CLARK, NJ - The No. 8 seeded Arthur L. Johnson High School High School Crusaders were eliminated from the Union County Tournament by the No. 9 seeded Rahway High School Indians by a final score of 82-75 in overtime Tuesday night in Clark.
Despite the loss, the Crusaders are looking ahead, with their one major goal they can still achieve this year,locking up the conference title.
“We know we control our own destiny,” Johnson head coach Joe Marino said. “We have to beat Summit and Plainfield to win our conference because we beat Rahway two of three times. We’re aiming for the conference this week, that’s our goal.”
Both teams fought hard in the tournament game, playing a tight first quarter, with the Crusaders holding a slim lead of 14-10 following the first eight minutes of play. Johnson senior Meaghan Gallagher scored six points in the quarter.
Rahway would battle back in the second quarter. Junior Wil’Lisha Jackson scored 12 points in the quarter alone, helping Rahway take a 31-28 halftime lead. Although the score was close throughout the second quarter, Rahway outscored the Crusaders 21-14 for the advantage.
The second half got underway with Johnson coming through to build a lead. Junior Danielle Hartzler scored back-to-back three-point baskets to put Johnson ahead 34-31. There would be more from Crusaders as the quarter went along.
Hartzler drained her third 3-pointer of the quarter, while the Crusaders would lead 45-39 before the epic fourth quarter rolled around.
With 6:07 left, the Crusaders led the Indians 50-42 before Rahway called a timeout, looking to sort everything out and get back in the game. Following two quick baskets, the Crusaders’ lead was down to 50-46.
Johnson junior Tina Palella put her team up 52-46, before Rahway would trim the lead down to three points. As the final minutes ticked off the clock, the Crusaders still held a slim lead of 65-62 with four seconds left before Rahway responded to force the extra quarter.
With one final chance, Rahway senior Samirah Henderson beat the buzzer with a three-point basket to send the game to overtime.
“It was very good,” Henderson said. “It was a good feeling because we lost to them previously and just to come in and win the game, it meant a lot to us.”
As overtime started, Gallagher would drain two straight baskets to put Johnson ahead 69-67. Following two free throws for Rahway, Palella drained back-to-back baskets to give Johnson a 73-69, but Rahway would come through on the offensive side of the ball for the rest of overtime.
Tied at 73 with 1:04 left, Jackson connected on a basket and was fouled, giving her team the lead with 26 seconds left. The Crusaders weren’t able to get closer, as Rahway would outscore Johnson for the rest of the quarter, 7-2, to lock up the win.
“It felt really great because we were beaten twice by them, but it just shows that we’re relentless and keep fighting to stay in this game,” Jackson said.
Jackson scored 25 points to power the Indians to a confidence-boosting victory for the team moving forward in the season. Henderson added 23 points for the Indians on the night.
“It was incredible, I’m so proud of them, they never gave up,” Rahway head coach Danielle Brown said. “They shows tremendous heart and tremendous effort and toughness.”
For Johnson, Palella led her team with 21 points in the loss, while Gallagher added 20 points. Hartzler scored 15 points, with five 3-point baskets.
The Johnson Crusaders (8-12) play next Tuesday night in a home game against Summit HS at 7:00 p.m.
The Rahway Indians (13-10) advance to the Union County Tournament Second Round, where they will head out on the road for a game at No. 1 seeded Patrick School Friday night at 7:00 p.m.
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