LINDEN, NJ – Two regular season matchups between the Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity softball team and the Westfield High School Blue Devils ended in a Westfield win. ALJ entered Sunday’s Union County Tournament semifinals determined not to let it happen again – and they didn’t. Johnson pulled out the all-important victory, 7-4, on timely hitting and key plays.
Following a scoreless first inning, the Crusaders offense would take charge in the top of the second. After an error and a walk, sophomore Jenna Addie drove in juniors Nicole Cassano and Mackenzie Purcell to give the Crusaders a 2-0 lead.
ALJ senior Shannon Brogan had a great day at the plate. She tripled on a deep fly ball, scoring both Addie and junior Jen Tinger, making the Crusaders lead now 4-0.
Westfield chipped away at the Johnson lead as they loaded the bases. Their first run came in after senior Danielle Rinaldi was hit by a pitch. A second run came in on an error, making the Crusaders lead 4-2 after two innings of play.
As the game shifted to the top of the fourth inning, the Crusaders added more to their lead. Purcell cracked a lead-off double, and Brogan drove her home on a double of her own, giving the Crusaders a 5-2 lead.
On the afternoon, Brogan went 3-for-4 with a triple, a double and 3 RBIs.
“[Westfield] beat us twice and we got revenge when we needed to,” Brogan said. “Now, every day, we’re working towards the county finals, where we’re going to shine.”
Westfield attempted a comeback with a major push in the bottom of the sixth.
After junior Ally Gulla was hit by a pitch, sophomore Genevieve Howell doubled to set up runners at second and third base with no outs. Junior Natalie Patterson singled to drive home Gulla, making it a 5-3 game.
Sophomore Rachel Rothenberg made it a 5-4 game following an RBI single, scoring Howell. Randazza got the first two outs of the inning immediately following that, but the big play of the inning came right after the second out.
Rinaldi hit a deep fly ball with the two runners on. Cassano ran it down and made an incredible catch to end the inning and keep Johnson out of trouble.
“I was just happy to be able to hold on to the ball with two outs,” Cassano said. “I knew that those runs would score and we would be in a tougher situation than we were.”
The Crusaders added insurance runs to their lead, as Randazza came home on a sacrifice fly from sophomore Victoria Zatko, to make it a 6-4 lead.
“Our mentality this whole week was to go out and get revenge when we had to,” Randazza said. “This was obviously the game that mattered the most and that’s the game we wanted to win and that’s what we did.”
Freshman Megan Tinger doubled, setting up an RBI double from Purcell, scoring the courtesy runner, freshman Lia D’Angelo, making the Crusaders lead 7-4 now. Purcell went 2-for-3 with two doubles and the RBI in the top of the seventh inning.
“Winning this game was great because we get another shot at Governor Livingston,” Purcell said. “Going to play in my second county final is amazing; we’re all excited. I’m ready to be in another one.”
The Crusaders got the final three outs to seal the win and a return to the Union County Tournament finals.
“It’s about the girls,” Johnson head coach Chris Di Nucci said. “They worked their tails off and they handle adversity really well throughout the entire season. It showed today. Westfield is a good softball team and they weren’t going to quit, they were going to continue fighting and they showed in the bottom of the sixth inning.”
“It’s a credit to the girls, they work hard and we’re excited to be in the finals,” Di Nucci added.
The Blue Devils not only saw their Union County Tournament run end in the semifinals for the second straight season, but Sunday’s loss also ended an 11-game winning streak.
“We didn’t make all the defensive plays we could’ve made and we didn’t get a couple of hits we probably needed to get,” Westfield head coach Caitlin MacDonald said. “Johnson did a great job today. They hit with runners in scoring position, they made defensive plays to shut things down, got a lot of first outs with the first batters up. They did their job today and we fell short in some areas.”
The two teams faced off in last year’s Union County Tournament semifinals, with Johnson winning 12-1.
The Johnson Crusaders (12-7) play their next regular season game at home for Senior Day against Metuchen HS Monday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.
They advance to the Union County Tournament Finals on Saturday, May 13, where they will take on Governor Livingston HS in a rematch from last year at Kean University at 2:00 p.m.
The Westfield Blue Devils (12-3) will go back out on the road for a regular season game at Somerville HS Monday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.