CLARK, NJ – The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity softball team struggled in the early stages of their game Friday afternoon against Immaculata High School (Somerville) Spartans. They trailed 6-1 after five and a half innings, with everything going wrong. They gave up three runs in the top of the fifth inning and it looked like they were heading for a tough loss.
All of that changed with a massive spark, as the Crusaders scored eight runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to take home a come-from-behind 9-6 win.
Johnson junior Nicole Pecoraro got the start. Despite allowing early runs, she limited damage when it looked like the game would get out of control. After the Spartans got an RBI single from freshman Kathryn Nee in the top of the second inning, they loaded the bases, but Pecoraro got the final out to keep it 2-0.
“Definitely keeping my composure on the mound [was important when we were trailing],” Pecoraro said. “[I knew] my defense was going to get it and pick each other up. Staying positive is key to winning a good game.”
Junior Hannah Brogan got Johnson on the board with an RBI triple, scoring junior Jenna Addie to make it a 2-1 Immaculata lead. The Spartans responded scoring three runs, all with two outs in the top of the fifth inning, the big blow coming off the bat of senior Fran Tarroca with a two-run double, as the game became 5-1. She stole home in the top of the sixth inning, the lead now 6-1.
“We didn’t have the focus from the get-go [earlier in the game],” Johnson head coach Chris Di Nucci said. “It’s from top to bottom. I wasn’t great today, I’ve got to be better and that trickles down from the head coach all the way down. You want to come out with a little more energy [early on].”
As Johnson came up to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning, everything began to change. Senior Nicole Cassano smoked the first pitch she saw for a leadoff double. Junior Victoria Zatko followed it with a single to put runners on the corners with no outs. Sophomore Megan Tinger walked to load the bases.
Brogan hustled out a tough groundball for an infield single, scoring Cassano to trim Immaculata’s lead to 6-2. It was junior Bailey Rosenmeier who came up, looking to keep the rally going, that provided the big blow with one swing.
She smoked a pitch deep to left-center field, clearing the bases to cut Immaculata’s lead down to 6-5 and suddenly, she represented the tying run in scoring position. Rosenmeier, who missed the entire 2017 season with a knee injury, knew the chance to set the tone was now-or-never as she connected for the game-changing hit.
“The game was on the line and I knew I had to hit the ball to help my team win,” Rosenmeier said.
Senior Sydney Tropeano stepped up to the plate next for Johnson. She smacked an 0-1 pitch to center field, scoring Rosenmeier to tie the game at 6-6. Making the turn towards second base on the throw, she went to third base on an error to keep the inning going.
“I just needed to get the ball in play and help my team out in any way possible,” Tropeano said of the mindset of stepping up to the plate at that moment. “The fact I was able to do that and gets us going means a lot to me because I knew we would be able to come together and it relies on the hit.”
Senior Jen Tinger gave her team a 7-6 lead with a sacrifice fly, scoring Tropeano to complete the comeback. Her teammates and the fans cheered from the stands with the Crusaders getting the lead after what could’ve ended with a bad loss.
The tying-together of hits kept on coming for the Crusaders. Cassano laced a pitch deep into the outfield, scoring sophomore Lia D’Angelo to make it 8-6.
“Our team is really outgoing,” Tinger said. “It shows no matter what happens, we can bounce back as a team and nobody goes down alone. Once someone gets a good hit, we just build off of that and good things happen.”
Zatko drove home Cassano with a single to make the score 9-6 Crusaders, the final score on the afternoon.
“Top to bottom, we got hits and people moving aggressive on the bases,” Di Nucci said. “It was a team effort in the bottom of the sixth inning. That goes out to our girls and it’s a credit to them for being composed and turn the game around.”
“We have a lot of experience on the team,” he said of his players. “That helps you in these types of games when you’re not playing so well. They came through for us today.”
The Johnson Crusaders (3-2) head out on the road to play Benedictine Academy HS (Elizabeth) Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m.
The Immaculata Spartans (0-4) will travel for a road game at Bridgewater-Raritan HS Monday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.