The pitcher and the shortstop.
Two of the most vital pieces to any softball puzzle destined to stand out.
When the Johnson softball team takes the field it sends out right hander Gianna Randazza to the mound and Shannon Brogan to short.
Even before the first pitch is thrown, the Crusaders are elevated at two of the critical positions on the field.
Now seniors, Randazza and Brogan – after helping lead Johnson softball to heights it had not reached in some time this past spring – will seek to continue their excellence at the next level.
Verbal commitments have been made, with Randazza selecting Division 1 Boston College and Brogan Division 3 Moravian College.
On their way to being four-year varsity starters, Randazza and Brogan will script their letters-of-intent when the signing period commences the first week in November.
Randazza is projected to be a third baseman at BC and Brogan an outfielder at Moravian.
“This is something I definitely wanted to get done now so I wouldn’t have the pressure of choosing anymore,” said Randazza, an nj.com First Team All-State selection and the Union County Player of the Year in 2016, who also strongly considered Duke, Lehigh and Penn State.
Randazza, who made her verbal commitment in July, had her official visit to the Chestnut Hill campus last weekend.
“The first time I visited BC was my freshman year,” Randazza said. “I also liked Duke, but BC was closer to home. I liked the area around it, the city part.”
“She had BC from the beginning, it’s a good fit for her,” said Randazza’s coach at Johnson, Mike Mancino, who is now the assistant principal at Ramapo High School.
Johnson is still in the process of hiring Mancino’s successor.
“BC’s a little closer to home than the Duke campus and I believe BC gave the best offer,” Mancino said.
Brogan, who also considered another private Pennsylvania school – Arcadia University in Glenside – was quite pleased with what she saw at Moravian, located in Bethlehem and populated by many New Jersey high school graduates.
“I started looking at schools my sophomore year and Moravian was the first school I visited,” Brogan said. “I really liked it and didn’t want to look anywhere else.”
Brogan also wanted to get her college decision out of the way as soon as possible.
“Having done it now is very stress relieving,” Brogan said.
“Moravian is her level, where she belongs,” Mancino said.
Randazza and Brogan were a big part of Johnson softball history as April reached into May and May graduated to the early part of June. They played on a team that not only went on to post a fine 24-9 record, but saw to it that Johnson captured its first Union County Tournament championship since 1981 and initial sectional state championship since 1996.
“We knew that we had a pretty good shot at winning the county,” Randazza said.
Johnson was defeated in the UCT semifinals the previous three seasons, including a 13-0 loss to GL when Randazza and Brogan were freshmen in 2014 and a 6-1 setback to Cranford in 2015 after Johnson swept Cranford in regular season play.
“For the county championship game we were so energized,” Randazza said. “It was really awesome. We were very excited.”
“It was awesome to be a part of,” Brogan said. “Everyone was really into it, playing on a college field after getting past the semifinals.”
“To beat the defending champion (GL) in the final was just really great,” said Randazza, who didn’t know until that morning whether she would be able to pitch because of a car door injury to her throwing thumb suffered earlier in the week.
Randazza ended up tossing a four-hit shutout, striking out six and walking two. At the plate, Randazza was 2-for-3, with two RBI and two runs. Brogan was 1-for 3.
Top-seeded Johnson won its third UCT title – its first two came in 1979 and 1981 – while GL was prevented from winning its seventh crown. The second-seeded Highlanders were making their seventh straight appearance in the final.
Johnson was also the top seed in 2015, the second seed in 2014 and the fourth seed in 2013. Westfield captured the 2014 and 2013 crowns. Johnson swept GL in the regular season, but lost to the Highlanders in the 2014 UCT semifinals and also swept Cranford in the regular season, but lost to the Cougars in the 2015 UCT semifinals.
Johnson then swept GL again in the regular season in 2016, but this time beat the Highlanders in the UCT final, having to beat the same team a third time to win its first county championship in 35 years.
In addition, the Crusaders won their first state semifinal game and reached their first group final also since 1996 and captured the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division championship outright after sharing it with Governor Livingston in 2015 and Westfield in 2014.
A highly-memorable season concluded with a 9-3 loss to North 1, Group 2 champion Demarest in the Group 2 final played at Kean University, which was where Johnson defeated GL 7-0 in the UCT final.
Before the season-ending setback to Demarest, Johnson was 5-0 in state tournament play, including a huge 4-2 win at Bordentown in the Central Jersey, Group 2 semifinals, a 6-2 win at home over Voorhees in the final and a 6-5 win over South Jersey, Group 2 champion West Deptford in the Group 2 semifinal played at Rowan University. Randazza’s three-run homer in the top of the seventh to make the score 6-1 proved crucial as West Deptford came back with four runs in the bottom of the seventh to fall just short.
Randazza also socked a three-run homer in Johnson’s sectional final win over visiting Voorhees.
Johnson winning Central Jersey, Group 2 for the first time was the program’s first sectional title since the Crusaders repeated as North 2, Group 2 champions in 1996.
Gabby Zatko, now at the University of Delaware, joined Randazza and Brogan as Johnson players who reached the 100-hit career plateau last season. Randazza did it first, entering last year with 99 hits. Zatko’s came in Johnson’s win over West Deptford.
Stephanie Visconti, Johnson’s only other senior from last year’s team, is now at Monmouth University. She was the winning pitcher when Johnson clinched its division championship outright.
Randazza began pitching at the age of 8 and joined her first travel team – the Flames of Middletown – three years later. In addition to playing on the Kumpf Middle School team in Clark during 6th, 7th and 8th grades, Randazza moved on to the club team Insanity out of Woodbridge. She has been playing with NJ Intensity since her freshman year, a club team that includes girls from all over the country.
After two very successful seasons as a freshman and sophomore, Randazza kind of had a feeling that Johnson would be a tough team to beat again last year.
“As the season went on I thought after five or six games that we really bonded and had the right chemistry,” Randazza said.
After finally winning the UCT, Randazza thought that Johnson could have similar success in the states if things broke right.
“We just had to be focused and play as a team,” Randazza said.
Randazza, in addition to a solid 45-14 lifetime pitching record in three seasons – 15 wins in each – has also flourished at the plate as evidenced by batting averages of .483 as a freshman, .570 as a sophomore and .438 last year. She enters her senior season with 145 hits, 14 home runs and 136 RBI.
Randazza also led Johnson with seven triples and four home runs her freshman year; 18 doubles, four triples and seven home runs her junior campaign and three triples and three home runs last year.
“I take hitting even a little more seriously,” Randazza said. “Coaches say that if your bat is on they will find a place for you in the lineup.”
Mancino, who was the head coach at Johnson from 2011-2016, knew of the kind of player Gianna was even before her freshman year.
“Gianna came in with all kinds of ability,” Mancino said. “She was a ready-made player and proved to be as good as advertised. She was even better when I saw her live.”
“As good as she was on the mound, she was better as a hitter. She has terrific instincts. She’s also very humble and willing to take a back seat.”
“Coach Mancino played a huge role in what I have accomplished,” Randazza said. “He was a good coach for a player like me. I’m someone who doesn’t adapt that well to some coaches.
“He was a very positive influence on all of us. We definitely bonded.”
Also a volleyball player for four years and soon to be a member of the winter track and field team for four years where she throws the shot put, Randazza – who will turn 18 on April 22 – is excited about being part of one more championship-filled Johnson softball team.
“I think we look good so far,” Randazza said. “We only lost two seniors and we’ve all played travel ball and some of us are playing fall ball.”
Brogan was Johnson’s starting second baseman her freshman and sophomore years before moving to shortstop last year. She either batted second or leadoff last season, hoping to reach base for players such as Randazza to have the opportunity to drive her in.
Brogan began playing in the second grade, played at Kumpf for three years and the first travel team she was a part of was the Central Jersey Explosion for one year. She has been playing with the club team Insanity for seven years.
Brogan batted .318 as a freshman, .402 as a sophomore and .466 last year, banging out 48 hits. She has 102 hits, 54 RBI and 85 runs going into her senior season.
“I was never naturally good,” Brogan said. “I hit 3-4 times a week after practice and in our basement we have a mini batting cage.
“Last year I knew I would be moving to shortstop, so I worked on ground balls and certain plays to be ready for when the season started.”
“Shannon is a great bunter, who handles the bat well,” Mancino said. “She’s quiet, unassuming and leads by example. While Gianna put up big numbers and got big hits for us last year, Shannon was our best hitter throughout the season.
“At shortstop, Shannon has great range, a terrific arm and can go back well on pop ups.”
In addition to 48 hits in 103 official plate appearances, Brogan also drove in 17 runs, belted 11 doubles and two triples and scored 42 times for the Crusaders last season.
Johnson softball is 70-18 the past three seasons, with Randazza and Brogan playing huge roles.
Randazza and Brogan – without having to concern themselves with the college process anymore – will seek to lead the Johnson softball team to another outstanding season in 2017.
Here’s a look at what Johnson softball, sparked by the stellar performances of Randazza and Brogan, has accomplished the last three seasons:
UCC-Watchung Division champions outright – first time
UCT champions – third time
Central Jersey, Group 2 champions – first time
Reached first group final – Group 2 – since 1996.
County champs first time since 1981.
Section champs for time since 1996.
Began season 7-0.
Gianna Randazza: 15-6 mound record; .438 batting average
Shannon Brogan: .466 batting average
UCC-Watchung Division champions – shared with GL.
Reached UCT semifinals.
Reached CJ, G2 quarterfinals.
Began season 8-0.
Gianna Randazza: 15-5 mound record; .570 batting average
Shannon Brogan: .402 batting average
UCC-Watchung Division champions – shared with Westfield.
Reached UCT semifinals.
Reached CJ, G2 semifinals.
Won 13 straight after 1-1 start.
Gianna Randazza: 15-3 mound record; .483 batting average
Shannon Brogan: .318 batting average