Sports

With New Coach, Johnson Crusaders Varsity Softball Seeks to Defend 2016 Championships

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Johnson softball head coach Chris Di Nucci talks to the team following the conclusion of practice. The Crusaders open up their 2017 season at Westfield HS on Saturday, April 1, 2017. Credits: Daniel Collins
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Arthur L. Johnson High School senior Shannon Brogan, who will play Division III softball at Moravian College, hopes to inspire the younger players in her final season with the softball program. Credits: Daniel Collins
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Arthur L. Johnson High School senior Gianna Randazza, who will play Division I softball at Boston College, is closing in on a few career milestones, particularly 500 strikeouts and 200 hits. Credits: Daniel Collins
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Arthur L. Johnson High School varsity softball head coach Chris Di Nucci watches on as the team practices on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. He was named the new head coach on January 10 at a BOE meeting. Credits: Daniel Collins
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Arthur L. Johnson High School junior Mackenzie Purcell, who plays second base, had 15 hits, 13 RBIs, four doubles and 12 walks in the 2016 season. Credits: Daniel Collins
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Arthur L. Johnson High School junior Nicole Cassano, a right fielder and pitcher, takes a few swings in the batting cage. She had 32 hits, 25 RBIs, ten doubles, two triples and two home runs in 2016. Credits: Daniel Collins
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Arthur L. Johnson High School sophomore Victoria Zatko, who plays catcher, posted a batting average of .279 (24-for-86), seven doubles, two triples and hit two home runs in the 2016 season. Credits: Daniel Collins
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Arthur L. Johnson High School junior Sydney Tropeano, who plays center field, is one of the key players from the 2016 team returning this year. Credits: Daniel Collins
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Arthur L. Johnson High School junior Jennifer Tinger, who plays third base, takes swings at a batting cage station. She made a few key defensive plays during the Crusaders' championship run in 2016. Credits: Daniel Collins
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CLARK, NJ -  In June, 2016, the Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity softball team completed a historic season, featuring a 24-9 record (school record in wins) and winning the county, conference and state championships, along with reaching the Group 2 State Finals.

This year, the team will take the field to defend its championships with a new face leading the way.

The Coach

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Chris Di Nucci, a 2009 Arthur L. Johnson High School graduate and current gym teacher at the school, was named the new softball head coach on Tuesday, Jan. 10.  He expressed excitement in taking over the program, hoping to pick up right from where the team left off in 2016.

Joining his staff this year are Laura Bundy, Andrea Ascolese and Amanda Merten, a 2015 Johnson graduate. Di Nucci replaces Mike Mancino, who left the district for an assistant principal job at Ramapo High School.

A Look Back

The Crusaders defeated Governor Livingston High School by a final score of 7-0 on May 14, 2016 to secure the program’s first Union County Tournament Championship since 1981. Two days later, they captured the Union County Conference Watchung Division championship two with a 6-4 win over the Highlanders.

The girls continued their magical season with a victory over Voorhees High School on June 2, winning the program’s first state championship since 1996.

Advancing to the Group 2 State Semifinals, the Crusaders defeated West Deptford High School on June 7 by a final score of 6-5 to advance to the finals.  On June 10, the girls fell short, losing to Demarest High School in the state championship final round by a final score of 9-3.

The Players

Gianna Randazza and Shannon Brogan will lead the way as the 2017 team captains.  Seniors, the players hope to add more championship runs and leave a lasting impact on the program in their final year.  

Both players achieved the milestone of 100 career hits last year, Randazza on April 5 against Roselle Park HS and Brogan on May 31 against Bordentown HS.

Randazza, who will play Division I softball at Boston College, finished the 2016 season with a batting average of .438 (46-for-105), 50 RBIs, ten doubles, three triples and three home runs. On the mound, she posted a 15-6 record, pitching 136 innings while recording 149 strikeouts and walking 62 batters. She allowed 58 earned runs and 105 hits last season.

In 2017, Randazza stands to reach a milestone 500 strikeouts (currently at 419 for her career) and 200 hits (145 career hits as of the season start).

Brogan, who will play Division III softball at Moravian College, finished the 2016 season with a batting average of .466 (48-for-103), 17 RBIs, 11 doubles and two triples. She hit the game-winning RBI single that put Johnson ahead for good in the NJSIAA Central, Group 2 State Sectional Final against Voorhees HS.

Watch in the days ahead for Randazza’s and Brogan’s thoughts on the season!

The team will feel a loss with the departure of Stephanie Visconti (P/1B) and Gabby Zatko (LF), who both graduated last June. But with a deep bench, the girls are confident they can continue to post the wins.  

The team looks to juniors Mackenzie Purcell and Nicole Cassano to play key roles in the season ahead.

Second baseman Purcell finished last season on the varsity squad with 15 hits, 13 RBIs, four doubles and 12 walks.

Cassano, who plays at right-field, had 32 hits in the 2016 season. She registered 25 RBIs, ten doubles, two triples and two home runs, including a key three-run home run against Governor Livingston HS on May 16 that helped secure the conference championship for the Crusaders.

On the mound, she posted a 1-1 record, pitching 13.1 innings, recording seven strikeouts, allowing five runs on 12 hits.

Watch in the days ahead for Purcell’s and Cassano’s thoughts on the season!

Other returning players from the 2016 team include junior Jennifer Tinger (third base), junior Sydney Tropeano (center-field) and sophomore Victoria Zatko (catcher).

Last season, Zatko posted a batting average of .279 (24-for-86), seven doubles, two triples and hit two home runs.

Sitting out the season is sophomore Bailey Rosenmeier. A key member of the 2016 squad, she is sidelined with a torn ACL suffered while playing basketball this past winter season.

The 2017 season kicks off for Johnson on Saturday, April 1 with a road game at Livingston High School. Their home opener is Saturday, April 8 against Elizabeth High School.

The Schedule

Click to View the AL Johnson Crusaders Girls Varsity Softball Schedule

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