12U Cougars head into Northern New Jersey semifinals

Photo Courtesy of Adam Epstein
Bottom row, from left, are Adam Carlucci, Will Iozzio, Oliver Ellis, Ryan Leibensperger, Jack Cartaina, Max Caracciolo, Miles House and Owen Belisle; top row, from left, are Vincent DiFazzio, Devin Aiken, Zac Calveric, coach Marlowe Leibensperger, head coach Adam Epstein, coach Dan Secor, Nolan Secor, CK Epstein and Ben Leepson.

SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — While many of their homes lacked electricity due to the storm earlier in the week, the South Orange-Maplewood 12U Cougars powered their way into the Northern New Jersey semifinals by slugging nine home runs in as many innings to beat Ridge, 14-5, on Saturday, Aug. 8, and Denville, 15-2, on Sunday, Aug. 9, in Monroe.

The Cougars, who are 8-0 in the Cal Ripken tournament, will play in the state semifinals on Friday, Aug. 14, at 7 p.m. at James Monroe Park in Monroe.

This is the first SO-M baseball team to make the state semifinals since 2012.

“The boys are playing with a lot of confidence and are having the time of their lives,” Cougars manager Adam Epstein said. “They recognize how special this run is and it’s wonderful to see them challenge themselves to make the most of this opportunity.”

The match-up for the semifinals game will be determined Wednesday night, Aug. 12, after press time, after the Cougars play Millburn to determine the winner of Pool B.

On Aug. 9, the Cougars got the energy going early. After Zac Calveric beat out a ground ball to the shortstop, Owen Belisle and Ben Leepson walked, and Nolan Secor delivered a grand slam home run over the left field fence.

Two batters later, CK Epstein launched a no-doubter high into the trees in left center.

The hit parade continued and the first inning scoring gave the Cougars a 10-run lead after a two-run single by Secor, giving him six RBIs in one inning. 

That was more than enough for Cougars starting pitcher Jack Cartaina who scattered seven hits, while striking out five and issuing no walks over four innings, in a game shortened by the mercy rule.

Cartaina drove in two runs with a single in the third after solo home runs in the same inning by Calveric and Vincent DiFazzio, who drove a ball deep into the woods behind the center field fence.

The Cougars hit five home runs in five innings against Ridge on Aug. 8, including two by Calveric; one from Belisle — his fifth of the tournament; one from Secor; and one from Devin Aiken, which cleared the billboard behind the left field fence.

Epstein started at pitcher against Ridge, and combined with relievers Ryan Leibensperger and Adam Carlucci to allow three hits over six innings.