CLARK, NJ -  The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity softball team struggled against the Hunterdon Central High School Red Devils Friday afternoon, making four errors and leaving scoring chances base. Despite a late rally, the early miscues cost the Crusaders the game and they came up short in a 5-4 loss.

“We can’t give up extra outs,” Johnson head coach Chris Di Nucci said. “There’s usually mistakes early on in the game and turn into runs. In those couple of innings, we should be out of the inning with no runs and we give extra outs, four or five outs in an inning and they’re able to capitalize.”

Hunterdon Central took an early 1-0 lead after a leadoff walk from senior Alex DeStefano and an RBI double from junior Madison McKevitt. Two more runs would come in on an error in the outfield to make the score 3-0 Hunterdon Central.

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In the top of the third inning, the Red Devils would cash in on more runs. After an error and single put two runners on, sophomore Olivia Burd drilled a long fly ball to the outfield for a two-run triple, making the game 5-0.

“For me, personally, I was in a little bit of a slump,” Burd said. “I’ve been using my teammates as backup and just really getting myself forward. We used our momentum as a whole team to just really push through and just relied on our defense and pushed through as a team.”

The Crusaders would cut into the Red Devils’ lead in the bottom of the third inning.

A pair of errors would allow the Crusaders to cash in on one run, cutting the deficit to 5-1.

With two outs, senior Gianna Randazza hit a fly-ball deep into right field, scoring sophomore Lia D’Angelo and senior Shannon Brogan to cut the Hunterdon Central lead down to 5-3.

The Red Devils pushed to put the game out of reach in the top of the fifth inning.

A single, an error and a walk loaded the bases with one out, but Clark’s Randazza got junior Lexi Semandiak to tap the ball back to her.  Randazza threw the ball to freshman catcher Megan Tinger to get the force-out at home plate.

Tinger then threw the ball to junior Lauren Donah to complete the 1-2-3 double play and get out of the inning.

The Crusaders would get closer in the bottom of the fifth inning, following a one-out double by Brogan. Randazza would drive her in with an RBI double to cut the lead to 5-4. With the tying run on second base, Donah would pop out to center field to end the inning.

“Our team knew that it was going to be a hard game,” Hunterdon sophomore pitcher Kylie Gletlow said. “We just pushed through it and we believed in each other and I believed in my teammates. I knew we were going to make the plays when we needed to.”

In the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs, Hunterdon Central faced a test with a chance to end the game.

“We kept our composure and we battled it out, it was a dogfight,” McKevitt said. “We left runners on base, you’re not going to always come through, but I think next time, we’re going to come through, but we kept our composure, came in and we came out on top.”

Gletlow hit junior Jen Tinger with a pitch, putting the tying run on base, giving Randazza a chance to extend the inning as the potential winning run at the plate, but a lineout to third base sealed the game and win for Hunterdon Central.

“Our defense played strong and even though we made a few errors, they were able to come back,” Hunterdon Central head coach Kelly Karp said. “We worked together and had each other’s back.”

The Johnson Crusaders (6-3) head out to a tournament in Delaware on Saturday. They take on Caravel Academy HS (DE) at 12:00 p.m. and play Smyrna HS (DE) at 4:00 p.m.. After losing their last two games, the Crusaders hope to turn things around down south.

The Hunterdon Central Red Devils (9-1) will head back home to play Voorhees HS in the second round of the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex County Tournament Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m.

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