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***Columbia was more deliberate and effective on defense in a third meeting with Caldwell as Cougars earned much-desired berth in the Saturday Feb. 11 ECT Final Four!

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***The recent traditional NCAA football national signing day was enjoyed throughout Essex County including at West Orange. Learn much more in "Feature Articles"

***In a entertaining Essex County vs. Union County hoops contest it was Union edging West Caldwell Tech in overtime. See "The Buzz"

Newark Academy's Maddie Bulbulia (22) and Zoe Hermans (11) walk off court as Columbia girls begin to celebrate their thrilling 46-42 win vs. Minutemen in quarterfinals of Essex County Tournament Saturday afternoon in Livingston as the fifth-seeded Cougars advance to Feb. 11 semifinals at WOHS. (Photo by Gene

Columbia Comes Up With Biggest Plays
To Edge Newark Academy In Quarters

By Steve Tober

LIVINGSTON- Talia Baptiste was deep in concentration as Newark Academy prepared to inbound with seven seconds remaining in a tie game.

“When they had called timeout, I had a chance to really think about what might happen and I knew there would be a chance to make something happen as they inbounded,” recalled Columbia’s junior point guard who had displayed quick hands all game long. “I just thought ‘deny the ball and don’t go over the line and keep the ball away from ‘2’ (Dagny Slomack) and 14 (Kit Dakos) because they were doing more with the ball than anyone else.

“Fortunately, I was able to make a play there and was confident going to the line with the game on the line!”

Baptiste, who finished with a team-high 14 points, made a key steal on an in-bounds play, drew a foul on her drive to the basket and sank two free throws with 4.1 seconds left to give fifth-seeded Columbia the lead before then making another steal and bucket before the buzzer sounded for a thrilling 46-42 comeback win vs. the fourth-seeded Minutemen.

Columbia will meet top-seeded Immaculate, 1 p.m. next Saturday’s (Feb. 11) in the semifinals at West Orange. The other ECT Final 4 matchup at 11 a.m. will see third-seeded West Orange taking on second-seeded University. The final is set for 3 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 18, at Essex County College in Newark.

Although it is under .500 for the season (9-12), Columbia competes out of the Super Essex Conference’s top division, the American, plays a strong independent slate and has been playing some of its better basketball of late while receiving a nice spark from a number of players including the ever-present Baptiste who is in constant motion on both ends of the court passing, driving and defending with gusto.

“Talia has quick hands and can’t be stopped,” said Cougars senior guard Bella Galatt, who sank two of her team’s seven 3-pointers against the hard-to-penetrate Newark Academy zone, including one in the critical fourth quarter. “As far as our 3-point shooting I think it’s a matter of moving the ball and taking the time to give us those open looks.

“Some of the 3’s are more clutch than others, but we did make some shots when we needed to and that was huge for us today.”

“Our assistant coaches have been working with the girls on their shooting during practice, including those 3-pointers and that extra work is paying off,” said Columbia head coach Chuck Keegan. “We hadn’t been shooting that well earlier in the season so it’s great to come up big with those 3’s in a county tournament quarterfinal.”

Newark Academy (16-4), which is leading the SEC’s second division, the Liberty, held a 36-30 lead with 6:40 remaining in the fourth quarter, a 38-33 edge with 4:45 left and 40-37 with just under two minutes to go before the Cougars were able to tie matters at 40-all in the final 30 seconds on a huge ‘3’ by Galatt.

“Their zone was tough, but you come to realize that mental focus takes a lot of effort and over the course of the season this team has really grown,” said Galatt, who finished with 9 points. “We’ve done a better job the past few weeks of translating what we know we need to do in making actual plays and shots on the floor which has been great to be a part of especially in a big county tournament win like this one!”

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