Underhill Field, Maplewood - After three hours of play in the sweltering heat, the Columbia Cougars survived a first round scare by knocking off a pesky Cedar Grove club in first round action of the Greater Newark Tournament (Essex County Tournament) 17-13.
Cedar Grove, the 11th seed in the tourney, started the marathon by scoring 2 runs in the top of the first. Columbia retaliated in the bottom of the inning, pushing across 10 runs for the early eight-run lead, highlighted by Andrew Rigassio's three-run homer, his team leading 6th of the season.
Although down eight runs, Cedar Grove didn't lay down and die. After chiseling a run in the second inning and preventing the Cougars from scoring in the bottom half of the inning, they scored another six runs in the top of the third, narrowing the lead to 10-9. Cedar Grove tied the score in the 4th inning at 10, and then took the lead in the top of the 5th on a sac fly, making the score 11-10.
In the bottom of the inning, the Cougars finally got back on the board. Steve Tamayo (2 for 3, 3 RBIs) walked with the bases loaded to tie the score at 11 and DH Rony Jean-Marie (3 for 5) singled home Armand Spears (four runs scored) to take the lead 12-11. Joel Brown Christenson's sac fly made extended the margin to 13-11.
The lead was short lived. Cedar Grove tied the score in the top of the sixth on a barrage of hits. With the score tied and the game already in the sixth inning, the Cougars put the pressure back on Cedar Grove. Joe Meola (2 for 5, 3 RBIs) singled home Matt McGriff to put Columbia up 14-13 and Tamayo singled in 2 more runs, giving the Cougars a 3 run cushion. Brown-Christenson doubled home another run for a 17-13 lead.
Of course, Cedar Grove would not go down without a fight. They loaded the bases with one out in the top of the seventh, however Robert Buchner was able to get out of the inning without a run scored, preserving the Cougar victory.
"It was a roller coaster of a game, and I'm glad we came away with the 'W,'" coach Larry Busichio commented after the game. "Our kids have a lot of fight in them and even after blowing a big lead, we were able to stay focused and composed to get this victory."
With the win, the sixth seeded Cougars will play home Thursday vs. 14th seeded Montclair Kimberly Academy, who earlier in the day upset third seeded West Orange.
COUGAR NOTES: Armand Spears reached base safely in all 5 of his at bats (1 hit, 4 walks); Steve Tamayo has 7 rbi's in the past 2 games; both Matt McGriff and Joe Meola flashed web gems in the game as McGriff made a spectacular diving catch in the 5th inning (saving 2 runs) and Meola snaring a sizzling liner to deep center with an over the shoulder, Willie Mays style catch; barring any rain, the Cougars have 5 games scheduled for next week.