Girls Basketball: AL Johnson (Clark) Beats Plainfield, 54-42, to Secure Conference Title

The Arthur L. Johnson High School girls basketball team beat Plainfield High School Saturday in Rahway to secure the Mountain Division championship of the Union County Conference Credits: Photo courtesy of Lisa Cimbalista-Gannon
The Crusaders secured the conference title for the first time in a decade. The last time the Crusaders held the title was in the 2007-2008 season. Credits: Photo courtesy of Lisa Cimbalista-Gannon

RAHWAY, NJ -- The unusual early-morning start was tough.  Plainfield High School’s zone defense was even tougher. And, suddenly, the Arthur L. Johnson girls’ basketball team had a problem on its hands.

“The (early) start time was definitely a factor,’’ said Johnson senior Meaghan Gallagher, “we’re not used to playing that early.  We wanted to penetrate their zone, and run some offensive sets against it, but nothing was working. We couldn’t hit a shot.”

But, thanks to a late first-half surge, the Crusaders were able to rally and post a 54-42 victory over Plainfield to capture the Mountain Division championship of the Union County Conference.

Sign Up for E-News

Johnson (10-12, 8-2) finished tied with Rahway for first place in the division, but wins the title based on its victory over the Indians earlier in the season. Plainfield is 2-18, 1-10 in the conference.

The game started at 9 a.m. and was played at Rahway High School.  It was the makeup of a game that originally had been scheduled for Jan. 26 in Plainfield.  That game had been postponed after an earlier match-up in Clark ended in controversy when an allegedly offensive puppet was found in a classroom.

Johnson trailed, 17-13, with 3:46 left in the first half when junior Kristina Palella hit a free throw and followed with a driving layup off her own steal at midcourt. Gallagher’s jumper with 2:28 left and Danni Hartzler’s three-pointer 20 seconds later closed an 8-0 run that propelled the Crusaders (10-12, 8-2) to a 26-19 halftime edge.

“(Palella’s) steal changed things around,” said first-year Johnson coach Joe Marino. “Plainfield came out and played a good, hard game. They were very effective in what they were doing.”

Said Gallagher: “That loosened things up.  We were really tense before that.”

That tenseness was reflected in Johnson going over six minutes without a field goal in the first half, from Gallagher’s layup midway through the first period to Palella’s bucket on a follow with 5:48 left in the half.

“It looked like both teams were a little tense at the start,’’ Marino said. “Their zone affected us, but our team took it as a challenge. Our seniors knew they had to step up. Meaghan, Jess (Gannon) and Sabrina (Parin), all three of them knew what they had to do and did it.

“We knew the first three or four minutes of the third quarter would set the tone for the rest of the game.’’

But Plainfield refused to fold after the break, and finished the third quarter with a 10-2 run to close the Johnson lead to 33-31. Jailan White and Seanlynn Woods had two baskets apiece in the run.

“We played tough,” Plainfield coach Keshon Bennett said. “We played tough. That’s all you can really ask for. Everybody was tired and exhausted at the end of the game; and that’s basketball. I was happy with that.  They gave 110 percent.”

Foul trouble began to plague the Crusaders, as Palella picked up her fourth foul a minute into the fourth quarter before fouling out two minutes later. Amy Wysocki was also whistled for her third foul early in the second half.

“Our bench came up big for us,’’ Marino said.  “Kellie Bonaccorso, Shelby Lyons, Hanna Brogan; they all gave us a lift.  We’ve had some injuries this year and we’ve needed our depth.’’

Leading 38-35 with 5:13 to play, Johnson reeled off nine straight points to ice the victory. Gallagher had six points in the spree, starting it with an inside bucket off a crisp pass from Hartzler that turned into a three-point play. Parin added two free throws and Gannon one to round out the run.

Gallagher finished with a game-high 19 points and Palella added 13. Johnson enjoyed a huge advantage at the foul line. The Crusaders hit 18-32 from the line compared to 2-10 for Plainfield. The Cardinals also missed the front end of five one-and-one situations.

“This is the first time we’ve won the division in (about 10 years),’’ Marino said. “We should be proud of this. I’m happy for our seniors, and I’m happy that we have a lot of (underclassmen) who can hang their hats on this for next season.’’

Plainfield’s season ended with this game, but Bennett said with seven freshmen on his bench he’s also looking ahead to a promising future.

“We’re a young team,” he said. “Everyone that was there today is back next year.  They’re going to need a good conditioning spring and a good summer training. They have to get bigger, faster, stronger.  In order to build a program that has to happen.”

“I think the Clark coach did an excellent job with his team,” Bennett continued. “They work hard and play tough for 32 minutes.”

On Monday, No. 15 seed Johnson will travel to play No. 2 seeded Rumson-Fair Haven HS at 5:00 p.m. in the first round of the NJSIAA Central, Group 2 state playoffs.


Sign up for our daily enews  and follow on Facebook and Twitter @PlainfieldTAP.

Reach our local readers, and advertise your business here by emailing


TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Register Today for Summer Youth Courses Offered at Union County College

June 23, 2018

CRANFORD, NJ – This summer the Office of Continuing Education at Union County College is expanding its course offerings for youth ages 11-18. Classes are taught by NJ-certified teachers and subject matter experts that specialize in delivering high-quality youth programs. Classes begin the week of June 25 and run through August 23.

Classes offered include Introduction to Musical Theater, ...

Get Empowered to Help Prevent Suicide

June 9, 2018

Dear Editor:

Over the past week social media and the news have been filled with stories and articles encouraging people to seek help if they’re in emotional distress. There have been countless articles about the need to break the silence around the topic of mental health and suicide, and I am encouraged by the support people are extending to others.

Often, the death by suicide by ...

Murphy Signs Bill Ending Child Marriage Championed by Westfield’s Fraidy Reiss and Unchained at Last

June 23, 2018

WESTFIELD, NJ — Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill Friday that bars individuals under the age of 18 from marrying or entering a civil union. It was a major win for Fraidy Reiss, founder Westfield-based Unchained At Last, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women and girls in the US to escape or resist arranged/forced marriages and rebuild their lives.

This makes New Jersey the second ...


June 17, 2018

Hay un grupo de oficiales de policía que les dan un servicio a nuestra comunidad de una manera notable. Todos los días estos hombres y mujeres se levantan, van al trabajo, y aseguran que nuestros hijos aprendan en un ambiente seguro. Los llamamos Oficiales de Recursos Escolares, pero son mucho más. 

Si llegas a la oficina de los Oficiales de Recursos Escolares en la ...

Empleando Nuestra Juventud 

Querido Plainfield, 

Todos esperan el verano; los días son más calientes y largos, y la madre tierra se pone su mejor vestido mientras las frutas se maduran en el sol y las flores ondean un alegre "hola". La gente comienzan los paseos de la playa o piscina, y las juntas de barbacoa en los patios son necesarios en los fines de semanas.

Aquí en la ciudad de ...

Meet Toran Smith: Union County All Star

June 18, 2018

Plainfield resident, Toran Smith, age 16, has been selected to play on the 2018 Union County underclassmen all star team.  On June 10th, the Union County All-Stars played against the Hudson County All-Stars at Kean University.  Smith played third baseman. 

Smith, a junior at Union County Vo-Tech magnet high school, is a Junior infielder on the Plainfield Cardinals Varsity ...

'Half Time' delivers with sterling cast

MILLBURN, NJ – The Paper Mill Playhouse is putting on a smashing new production of “Half Time” to round out its current season.

With actress Georgia Engel in an engaging performance, the cast also features Donna McKehnie, Andre De Shieilds and Lilias White, among a host of other talents.

The musical centers on an effort to have seniors perform a dance number during ...

'Half Time' lights up Paper Mill stage

‘Half Time’ turns the tables on aging in gleeful production

By Liz Keill

MILLBURN, NJ – The Paper Mill Playhouse is putting on a smashing new production of “Half Time” to round out its current season.

With actress Georgia Engel in an engaging performance, the cast also features Donna McKehnie, Andre De Shieilds and Lilias White, among a host of other ...

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (William Morrow, 2018)


A friend, whose opinion on literature I respect greatly, reported to me recently that she had just finished reading A.J. Finn's debut novel, The Woman in the Window. Of it she said, “I wish I hadn't finished it,” which I interpreted to mean, “It was so good I'm sorry that I finished it.” ...

When the Men Go Off to War by Victoria Kelly

When the Men Go Off to War by Victoria Kelly (Naval Institute Press, 2015)

Victoria Kelly's first published volume of poetry, When the Men Go Off to War, is a wonder in that poems can be written so beautifully about the subject of war. Each poem is a jewel, polished and colorful, glittering with elegant imagery, and rich in emotional wallop. The book, divided into three sections, ...

The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani (Ballentine Books, 2005)

            The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani, a New York Times best selling author, was recommended to me by a young woman who actually came from the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania, the place where the novel is set. “The author did such a wonderful job of describing how the town actually is,” said the young lady.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin's Press, 2018)

            What is the “final frontier” on the Earth's surface? Many people would say Alaska, the 49th state, which was added to the United States fifty years ago. Once one has traveled to that remote land, it is impossible to forget the magnificence of the terrain and beasts. Floating by ship in Glacier Bay, surrounded by ...

The Man in Room 306 at the Luna Stage, West Orange, NJ

            The Luna Stage, a Jersey theater gem, chose to revive its 1995 world premiere drama, The Man in Room 306, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Starring Jamil A.C. Mangan as Dr. King, this 90 minute production portrays Dr. King in the last hours of his life as he struggles to write a speech for the Poor ...

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead Books, 2017)


I wanted to like Into the Water by Paula Hawkins because I had enjoyed her previous novel, The Girl on the Train, which was a suspenseful thriller. However, when I finished reading the first part of the Into the Water, I realized that I had not absorbed anything that was happening in the story. I blamed myself for not paying ...