CLARK, NJ-  The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity softball team hosted longtime rival, the Westfield High School Blue Devils, Thursday afternoon, but couldn’t get anything going on offense, losing by a final score of 6-3.

After the game, Johnson head coach Chris Di Nucci told his players to put this one behind them and regroup for the games ahead.  The teams head into the Union County tournament this weekend.

“We talked about staying together as a team; making sure that we grow from this,” Di Nucci said. “We’ve got to pick it up and try to get a win on Saturday and build on from there, one game at a time.”

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Westfield, No. 2 seed in the upcoming tournament, got on the board first in Thursday’s game.  A third-inning RBI double by sophomore Erica Lawrence gave the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead.

“It’s pretty much keeping your head in [the game], watch the ball come in and explode on it,” Lawrence said. “That’s really all you can do. Watch your mechanics and the runs will come in. If we keep working the way we’re working, things are going to play out well for us.”

The Crusaders would put two runners on base in the bottom of the third inning, but weren’t able to cash in.

The Blue Devils would add two more runs, RBI singles from junior Jordan Sacher and senior Lauren Fernandez, to give Westfield a 3-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning.

“I think we’re a good team, we have good offense and defense,” Fernandez said. “I think we can really go far.”

They would add another run in the top of the fifth inning, when junior Natalie Patterson drove in junior Ally Gulla with a single.

The Crusaders would push back a bit in the bottom half of the fifth inning.

Following a bunt single from ALJ junior Mackenzie Purcell and a double from junior Jennifer Tinger, senior Shannon Brogan drove home Purcell with an RBI single to cut the Westfield lead to 4-1.

Three batters later, junior Nicole Cassano came up with the bases loaded, but flew out to end the inning.

“They [my teammates] are the best,” Westfield sophomore pitcher Lauren Sullivan said. “They dive for things.  I have so much faith in them. [When Johnson] loaded the bases, I had faith they would catch it.”

It was Sullivan’s first career varsity start and her handling of the inning impressed her coach and teammates.

“Lauren Sullivan, our pitcher, this is her first varsity start today,” Westfield head coach Caitlin MacDonald said. “She’s come in, pitched a couple of games and got a couple of innings from her this year, but this was her first start, so really, it starts with her.  The composure she showed, kept throwing strikes, getting ahead of the batter, keeping them off-balance, that’s where it starts.”

Westfield senior Danielle Rinaldi added another run for her team in the top of the sixth inning with a long hit for a double, scoring Sacher to make it a 5-1 game.

Sophomore Rachel Rothenberg added an RBI single to the mix in the top of the seventh inning, making it a 6-1 Westfield lead.

For Johnson, senior Gianna Randazza hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning that made it a 6-3 game, but Sullivan closed the door to secure another win for her team.

The Johnson Crusaders (7-6) will face off against the winner of Plainfield HS/Rahway HS in the first round of the 2017 Union County Tournament Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m.

The Westfield Blue Devils (9-2) will face off against the winner of New Providence HS/Oak Knoll HS in the first round of the 2017 Union County Tournament Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m.

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