ROBBINSVILLE, NJ- The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity softball team took to the field in their second sectional championship game appearance in the past three seasons, looking to continue the trail of success, but in the end, came up short. The third-seeded Crusaders lost to the top-seeded Robbinsville High School Ravens 5-1 in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 Sectional Final Tuesday afternoon in Robbinsville.
After two scoreless innings between the two teams, the Ravens struck for two runs in the bottom of the third inning. Three straight singles led to the runs, including RBI singles from senior Shea Walsh and junior Devon Witt to make the game 2-0 Robbinsville.
Johnson responded in the top of the fourth inning to get back in the game. Senior starting pitcher Nicole Cassano walked to lead off the inning and junior Victoria Zatko singled to left field to put runners at first and second with no outs. Senior Lauren Donah hit a groundball to third base and Robbinsville attempted to go for the force play, but the ball got away, allowing Cassano to score on the error to cut the lead to 2-1.
Johnson couldn’t bring home anyone else and the game shifted to the bottom of the fourth inning with the score still 2-1 Ravens. Cassano and Robbinsville senior starting pitcher Kate Hunter continued putting zeroes across the board and the game remained the same score.
Robbinsville put the game out of reach in the bottom of the sixth inning. After a walk was worked by junior Olivia Moser and a single from Hunter, they both moved into scoring position following a sacrifice bunt. Alyssa Whitman doubled deep into the outfield scoring them both to make the lead 4-1 Robbinsville. Another run came in to extend the lead to 5-1 and would get the final three outs to secure the sectional championship.
“I told the girls I’m proud of their efforts, their determination and the team that we’ve become throughout the year. We improved immensely,” Johnson head coach Chris Di Nucci said. “That’s a good Robbinsville team. They got the timely hits today and we didn’t. We had baserunners and sometimes, the game goes the other way.”
The loss closes out the careers of Johnson seniors Jen Tinger, Mackenzie Purcell, Nicole Cassano, Lauren Donah and Sydney Tropeano.
All were members of the 2016 NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 sectional championship team, along with the 2016 Union County Tournament championship and two Union County Conference Watchung Division conference championships (co-champions in 2015, won outright in 2016, 2018).
“I have played with most of the girls for such a long time even before high school,” Jen Tinger said. “The coaches helping and coaching us through the hard games and the easy games always trying to help. Johnson softball will always be part of my family. I’m thankful I could be part of an amazing team.”
“Despite how this year ended, making it to the sectional championship was an accomplishment in itself,” Mackenzie Purcell said. “We have had so many great times together, even when we were down. Everyone was always there to pick each other up and make each other better. I will miss all the girls and coaches so much and our love for the game that we all share.”
“We played together as a team and always picked each other up when down,” Nicole Cassano said. “I am truly going to miss the dedication every girl had for the team and the hard work we put in. I want to thank my teammates and coaches for making this season a memorable one.”
“I will remember the outstanding players that came through this program along with the amazing coaches. We all worked hard whether it was at practice or games,” Lauren Donah said. “I will never forget the hard work and dedication my teammates and coaches put in to make the season great.”
“I’ll remember the girls and coaches that I was surrounded by every day for the past four years of my life,” Sydney Tropeano said. “Through what we accomplished and being able to say we have a sectional championship, along with a Union County championship and three conference championships, it would not have been possible without the hard work this program has put in. I wouldn’t trade any of this. I will always thank Johnson softball for what it has done for me on and off the field.”
The seniors earned praise for their leadership throughout the season, including a 10-2 run by Johnson following an early setback in the 2018 Union County Tournament one month ago.
“It’s led with the seniors. We have a great group of girls and I’m proud to say I’ve coached this team and this group. They always battle and fight to the end,” Di Nucci said. “19-6 and playing for a sectional final, we came out on the wrong side of it. It’s nothing to put your head down for.”
“I told the girls there’s nothing I could’ve asked for them more in terms of effort, hustle and determination,” he added.
The Johnson Crusaders finish their 2018 season with a 19-6 record.
The Robbinsville Ravens (24-1) advance to the NJSIAA Group 2 State Semifinals. They will take on Steinert HS, the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group 2 sectional champions Thursday afternoon at Rowan University at 4:00 p.m.