LIVINGSTON- As Talia Baptiste had to sit patiently for nearly a month as the bone bruise to the femur in her left knee absorbed in a Dec. 17th loss to West Orange continued to heal the hunger she has to compete and boost the fortunes of her Columbia Cougars never waned.
Now, since her return in mid-January, the Maplewood-South Orange-based team has been playing some of its better basketball of the season, and the presence of its standout junior point guard is a big reason why the Cougars are now preparing for the Essex County Tournament semifinals when they meet top-seeded and defending champion Immaculate, 1 p.m., this Sunday, at West Orange High School.
Baptiste, an athletic and highly-skilled 5-foot-7 floor general, scored 14 points, including a key steal with seven seconds left in a tie game followed by scoring the final four points of the game as fifth-seeded Columbia edged fourth-seeded Newark Academy, 46-42, this past Saturday in Livingston.
With her unrelenting tenacity on the defensive end with multiple blocks and steals, plus assists and key baskets from both the perimeter and on drives to the hoop, Baptiste excelled at a very high level in the biggest game to date for the Cougars (9-12).
For her superlative efforts on a major stage in the 2023 ECT the Columbia standout point guard is the Parisi Fairfield/Sideline Chatter Athlete of the Week.
“Having Talia back in our lineup is a big part of us becoming a healthier basketball team for the season’s stretch run,” said Cougars head coach Chuck Keegan. “She is a very talented player who can score from the perimeter, but is also great when it comes to penetrating with authority to the basket.”
Baptiste was injured in an early-season game vs. West Orange and while she has played in just 12 of Columbia’s 21 games entering this week’s action, she is second on the team in points scored (162) while averaging 13.5 points per game, and tied for the team lead in assists (41).
“I’ve tried to do whatever I can to help us win games and it’s great to be back on the court with my teammates,” said Baptiste. “We have a very good chemistry both on and off the court because a lot of us have played together since middle school and some of us since elementary school.
“We’ve had our share of tough losses, but we love to compete and we’ll always work hard to be a better team the next game we play.
“The win at Newark Academy was a great one for us and we’ll look to build on that victory as we prepare to meet Immaculate again.”
Although IC is a heavy favorite in Saturday’s ECT semis following a pair of lopsided regular season Super Essex Conference-American Division victories over the Cougars (63-25, Jan. 5, and 84-47, Feb. 2), Baptiste is optimistic heading into her team’s stern test on Saturday vs. the heavily-favored Lions with a berth in the 48th ECT finals on Feb. 18 on the line.
Second-seeded University meets third-seeded West Orange, in the 11 a.m. ECT semifinal preceding Columbia-IC on Saturday inside West Orange High School’s gymnasium.