrew Miller gave his team a needed jolt to get back in it. He doubled to deep left field, scoring Weiss and Competiello to cut the Johnson lead to 3-2.
In the top of the third inning, Summit would regain the lead. After Grady walked Summit junior Matt Reddy, junior Trevor Mutolo launched an 0-2 pitch to deep right field and out for a two-run home run, giving the Hilltoppers a 4-3 lead.
“[Andrew and Trevor] are guys who have been struggling, so it was nice to see that they stepped up and got hits,” Summit head coach Kevin Zaleski said. “They both had two today. The team usually rolls when those two are bigger hitters.”
Johnson found a way to tie the game in the bottom half of the inning. Thornton led off the inning with a single to center field and Carmino walked. After a forceout, Thornton and courtesy runner Saul Lopez were both on base.
Summit sophomore Will Hellings attempted a pickoff, but it went into center field, allowing Thornton and Lopez to advance a base on the pickoff error. Metz came up to the plate and took advantage of situational hitting. He laced a single to center field, scoring Thornton to tie the game at 4-4. Johnson took back the lead on Harrington’s go-ahead RBI single.
“You just stay focused, hit what’s thrown to you and make something big happen,” Metz said.
After Johnson took the lead on Harrington’s fifth-inning single, Summit threatened in the top of the sixth inning. Mutolo singled and stole second base, putting the tying run in scoring position. Carmino shined the leather on the defensive side.
He caught a line drive from Weiss and flipped the ball to Harrington, doubling off Mutolo and ending the inning.
“I just had to make the first out, catch the ball and flipped it over to Steve, he finished it off for us,” Carmino said of the double play.
“We have some ability to make plays here in the field,” Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy said. “Hopefully, this is something that will help us get better moving forward and we’ll be prepared down the road.”
Freshman Kyle Adorno relieved Grady in the top of the seventh inning. After recording the first out, Competiello singled and Miller doubled, putting the tying and go-ahead runs on base.
Adorno struck senior Greg Vloss out looking for the second out, but the first pitch to Hellings was smacked deep to right-center field, but senior Anthony Caldiero tracked it down and caught the ball to end the game.
“We battled at the plate [and] we put the ball in play,” Zaleski said. “We didn’t a lot of baserunners in the early innings, which hurt us. We stayed in the game. We didn’t get enough in the end.”
“Overall, the team played better together as a unit,” Mutolo said. “In past games, we were a little unorganized and this game, we’re able to put some runs on the board. We didn’t get the win, but glad to be back in a rhythm.”
Johnson has won four of the last five games and look to keep everything going to their next set of games.
“We faced a good pitcher and were able to grind out some runs off him,” Kennedy said. “We won a close game, that was real nice. We’ve lost a couple of close games, so it felt nice to be on the other side.”
The Johnson Crusaders (4-4) remain home to play Piscataway HS Thursday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.
The Summit Hilltoppers (3-5) head back on the road to play at Brearley HS Friday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.