The agony of semifinal defeats the past three seasons was motivation enough for a very talented Johnson softball team to proclaim: “enough is enough, let’s go out and do this!”
That’s exactly what the Crusaders did.
After getting over the semifinal hump back on April 30 at Linden with a 12-1 win over fifth-seeded Westfield – and before that a hard-fought 6-4 win over eighth-seeded Brearley (it was the second consecutive season Johnson ousted Brearley in the 8-1 quarterfinal at Linden, although this year’s game was much closer) Johnson sought to make the very most of its first appearance in the final in exactly 20 years.
In the 1996 title game at Linden, Johnson was one out away (also two strikes away) from beating five-time defending champion Union.
It didn’t happen.
Union came back in the top of the seventh with three runs after two outs to erase a 3-1 deficit and then held Johnson scoreless in the bottom of the seventh to post a 4-3 victory en route to its record sixth straight crown.
This time Johnson was determined to get all the outs necessary to bring home the program’s third title.
Behind a four-hitter tossed by junior standout Gianna Randazza the top-seeded Crusaders were more than convincing in downing second-seeded and defending champion Governor Livingston 7-0 in Saturday’s 41st annual softball Union County Tournament championship game played at Kean University’s Cougar Field in Union.
Johnson, which lost in the semifinals as the top seed a year ago and also lost in the semifinals in 2013 and 2014, captured its first UCT title since 1981 and third overall. The first one was attained in 1979, which was the fourth year of the tournament.
Johnson, which improved to 18-7 with the victory, scored once in the top of the second, twice in the third and four more times in the seventh.
GL was playing in the championship game for the seventh straight season, with a record in the final over that span of 3-4. The Highlanders were attempting to win their sixth title.
Randazza, who struck out six, walked two and hit a batter, also excelled at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a double, a single, two runs and two RBI.
Stephanie Visconti also had two hits for the Crusaders and teammate Victoria Zatko also had two RBI.
Alanna Namit, last year’s championship game winning pitcher, tossed an eight-hitter.
“Gianna pitched well, we played pretty good defense and got timely hitting,” said Johnson head coach Mike Mancino, at the helm of the Crusaders since 2011. “I thought we played well in all three facets.”
The sting of last year’s 6-1 semifinal loss to Cranford was a reminder that Johnson still had some business to take care of.
“We had beaten Cranford twice last year and also that week,” Mancino said. “It’s tough to beat a team three times as we found out today against GL. Cranford played real well, an A game and they deserved to beat us.
“That definitely motivated us.”
Johnson managed to defeat GL three times in three tries this season after beating the Highlanders 7-4 at GL Monday to capture the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division championship outright with a final league record of 7-1.
Johnson first beat GL at home by the score of 6-3 back on April 14.
“We were able to put together three pretty good games against GL,” Mancino said. “We have so much respect for coach (Mike) Roof and coach (Steve) Petruzzelli. That’s the kind of program we aspire to be.”
Randazza, still with her off-the-field thumb injury, did not pitch against GL Monday. Mancino went with Stephanie Visconti instead, who tossed a five-hitter.
“Stephanie pitched well,” Mancino said. “We were being no-hit by Alanna Namit, who I have a lot of respect for, through four innings.”
Johnson overcame a 3-1 deficit by scoring four runs in the top of the sixth and two more in the seventh. The big hit was delivered by Nicole Cassano, who blasted a three-run homer in the sixth.
“We were down two runs right away in the first and didn’t scratch out our first run until the fifth,” Mancino said.
Johnson and GL shared the Watchung Division crown last season, each with 11-1 records and with the only losses coming to each other. The Watchung Division consisted of seven teams last year when the UCC had just three divisions. It consists of five teams this year with the UCC having four divisions.
Johnson and Westfield shared the Watchung Division championship in 2014.
Johnson, with an overall record of 19-7 after Monday’s win, will wrap its regular season schedule Tuesday at St. John Vianney. The Crusaders hosted the Holmdel school at this same time last year, falling 6-0.
It will be Johnson’s last regular season game. The Crusaders, who finished 22-6 last year and 22-3 in 2014, are one victory away from a third straight 20-win season.
“It’s a good tuneup, really a no-lose situation for us,” Mancino said.
Johnson will be the third seed for the Central Jersey, Group 2 playoffs. Mancino projects Robbinsville as the top seed, Bordentown as the second and Spotswood and GL as the next two seeds after Johnson.
JOHNSON IN UCT SEMIFINALS PAST 3 YEARS:
As the top seed the Crusaders lost to fifth-seeded Cranford 6-1 at Linden.
Johnson finished 22-6.
As the second seed the Crusaders lost to third-seeded GL 13-0 at Linden.
Johnson, ironically, swept GL in regular season play, winning 6-3 at GL before the UCT semifinal and then 7-2 at home after the UCT semifinal.
Johnson finished 22-3.
As the fourth seed the Crusaders lost to top-seeded and eventual champion Westfield 5-4 at Kean.
Johnson finished 13-11.
41ST ANNUAL SOFTBALL
Thursday, April 21
Union Catholic 15, Roselle Catholic 1
Union 15, New Providence 2
Kent Place 15, Plainfield 5
Linden 16, Oak Knoll 5
Rahway 12, Roselle 1
Friday, April 22
Cranford 8, Scotch Plains 0
Gov. Livingston 12, Linden 2
Saturday, April 23
Johnson 15, Rahway 3
Elizabeth 10, Kent Place 0
Union 8, Benedictine 7
Roselle Park 4, Dayton 1
Monday, April 25
Brearley 6, Summit 0
Westfield 4, Union Catholic 0
Friday, April 29
Westfield 7, Union 1
Johnson 6, Brearley 4
Cranford 19, Elizabeth 14
Gov. Livingston 5, Roselle Park 2
Saturday, April 30
Johnson 12, Westfield 1
Gov. Livingston 10, Cranford 2
Saturday, May 14
At Kean University
Johnson 7, Gov. Livingston 0
UCT SOFTBALL CHAMPIONS:
2016: Johnson – WP: Gianna Randazza
2015: Governor Livingston – WP: Alanna Namit
2014: Westfield – WP: Elena Scarano
2013: Westfield – WP: Elena Scarano
2012: Governor Livingston – WP: Jordan Robbins
2011: Governor Livingston – WP: Jordan Robbins
2010: Cranford – WP: Kelly Hardman
2009: Union – WP: Amanda Kardys
2008: Cranford – WP: Kelly Hardman
2007: Cranford – WP: Kelly Hardman
2006: Cranford – WP: Elena Morge
2005: Brearley – WP: Jenna Vitale
2004: Roselle Park – WP: Becky Riccitelli
2003: Roselle Park – WP: Becky Riccitelli
2002: Cranford – WP: Christine Pemoulie
2001: Governor Livingston – WP: Lyndsey Sheppard
2000: Union – WP: Rayneesha Adams
1999: Governor Livingston – WP: Gina Turturiello
1998: Westfield – won as 6th seed; WP: Shannon Wagner
1997: Governor Livingston
1996: Union – WP: Laura Labonia
1995: Union – WP: Laura Labonia
1994: Union – WP: Laura Labonia
1993: Union – WP: Alison Brehm
1989: Union Catholic
1982: Roselle Park
1981: Johnson Regional
1979: Johnson Regional
1977: Scotch Plains
Gov. Livingston (6)
Johnson Regional-Johnson (3)
Roselle Park (3)
Scotch Plains (1)
Union Catholic (1)
UCT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SCORES
2016: Johnson 7, Governor Livingston 0 – at Kean
2015: GL 4, Cranford 3 – at Kean
2014: Westfield 5, GL 2 – at Kean
2013: Westfield 15, GL 1 – at Kean
2012: GL 9, New Providence 2 – at Kean
2011: GL 8, Westfield 1 – at Kean
2010: Cranford 4, GL 3 – at Kean
2009: Union 3, Linden 1 – at Linden
2008: Cranford 2, Union 0 – at Linden
2007: Cranford 13, Linden 0 – at Linden
2006: Cranford 1, GL 0 – at Linden
2005: Brearley 2, GL 1 (10 inn.) – at Linden
2004: Roselle Park 2, Cranford 1 (13 inn.) – at Linden
2003: Roselle Park 1, Cranford 0 (11 inn.) – at Linden
2002: Cranford 3, Union 0 – at Linden
2001: GL 3, Scotch Plains 0 – at Linden
2000: Union 2, GL 1 – at Linden
1999: GL 8, Johnson 3 – at Linden
1998: Westfield 9, Roselle Park 0 – at Linden
1997: GL 5, Cranford 0 – at Linden
1996: Union 4, Johnson 3 – at Linden
1995: Union 11, Westfield 0 – at Linden
1994: Union 8, Cranford 7 – at Linden
1993: Union 16, Cranford 14 – at Linden
1992: Union 13, Westfield 0 – at Linden
1991: Union 1, Roselle Park 0 – at Linden
1990: Westfield 3, Union 0 – at Linden
1989: Union Catholic 4, Union 2 – at Linden
1988: Union 1, Roselle Park 0 – at Linden
1987: Union 3, Roselle Park 0 – at Linden