MAPLEWOOD, NJ – The glory days for the baseball program at Columbia High School came in 1978 and 1979 when the Maplewood school captured consecutive titles in the Greater Newark Tournament.
For Cougar coach Jim Whalen, who recently completed his initial season at the helm, that’s his long-range goal. He wants his team to be the top program in talent-rich Essex County. At the present time, Seton Hall Prep and Millburn are the top teams in the county.
This spring, Columbia only had a record of 12-14. However, six of those losses came against Seton Hall Prep (two) and Millburn (four). But in both the Greater Newark Tournament and state tournament, CHS lost by only one run to Millburn.
“Those two games showed our potential,” said Whalen, who is a long-time New York Mets fan. “Heck, in the seventh inning of our semifinal round game against Millburn in the GNT, we had the tying run on second base. If we had won that game, it would have been an interesting final against Seton Hall Prep.”
As it turned out, SHP beat Millburn for the 85th GNT championship. But Millburn did go on to win a state title, while SHP was upset in the states by eventual champion Delbarton.
“We play in a very tough league, so you have to expect some losses,” said Whalen, who played on an NCAA Division 3 championship squad at Montclair State. “But the bright side is that playing good competition in the regular season, gets you ready for tournament competition.”
Whalen, who as an assistant coach was associated with a West Essex High program that won both GNT and state championships, stresses the basic fundamentals of the game.
“Executing the fundamentals is the key to winning,” remarked Whalen, who was a fine pitcher in his day. “That’s what our team did at Montclair State in the spring of 2000 when we went 42-7-1 and won a national championship.”
Whalen, who told his players at the start of spring practice that he wanted them to be playing their best baseball in the latter stages of the campaign, had some quality performers on the 2017 squad.
Three juniors and one sophomore were sparkplugs throughout the season for Columbia. That group included center fielder Christian Pierre, who was a great leadoff hitter, shortstop Eliot Dix, third baseman Luke Jackson, and catcher Daniel Lawall. Dix, who hit in the No. 3 hole, was the lone sophomore in that talented group.
Lawall wasn’t the kind of hitter that Pierre, Dix and Jackson were, but the youngster did a fine defensive job. The Cougars had a quality staff, and Lawall’s play at backstop gave his teammates a lot of confidence, particularly in the bigger games.
Senior right-hander Peter Nolet pitched most of the big games for CHS. The youngster did a fine job of mixing up his pitches to keep opposing batters off balance.
Another senior righty, Dan Boehmer, might have had the best stuff on the staff, according to his coach, whose favorite hurler was former Mets ace Dwight Gooden.
Three talented juniors, Michael Roseman, Ben Mintz and Palmer Krais, also did fine jobs for the Cougars. Roseman had great command of the plate, while Mintz, a lefty specialist in the bullpen, consistently threw strikes.
Columbia, which has a rich tradition in the diamond sport, had contributions from a number of players. Two of the standout seniors were second baseman Reid Evans and left fielder Daniel Cotler.
“I think our players learned a lot from this season,” said Whalen, noting he wants all his players to have “a good character.” “I expect a lot of good things in 2018.”
COUGAR TALES – In the summer, Whalen works for the New Jersey Jackals… CHS also won the GNT in 1986 and 1995.