CLARK, NJ-  After falling behind 32-17 with one minute in the third quarter already played, it looked as if the Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders girls varsity basketball team was going to lose their game against the Spotswood High School Chargers. The Crusaders hung tight and pushed harder as the second half went along, but the Chargers held on for the 53-51 win Friday afternoon in Clark.

Johnson fell behind by as much as 17 points, before stringing together six straight points, cutting the deficit down to 36-25 with 4:24 left in the third quarter. They immediately responded to almost every Spotswood basket and near the end of the third quarter, got key plays from players, along with a stop to get closer.

Senior Tina Palella was able to get a basket off with 0:18 left and what happened next appeared to carry the momentum over to the fourth quarter. Junior Victoria Zatko made the steal and raced over to the basket. She threw the ball up for the shot and was fouled on the play.

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She made the free throw, completing the three-point play, as Spotswood now led 40-35 heading into the fourth quarter.

The Chargers got two straight baskets to open the fourth quarter, to get their lead to 44-35 with 6:31 left, but Johnson wouldn’t go away quietly. Zatko completed another three-point play and senior Kellie Bonaccorso drained a three-point shot to get the Crusaders within 44-41 with 5:38 left.

“It looked like [Spotswood] was starting to let up a little bit and our girls played harder and harder,” Johnson head coach Joe Marino said.

Although Spotswood got a few response baskets, Johnson was finding ways to find their ways back into the game for a chance to complete the comeback. Johnson senior Danielle Hartzler hit a key shot to make it 51-47 with 1:45 left in the fourth quarter.

Hartzler also cut the Spotswood lead down to 53-50 with 0:35 left and needed a key stop to try and get closer to a tie game. Junior Bailey Rosenmeier got fouled after she managed to get possession of the ball and made one of two free throws, cutting the Spotswood lead to 53-51 with 0:19 left.

Spotswood missed free throws in the bonus that gave Johnson one more chance for the last shot of the game, but missed, coming up just short in their comeback attempt, but the effort was a major one in their final regular season game.

“I think the fact that we were able to come back is a testament to the kind of team we can be,” Johnson senior Amy Wysocki said. “When we really play hard and come together as a team, we can do anything.”

Earlier in the game, the Chargers immediately jumped out to a 6-0 lead, before the Crusaders responded with six straight points of their own and would take an 8-6 lead, in an 8-0 scoring run that lasted about three minutes, with Rosenmeier being the anchor of the early few minutes of offense, including four free throws made.

Palella gave Johnson a 13-12 lead with 1:08 left, as Wysocki added a basket to give Johnson a 15-14 lead after the first quarter.

Spotswood held Johnson to zero shots in the second quarter, outscoring them 13-2 in the second quarter to lead 27-17 going into halftime.

For Johnson, Palella finished the night with 13 points, while Hartzler finished with ten points. Wysocki and Zatko contributed eight points apiece for the Crusaders in the loss.

For Spotswood, junior Savannah Robinson finished with 11 points and senior Erin Malin tallied ten points for their team in the win.

The Johnson Crusaders (7-17) return to action to open the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 state tournament with a road game at Raritan HS (Hazlet) on Tuesday, February 27 at 4:00 p.m.

The Spotswood Chargers (17-7) return home to open the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 state tournament with a home game against South River HS on Tuesday, February 27 at 5:00 p.m.