CLARK, NJ -  The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders girls varsity basketball team took down the Summit High School Hilltoppers, 50-32, Thursday night. In a well-balanced offensive effort, the Crusaders dominated throughout the game.

Junior Amy Wysocki posted five of her nine points on the night in the first quarter for A.L. Johnson.

The Crusaders picked up their game in the second quarter with a 13-2 scoring run to build a comfortable lead. The run overwhelmed the Hilltoppers, who struggled to keep up. ALJ juniors Tina Palella and Danielle Hartzler drained key baskets to stretch the Crusaders’ lead.

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On the night, Palella finished with 12 points, while Hartzler had five points in the win for the Crusaders. It was last home game for Johnson seniors Sabrina Parin, Meaghan Gallagher and Jess Gannon.

“It was an important win, it was our seniors’ last home game and after a week off, it was great that we won by that much [18 points],” Palella said.

Johnson led Summit 23-11 at halftime and continued to play harder and harder on both sides of the ball. They stretched their lead over another explosive 14-2 scoring run, going up 37-13 with four minutes left to play in the third quarter.

The Crusaders led the Hilltoppers 43-22 following the third quarter and they never looked back. They carried their lead into the fourth quarter, all the way up to the final buzzer, securing another dramatic win for the team.

Summit’s leading scorer, junior Christina Richson, didn’t score her first points until the fourth quarter. It was all part of Johnson's defensive strategy. 

“We went into the game tonight knowing we had to shut down their star player [Christina Richson] and we held her to only six points late in the game, which was nice,” Johnson first-year head coach Joe Marino said. “We knew that they had a couple of girls back from injuries, [and were missing] a couple of girls inside that could’ve helped them with rebounding.”

“The nice thing was that we had a couple of our girls return also, from injuries. We knew that helped us out inside. We did a nice job. The girls went out there and they played hard, they executed,” he said.

Senior Meaghan Gallagher led the Crusaders in scoring with 14 points. The night's win has the team confident in their chances to close out their games in the conference. The players turn their attention towards practice tomorrow and chance to lock up the conference title.

“We know Plainfield is our next game and that’s what we’re really focusing on,” Gallagher said. “So, we’re putting all our efforts towards that game.”

“It’s important that we play really hard,” Palella said. “If we win that, we win the conference and we haven’t done that in such a long time.”

This was also Johnson’s first game since the Union County Tournament First Round 82-75 overtime loss against Rahway back on Feb. 14. 

“It was really good, we worked really hard at practice after that tough loss against Rahway,” Gallagher added. “We wanted to get back here and do what we need to do and I think we had a lot of fun on the court, so it was a good time.”

The game was a makeup from Feb. 9, which was postponed due to a snowstorm. 

For Summit, Noelia Todorov scored 12 points in the loss.

The Johnson Crusaders (9-12) will face off against Plainfield HS in Rahway Saturday morning at 9:00 a.m.. The outcome of that game gives the Crusaders a chance to win their first Union County Conference Mountain Division title since the 2007-08 season, a goal the Crusaders had set for themselves on day one of the season.

“Our girls want the conference,” Marino added. “They know they have to earn it.”

On Monday, No. 15 seed Johnson will travel to play No. 2 seeded Rumson-Fair Haven HS at 5:00 p.m. in the first round of the NJSIAA Central, Group 2 state playoffs.

The Summit Hilltoppers (8-17) are back in action for the first round of the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state playoffs. As the No. 16 seed, they will travel to play at No. 1 seeded Somerville HS Monday night at 7:00 p.m.

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