MAPLEWOOD/SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – The Columbia 18U baseball team, consisting of Columbia High School players, enjoyed a banner summer.
Columbia, seeded second, won the High School Developmental League-Essex Division Gold Cup tournament, defeating eighth-seeded Glen Ridge, 6-3, in the final Wednesday, July 24 at Memorial Park. Columbia avenged last summer’s loss in the final to Glen Ridge.
The team, under CHS assistant coach Dave Crouch, won its final 11 games of the summer after starting 0-2 to finish with an 11-2 record.
The tournament consisted of eight teams that didn’t qualify for the state tournament from the Essex Division. Columbia had a chance to win the league and qualify for states, but its doubleheader against West Essex was rained out on the last day of the regular season. West Essex, Montclair and Cedar Grove earned state berths.
Columbia defeated No. 7 seed Montclair Kimberley in the quarterfinals and No. 3 seed Bloomfield in the semifinals.
In the final, which was postponed three times due to rain, Columbia had to play with eight players in the final four innings after one of its players was injured with the game tied 1-1. Despite being short-handed, the Cougars showed their resolve the rest of the game and were rewarded with the championship. That resiliency was displayed throughout the summer. Crouch said the team posted about seven comeback wins.
“It was a fantastic season,” Crouch said. “The boys battled back in a lot of games. We really rallied in the last innings, winning those games.”
The summer was particularly gratifying for Columbia, which endured a tough high school season this spring while competing in the Super Essex Conference-American Division, the top division in the conference. CHS, with new head coach Ryan Muirhead, finished with a 5-16 overall record, going winless in the division.
Despite the tough spring, the Cougars’ seniors provided key leadership.
“It was a tough high school season in the spring, but we had a great group of seniors that really paved the way for the younger guys going into this summer,” said Crouch, who is the JV coach and assistant varsity coach of the CHS girls volleyball program in the fall and teaches health and physical education at Maplewood Middle School. “They really turned the corner. We had great leadership from the juniors, who will be seniors. A lot of them were there all the time. I saw a different mentality and different determination. They came to each game expecting to win. A lot of the younger guys contributed, too. We had great pitching. Next year, we’re going to bring back all of our starting pitching. We’re going to have a lot of new positions in the field, a lot of younger guys. A lot of younger guys stepped up with the bats. The pitching was fantastic, especially in the late summer season, and then in the championship game, (rising junior) Derek Chiabarro), was perfect through three innings. He ended up going five innings, and then (rising sophomore) Luca Simooniello pitched the last two and closed the game out.”
Next year’s seniors include pitcher Ethan Messeri, pitcher/infielder Jack Hamant, pitcher/outfielder Joe Lintern, pitcher/outfielder Noah Naniph, and pitcher/infielder Sam Fleetwood.
Also this summer, Columbia fielded a 16U team due to the growth in numbers in the program. The team finished as semifinalists in its division tournament.
Photo 1: Columbia HS assistant coach Dave Crouch, left, served as the coach of the Columbia 18U baseball team this summer. With him, from left, are players Dan Fox, Derek Chibbaro, Cole Strupp, Zach Slavin, Sam Fleetwood, Joe Lintern, Jack Hamant, Jesse Kantor and Luca Simoniello.
Photo 2: Columbia players converge on the mound during a game.
Photos Courtesy of Dave Crouch