RUMSON, NJ -  The Crusaders left it all on the court in Arthur L. Johnson High School’s first ever NJSIAA Central, Group 2 State Sectional Final appearance, but in the end they fell short to the Rumson-Fair Haven High School Bulldogs, losing 57-51 Tuesday night in Rumson.

 “I’m proud, sad and encouraged,” Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy said. “There’s a ton of emotion going on. We had an opportunity to win a ballgame and we didn’t. We won 22 games this year and we had a lot of great wins and a lot of great opportunities and that’s the sport. Congratulations to the Rumson team.”

The Crusaders sprinted out to a quick 8-0 lead, with sophomore Brandon Hund draining two straight 3-pointers, but the Bulldogs fought right back with nine straight points.

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The Crusaders would score four points, a basket from senior Brendan Stanzione and two free throws from Hund to take a 12-9 at the end of the first quarter.

The Bulldogs fought back in the second quarter, sprinting out to a lead while holding the Crusaders’ offense at bay. R-FH sophomore Ian O’Connor led the way with ten points in the quarter alone. Johnson faced a 25-17 halftime deficit.

The Bulldogs built a 30-20 lead with 6:29 left in the third, but Johnson would battle back. Stanzione scored a free throw and layup to cut the lead to 30-23. Rumson-Fair Haven would lead 34-25 with 3:36 left, but with a basket from junior Joe DiProfio, a three-pointer from sophomore Brenden Kelly and a three-point play from Stanzione, Johnson would trim the deficit by a lot.

The Crusaders trailed the Bulldogs 36-35 heading into the fourth quarter, which would prove to be a back-and-forth battle. With 6:00 left, Rumson led Johnson 44-37, but Johnson found a spark on offense. DiProfio cashed in on a shot to cut the lead to 44-39.

He would miss on a bonus free throw shot, but immediately after that, Hund drilled another three-pointer following an offensive rebound, making it a 44-42 game with 4:23 left.

A three-point play by sophomore Jackson McCarthy made the lead 47-42 Bulldogs, but Johnson wouldn’t go away without a fight.

Hund drained another three-point basket, trimming the lead to 48-45 with 2:04 left. After a minute and a half of no scoring, Rumson’s lead was down to 49-47, following two free throws by DiProfio, but that would be as close as the Crusaders would get to coming back in the game, as the Bulldogs secured their first state sectional title.

Ian O’Connor finished the night with 19 points for the Bulldogs, while junior Teddy Sourlis added ten points in the victory.

The Johnson Crusaders 2016-17 season began with a 9-0 winning streak. They clinched the Union County Conference Sky Division for the second consecutive year and made a phenomenal run into the program’s first state sectional final in school history.

The seniors reflected on their time with the program and expressed optimism for the underclassmen in future seasons of the program.

  • “I love [my teammates],” senior Ray Williamson said. “They’re my family. They’re tough and are going to come back hungry next year.”
  • “They’ve been amazing,” Stanzione said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys. I’m going to miss playing with them, but I know they are going to do big things next year.”

For Johnson, Hund led his team with 19 points, while Kelly scored 11 points. Stanzione and DiProfio each tallied eight points for Johnson in the loss.

The Johnson Crusaders finish their 2016-17 season with a 22-5 record and the underclassmen are ready to take on the roles of the departing seniors.

“Hopefully, we take in their work ethic and determination,” Hund said. “They always wanted to win and even though they were quiet, they showed a lot of emotion. They were a big part of the team and we hope to fill those holes and get to this stage again, but with a different outcome.”

The Rumson-Fair Haven Bulldogs (24-2) advance to the NJSIAA Group 2 Semifinals.

They will face off against Camden HS, the South, Group 2 winner on Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. at Perth Amboy High School.

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