What will most likely be the No 1 goal for the Johnson and Benedictine softball teams next year?
That would be to try their hardest not only to get back to state championship games, but come out on top next time in 2017!
Highly-successful and quite memorable championship-filled seasons came to a conclusion for both much-improved Union County programs Friday.
In the first two of the six state championship games being contested at Kean University’s Cougar Field in Union, it was Lodi Immaculate defeating Benedictine 3-0 in the Non-Public, B final. In the game that followed, Demarest downed Johnson 9-3 in the Group 2 title contest.
Benedictine Academy of Elizabeth, which captured the Non-Public, South B crown by ousting the top three seeds, finished 16-8 in 2016.
Johnson, which captured a sectional title and then won a group semifinal game both for the first time in 20 years, concluded at 24-9. The Crusaders set the program record for wins in a season.
Benedictine, guided by Coach and former Johnson standout Ali Meagher, and led on the mound by senior pitcher Alyssa Vega, more than held its own against LI, which captured its fourth consecutive Non-Public, B title, with senior hurler Sarah Piening becoming the first pitcher in state history to win four state championship games.
After not producing a baserunner in the first three innings against Vega, LI scored all of the game’s runs in the bottom of the fifth. The first one crossed the plate on a bunt play and the next two were driven in with singles.
After winning the Union County Conference’s Valley Division championship last year with a 13-1 league mark, Benedictine moved up to the Mountain Division this year. There they finished second with a 6-2 record, with Roselle Park at 7-1 capturing the crown. Roselle Park also went on to win North 2, Group 1 for the first time since 2003 before seeing its season end in the Group 1 semifinals.
Benedictine finished 19-4 overall last year, including a 2-1 record in the Non-Public, South B playoffs where as the No. 4 seed the Green Bees were ousted by top-seeded St. Joseph’s, Hammonton 9-0 in the semifinals.
Benedictine’s record the past two seasons is 35-12, with a number of battle-tested freshmen standouts returning for next season.
In the section this year, Benedictine, the sixth seed, first won at third-seeded Wardlaw-Hartridge 15-0 after a first round bye and then won at second-seeded Mater Dei 5-1 in the semifinals.
In the final at Stockton University, Benedictine topped top-seeded Wildwood Catholic 4-3.
Johnson’s loss to Demarest was its first to a school other than a Group 4 or parochial opponent.
Demarest won its first state championship since besting Bridgeton in the 1979 Group 3 title game. The Norseman are now 2-0 in state championship games.
Johnson is now 0-3 in state championship games, including setbacks in the 1995 and 1996 Group 2 title contests to Delran and West Deptford, respectively.
Demarest did not score in the first three innings against Johnson junior ace Gianna Randazza, but were able to score four times – after bases loaded and nobody out – in the fourth, three times in the fifth and twice more in the sixth.
Johnson loaded the bases with nobody out in its final at-bat of the season, scoring all three of its runs in the bottom of the seventh.
Johnson also faced Lodi Immaculate in the regular season, falling 5-1 on the road back on April 20.
In addition to producing the school record most wins in a season, the Crusaders won three championships and then a group semifinal game for the first time in two decades.
Johnson won its first county crown in 35 years, garnered its division title outright after sharing it the previous two seasons and then for the first time in 20 years captured a sectional title, won a group semifinal contest and reached a state championship game.
Sixth-year head coach Mike Mancino has much to be proud of, starting with seniors Stephanie Visconti (Monmouth University) and Gabby Zatko (University of Delaware).
Zatko, along with juniors Randazza and Shannon Brogan, reached 100 career hits this season.
Returning for the 2017 season include Randazza, who finished 15-6 on the mound this year; Brogan, sophomore Nicole Cassano, sophomore Mackenzie Purcell, freshman Bailey Rosenmeier, sophomore Jennifer Tinger and freshman Victoria Zatko.
BENEDICTINE IN 2016 STATES (3-1):
Non-Public, South B playoffs
Benedictine 15, Wardlaw-Hartridge 0 – at WH
Benedictine 5, Mater Dei 1 – at Mater Dei
Benedictine 4, Wildwood Catholic 3 – at Stockton University
Non-Public, B final
Lodi Immaculate 3, Benedictine 0 – at Kean University
BENEDICTINE RECENT CHAMPIONSHIPS:
2016: Non-Public, South B
2015: Union County Conference’s Valley Division
JOHNSON IN 2016 STATES (5-1):
Central Jersey, Group 2 playoffs
Johnson 11, Monmouth 1 – at Johnson
Johnson 2, Raritan 1 – at Johnson
Johnson 4, Bordentown 2 – at Bordentown
Johnson 6, Voorhees 2 – at Johnson
Group 2 semifinals
Johnson 6, West Deptford 5 – at Rowan University
Group 2 final
Demarest 9, Johnson 3 – at Kean University
JOHNSON CHAMPIONSHIPS IN 2016:
Union County Tournament – for the third time and first since 1981.
UCC’s Watchung Division – outright this time after sharing the title
with Governor Livingston last year and Westfield two years ago.
Central Jersey, Group 2 – for the first time and a sectional title
for the first time since 1996.
Group semifinal game – first time since 1996.