CLARK, NJ-  Coming into Monday afternoon’s game, all the Westfield High School Blue Devils had to do was remind themselves what happened on May 7 of last season. After sweeping the 2017 regular season series against the Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity softball team, it was the Crusaders who upended the Blue Devils 7-4 in the 2017 Union County Tournament Semifinals.

Junior Genevieve Howell was on that team and helped give her team a big boost at the plate in a big third inning for her team with one swing of the bat as the Blue Devils started strong, but held off a furious Crusaders rally to win 6-5.

“[Johnson] has always been a rival of Westfield,” Howell said. “Ever since they beat us in the [2017 Union County Tournament Semifinals], they’ve always been tough competition against us and today, we really wanted this win.”

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With the bases loaded and no outs in the inning, she took an 0-1 pitch to deep left field and out for a grand slam, as part of a five-run third inning as the Blue Devils took a 5-0 lead. She was met by her teammates at home plate in celebration, with all the runs being scored before the first out of the inning was recorded.

“Genevieve was on that team last year. To see her come through with the bases loaded, I’m not surprised,” Westfield head coach Caitlin MacDonald said. “She’s a great hitter, that’s why she’s in that spot. She’s had a rough game, one or two before this and it’s a heck of a way to break out of it.”

The Blue Devils opened the top of the third inning with a walk, a baserunner reaching on an error and a base hit to load the bases. They took a 1-0 lead on a mishandled ball in the infield before Howell’s big swing appeared to open it up early.

“[Westfield] was hitting the ball to spots that were up the gap and they had people on base, which was inevitable that they were going to score,” Johnson senior Nicole Cassano said.

The Crusaders were looking for offense and got back in the game slowly. Senior Sydney Tropeano led off the bottom of the third inning with an infield single and senior Jen Tinger and Cassano both worked a walk to load the bases. Junior Victoria Zatko drove home a run on a groundout to cut the lead to 5-1.

After Cassano worked a 1-2-3 top of the fourth inning, the Crusaders chipped away more at the Blue Devils lead. Junior Hannah Brogan singled to start the inning and went to second base on a groundout. After Jen Tinger reached on an error, Brogan, who suddenly rounded third base, broke for home. She made it in safely without a tag and it was 5-2.

Westfield freshman starting pitcher Michaela Hobson added to her team’s lead with an RBI single to give her team a 6-2 lead, answering Johnson’s attempts to draw closer.

Johnson would not back down and worked their way back into the game. Cassano singled and went to third on a Zatko single, followed by a sacrifice fly from senior Lauren Donah cutting the lead to 6-3. Zatko came in to score on an error as the Westfield lead was cut to 6-4.

Brogan doubled on the first pitch she saw with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning and came in on an RBI single from junior Bailey Rosenmeier and it was now a one-run lead at 6-5.

“[The rally] shows we can push through the tough times, not give up and we can come back from anything,” Cassano spoke of her team’s comeback effort.

Jen Tinger worked a two-out walk and went to second base, putting the tying and potential winning runs on base.

“We knew today was going to be a battle, there’s no doubt about it,” MacDonald said. “Every time we face [Johnson], it’s a battle, one way or the other.”

Hobson recovered to get junior Jenna Addie to ground out to end the game.

“Basically, [I just had] to stay tight, hit my spots, make sure [Johnson doesn’t] get anything too good that they can hit,” Hobson said.

Despite coming up short, the Crusaders were pleased with the rally and head back to work towards preparing for their next set of games.

“At 5-0, we talked about how there’s no five-run hit, so [we] string some hits together, put some good at-bats together and be able to chip away,” Di Nucci said. “Get one or two runs per inning and we were able to do that today and make it a game where we’re in the bottom of the seventh [inning] with two on. That’s a credit to our girls for not giving up and sticking with it.”

“Tip your hat to Westfield, that’s a great softball team,” he added. “It’s interesting when you have a playoff-type atmosphere at the end of April and you’re playing these types of games.”

The Johnson Crusaders (7-3) and Westfield Blue Devils (5-6) will face off in Westfield Thursday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.

The Westfield Blue Devils head back on the road to play their next game at Cranford HS Tuesday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.