NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ-  The New Providence High School Pioneers came into their home opener with an entirely different look after losing a core set of players to graduation last year. As the afternoon went along, they overcame a slow start in the opening minutes to take control of the game and defeat the Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders by a final score of 41-30 Saturday afternoon in New Providence.

The Pioneers went on an 11-0 scoring run as the second quarter went through, after trailing early in the first quarter. They got two baskets coming from senior Kaitlyn Cumisky, five points from senior Elizabeth Parker and held Johnson to no points for the first two and a half minutes of the second quarter.

The Pioneers also created turnovers off the time Johnson had in their zone, allowing the chances to be created and to cash in on a few scoring opportunities. They led Johnson by a score of 18-12 at halftime.

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“They were making the right decisions with the basketball,” New Providence head coach Cap Pazdera said. “It wasn’t all just one girl scoring the points. They didn’t panic [and] didn’t turn the ball over a lot. They have to work on some of the shots that we were taking, [those] shots that weren’t the best for us to take.”

As the third quarter started, the teams went back-and-forth with each other, as New Providence built a 22-14 lead just a little more than two minutes into the third quarter. Johnson began to chip away at the New Providence lead despite the slow start. Senior Tina Palella and junior Bailey Rosenmeier each scored a basket to cut the deficit to 22-18.

The Crusaders continued to keep the game close, as they cut the lead to 25-22 with 1:21 left in the third quarter, before Pioneers sophomore Alexa Boyle buried a huge three-point basket with 40 seconds left to give her team a 28-22 lead to end the third quarter.

“[New Providence] was making their shots and [we] weren’t,” Johnson head coach Joe Marino said. “We had our opportunities to make shots and we missed some shots. They managed to get the lead on us.”

With uncertainty surrounding the experience of the players on the roster as the season began, the Pioneers found themselves eight minutes from capturing a win on Opening Day.

“We were able to pull it together because we knew not a lot of teams were expecting much from us, so we really wanted to come out and surprise everyone. We worked as a team,” New Providence junior Alyssa Nook said.

As the fourth quarter started, New Providence held a 30-22 lead, with Johnson answering right back to keep the game close. In the final minutes, Johnson made it close, as senior Danielle Hartzler banked home a shot and was fouled. She completed the three-point play, as the Pioneers saw their lead become 32-28 with 3:09 left in the fourth quarter.

Despite watching their lead fall to four points, the Pioneers stood their ground and took back control to win the game.

“For the most part, they handled the pressure and did a good job of not turning the ball over,” Pazdera said.

In the end, the Pioneers put away the Crusaders with a 9-2 scoring run, featuring a three-point play from junior Cassandra Barth, a basket from Cumisky and free throws.

“We have two seniors, but those two seniors did not have a ton of experience in the leading role, in the captain role,” Pazdera said. “It was nice seeing [Kaitlyn Cumisky and Iris Kaloshi] step up today and be a voice on the floor. The sophomores and juniors stepped up and showed they can lead too, which is great.”

For New Providence, Cumisky finished the afternoon with 15 points, while Nook finished with 12 points in the win.

“It was pretty nerve-racking as I didn’t see much playing time last year. So coming in and starting, it was crazy,” Cumisky said. “We’re a close team and we work so well together. We worked hard in practices and it really paid off today.”

For Johnson, the problems in the first half hovered right around the second quarter, where the Crusaders couldn’t connect on shots throughout New Providence’s scoring run.

Despite the loss, the Crusaders expressed confidence in turning it around with games to come next week.

“I think we played really solid defense throughout the game, but we need to work on playing more collectively on offense and finishing all of our shots,” Johnson senior Amy Wysocki said.

Although they cut the deficit down, the Crusaders got within three points near the end of the third quarter and within four points in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, but couldn’t find the baskets needed to strengthen their chances.

“The whole game was back-and-forth, six points, four points,” Marino said. “We cut it down and near the end, we could have cut it down to two with a couple of minutes left in the game.”

Rosenmeier finished the afternoon with seven points, while Palella had six points in the loss for the Crusaders.

The Johnson Crusaders (0-1) play next Tuesday night on the road at Rahway HS at 7:00 p.m.

The New Providence Pioneers (1-0) face off on the road at The Patrick School next Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m.