MILLBURN, NJ - The day to honor the upperclassmen in the Millburn baseball program turned into a definitive showcase for some of the 12th-graders who don't always dominate the headlines.
It was a bold, blue-letter game for senior outfielders Nick Santagata, Eric Von Bevern and Matt Knowles and for senior relief pitcher Ryan Wenslau as the Millers outscored Columbia, 17-10, on Senior Day Saturday.
Santagata scored three runs and slammed a two-run double, Von Bevern hit a two-run triple and scored a run, Knowles was 3-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored, and Wenslau turned in a steadying middle relief job to earn the victory in a wild game under the hot sun.
It was also a big day for a couple of younger Millers who represent the future of the program. Freshman Oren Abbott went 2-for-3 with a double, three runs scored and two RBI; and sophomore Ben Chrzanowski drove in four runs with a walk and a booming bases-loaded triple.
Santagata's two-run double to the gap in right-center field and Peter Gula's RBI single highlighted a six-run first inning for Millburn (17-8), which increased its lead to 8-1 in the second on Von Bevern's two-run triple to deep left-center. But on a sweltering day when no lead seemed safe, Columbia (13-9) came back with six runs in the top of the third to cut Millburn's lead to 8-7.
Wenslau came on in relief and escaped a bases-loaded jam in that inning, and then threw two more scoreless innings. Millburn got five runs back in its half of the third to take a 13-7 lead. Chrzanowski clubbed a three-run triple to deep left field and Abbott plated him with a double to deep right-center in the third inning.
Alex Byington, who has been one of Millburn's primary relief pitchers the last two seasons, got the start at first base Saturday and had two RBI, a single and two runs scored. His sac fly in the fifth increased the Millburn lead to 14-7.
Columbia put up three runs in the top of the sixth, but Millburn countered with three more of its own in the home sixth, when Gula singled in two runs and Knowles singled in one. Also in that sixth inning, pitching ace Kyle Mazer, who normally does not bat, was given a rare time at the plate and came through with a single to right to start the two-out rally.
Ironically, two of the most accomplished senior hitters in the Millburn lineup, Ben Pampush and Peter Serruto, had relatively quiet days at the plate in a game where offense was almost everywhere.
Pitchers Kyle Yi and Peter Landreman each pitched one scoreless inning in relief to finish out the game for the Millers, who next will return to tournament action when they host Bayonne Tuesday in the Section 2, Group 4 semifinal. Mazer is expected to be on the mound for that one.
The winner of that game will play either Scotch Plains-Fanwood or Westfield in the sectional championship game next Friday.
COLUMBIA (13-9) 106 003 0 -- 10 9 3
MILLBURN (17-8) 625 013 x -- 17 13 1