CLARK, NJ -  With a group of key players returning this year, the Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity baseball team is looking ahead to the 2017 season, hoping to surpass their results from last year.

“I’m looking forward to a year where we compete well and we put ourselves in a position to win a lot of ballgames,” Head coach Dave Kennedy said. This is Kennedy’s tenth season at the helm of the Crusaders baseball team.

Anchoring the team are seniors Vin Crisafi behind the plate, Brendan Stanzione in right field, Mike Sot on the mound and at second and Connor Fayard.

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In 2016, Crisafi put up 17 hits, four doubles, one triple, 12 RBIs and finished the season with a .415 batting average.

On the mound, Sot pitched eight innings, allowed nine runs, striking out four batters and walking seven, posting a 2-0 record. At bat, Sot’s statistics included 17 hits, eight RBIs and two doubles.

Stanzione’s had 16 hits, three doubles, one triple, seven RBIs and a .416 batting average in 2016. This winter, he was part of the Crusaders boys basketball team’s run to the first state sectional final in program history, also under Coach Kennedy.

“Going on a run like we did in basketball was a ton of fun,” Stanzione said. “Just thinking about what we can do in baseball too makes it really exciting.”

Returning juniors who are expected to have a big impact on the team’s 2017 success are Joe Turek at first base, Zach Thornton at short and pitcher Joe DiProfio.

Turek was impressive in last year’s NJSIAA Central, Group 2 First Round 9-5 win over East Brunswick HS with a whopping five RBIs. He ended the season with a .521 batting average, 24 hits, 24 RBIs, six doubles and two triples.

“I think this team has a lot of motivation to do well,” Kennedy said. “There’s a lot of successes happening around us. For those who didn’t participate in the spring or the fall, or our past teams, they want to feel that happen to them, an opportunity to put themselves into winning something.”

Despite losing to Summit High School in the first round of the 2016 Union County Tournament, the team went on to capture the Union County Conference Watchung Division title and make a deep run in the state tournament playoffs.

As the No. 12 seed in the NJSIAA Central, Group 2 playoffs, the Crusaders stunned No. 5 seeded East Brunswick Tech High School in the first round by a final score of 9-5 on May 23.

Three days later, they would defeat No. 13 seeded New Providence High School in the quarterfinals by a final score of 9-1, reaching the state semifinals for the first time since 2013.

Their season ended with a 7-0 loss to No. 1 seeded Delaware Valley High School on May 31, one that’s left the team motivated to try and get back to that round.

The team looks to fill in the holes left by Mitch Becker, Tommy Colicchio, Anthony Rizzuto, Andrew Sanchez, Bobby Prestinari, Anthony Bozzone, Anthony Furci, Wyatt Bohm, Wes Giannobile and Ryan Mulroy, who all graduated last year.

“Like anything else, [I’m looking forward to] seeing those who were with me last year get better,” Kennedy said. “We want to play to the next guy and allow this culture to continue to grow in a positive way. [We want to] give ourselves the opportunity to win some of the bigger games. I think this group has a chance to do something like that.”

The baseball season gets underway on the road at Summit HS on Saturday, April 1 at noon. Their home opener is Tuesday, April 4 against Linden HS at 4:00 p.m.

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