MAPLEWOOD, NJ – For the Columbia High School baseball program, this summer is proving to be a good time to gain valuable experience while competing in the Essex Division of the High School Development League.
The 18U team is coached by Dave Crouch and Max Nichols, who are assistant coaches for the Cougars during the high school season. Crouch, a 2011 graduate at River Dell HS, was the JV head coach in 2017 before moving up to become the varsity assistant coach this spring under CHS head coach Jim Whalen, who completed his second year at the helm.
Nichols is a 2011 CHS graduate.
When asked about the goals of the summer, Crouch gave a simple answer.
“Development,” said Crouch as his team was getting ready to play Caldwell at Cameron Field on July 9. “This is a High School Development League, so it’s all about development and that’s what we’re here to do.”
The Cougars made a furious rally in the game against Caldwell. They trailed 7-0, but got back into the game and cut it to 8-4 going into the bottom of the seventh inning. With two outs and no one on, the Cougars loaded the bases with three straight singles. Back-to-back walks scored two runs to make it a two-run game. The Cougars still had the bases loaded, but Caldwell got the final out to seal the 8-6 win.
The following day, Columbia swept a doubleheader against Cedar Grove, 3-0 and 11-2. They lost to Montclair, 8-5, Friday, July 13, to finish the regular season at 6-7. Columbia gained the No. 2 seed in the league playoffs and was scheduled to host either Glen Ridge or Belleville on Tuesday, July 17.
For Columbia, the rising seniors are shortstop Eliot Dix, third baseman Spencer Melee, first baseman Zach Altamore, and Jeffrey Nelson. The rising juniors are pitcher/outfielder Noah Haniph, pitcher Ethan Messeri, outfielder/pitcher Joe Lintern, first baseman/pitcher Sam Fleetwood, and third baseman Jack Hamant. The rising sophomores are outfielder Jesse Kantor, catcher/outfielder Zach Slavin, second baseman/outfielder Ty Budd, second baseman/third baseman Derek Chibbaro, and pitcher/catcher/third baseman Eli Fishman.
Crouch cited the strengths of the team this summer.
“Good leadership. High morale. A lot of guys just want to come and play baseball… They play together as a team. They have each other’s backs. If they make a mistake, guys are there to pick them right back up. We got a little saying, ‘hold on to the rope and we’ll pull you back in.’ ”
With a good mix of youth and experience, the Cougars are looking forward to the 2019 high school season in the spring.
“We have a very bright future,”Crouch said. “We just got the freshman program back last year and everything is pointing upwards.”
Photos by Steve Ellmore
Editor’s note: This article was updated to included the team’s final regular season record.