MAPLEWOOD, NJ - The Columbia High School baseball team opened its season today, April 1, playing at Newark Academy as the Cougars look to improve on their 10-15 record last spring.

Columbia made the playoffs for the first time in three years last season, and head coach Joe Fischetti is looking to build on that momentum.

"I'm looking to improve our wins, win a division title and make some noise in the GNT," Fischetti said. "We have the ability to make some kind of a run."

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Columbia will field a young squad after graduating 10 seniors from last year's team, and they are left with only three seniors, who have accepted an unofficial leadership role, according to Fischetti.

"We didn't even bother assigning captains this year," Fischetti said. "There's only three seniors in the whole program so we're going to let them run the show. The kids know who the captains are without even assigning them."

The returning seniors are third baseman Lev Schecter, catcher Brendan Clark and catcher/first baseman Michael Fetner. Clark will start behind the plate and Fetner will play mostly first base, and back up Clark if needed.

Clark was sidelined for some of last season because of a nagging back injury, but still managed to hit .350 with seven runs, eight RBIs, a home run and drew a team-high nine walks in 26 at-bats. Schecter also boasted a .350 batting average last season and scored 11 runs for the Cougars.

Junior pitcher/shortstop Eric Lax is coming off a solid sophomore season as he led the team with 10 doubles, while racking up 12 RBIs and six runs at the plate. On the mound, Lax (4-1) gave up only four runs over 22 innings and demonstrated his ability to throw strikes by fanning 14 and only walking one batter.

"On the mound, I just want to do my best for the team," Lax said. "And at the plate, I'm hoping that I can just get on base and drive runs in."

Lax and southpaw Jesse Evans will share the "ace" role, and hard-throwing freshman Danny Boehmer locked up the third spot in the rotation.

"He (Boehmer) has been doing really well," Fischetti said. "He throws hard, he's a bulldog on the mound, and we really like what we see in him this spring."

The fourth spot in the pitching rotation will be a platoon of arms in sophomores Quinn Krais and Sam Berkley, junior Kaz Brackett and freshman Pete Nolet.

Fischetti expressed his frustrations with how the weather has affected his team's ability to practice, as the Cougars have played more scrimmages than they've had outdoor practices.

Columbia has done well in its scrimmages thus far, as Fischetti described them all as low-scoring close games. He was particularly impressed with the team's performance against Westfield and Ridge, two consistent schools with experience.

"If we can throw strikes and pick up the ball defensively, I think we're going to have a really nice year," Fischetti said. "The one thing we're lacking is depth. We have ability, and we have talent, but we don't have a lot of depth."

Some other notable players for the Cougars are juniors Ryan Murphy, who will bat lead-off, and Anthony Starzynski, who will battle with Krais for the two-spot in the lineup. The other will bat ninth in the order since their speed and contact contribute to a large part of their game. 

The reporter is a student participating in hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.