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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

This year’s eighth installment of the Columbus Baseball Invitational (CBI), dubbed the “Jewish World Series,” featured 12 teams, making it the largest event in the tournament’s history. This year’s teams came from all over the country, spanning as far as the Northeast, Georgia, California, Illinois and, of course, Ohio. The teams were divided into four brackets, each consisting of three teams. Each of the three teams played each other in two preliminary round games, with the four bracket winners advancing to the championship semifinals. The favorite to win this year’s tournament was the Frisch Cougars, the defending 2016 CBI champions and a team that is undefeated in yeshiva league play thus far this season. Frisch was placed in a bracket with 2012 CBI champions Atlanta Jewish Academy and Kohelet Yeshiva High School from Philadelphia, which was making its first appearance in Columbus.

The Cougars’ first game was against Atlanta on Sunday afternoon (May 14). Frisch considered this one of their most difficult games, because they wanted to save their aces and captains, RJ Fischer (‘17) and Jake Lebovitch (‘17), for the semifinals and finals, but had to get through the preliminary round first. After much deliberation, Frisch decided to start senior captain Rafi Jacobs (‘17) on the mound against Atlanta and he did not disappoint. Rafi pitched a complete game, one-hit shutout, helping the Cougars cruise to a 6-0 victory. RJ and captain Mark Abramovitz (‘17) scored the first two runs in the fourth inning, and then Frisch exploded for a four-run fifth inning after first baseman Benny Matheson (‘19) doubled, DH Evan Caplan (‘19) singled, center-fielder Daniel Fischoff (‘18) walked and left-fielder Ezra Rudansky (‘17) reached on an error; all four players scored in the inning. Lebovitch and Caplan each had two hits, and Ari Rosenberg (‘19) led the team with two RBIs.

Frisch’s next game was against Kohelet early Monday morning. With Frisch having won its first game, Coach David Ruditsky decided to get a lot of players involved in Monday morning’s game. Avi Nat (‘17) started on the mound and worked a 1-2-3 inning; he also batted cleanup, mashing a double and a single and scoring two runs. Daniel Fischoff, Mark Abramovitz and Billy Krause (‘20) each pitched one inning, as the game ended with a resounding 17-1 victory and a ticket to the semi-finals. Krause also had two hits and scored two runs, and his fellow freshmen Danny Weinberger and Jacob Hershenov played middle infield and accounted for four of the Cougars’ runs. Sophomores Jack Reinhart and Noah Altman had three hits combined and accounted for seven runs. Reinhart showed flashes of Frisch’s future behind the plate, chasing down a wild pitch to tag out a runner who tried to score and then throwing out a runner trying to steal second base in the final inning. Junior Simon Morgenstern commanded the outfield and scored a run as well after working a walk.

After eight hours of rest, Frisch was fired up for a semifinal battle against the Yeshiva of Flatbush Falcons, who were making their first CBI appearance since 2014. Having won their bracket without using either of their aces, Frisch saved their best for last, and was able to start a fresh RJ Fischer in the semifinals. Frisch was up first, and after Ari Rosenberg reached on an error and stole second base, Fischer helped his own cause by knocking him in with two outs for the first run of the game. Flatbush was not going to go down without a fight, though. Flatbush began their half inning with a single and a double, threatening to score with two runners in scoring position and no outs. It looked like Fischer would work out of the jam after he struck out the next two batters, but two walks pushed a run across before he composed himself again to strike out the last batter.

After a quiet second inning for both teams, Daniel Fischoff led off the third with a walk and a stolen base, and Ari Rosenberg knocked him in with a single. Once again, Frisch had a one run lead, and Flatbush was going to try to get it back with its number three hitter, Sam Laniado, leading off the bottom half of the inning. Laniado fell behind 0-2, but a Fischer curveball slipped and plunked Laniado, putting the leadoff runner on first. After working a 1-2 count on the Falcons’ cleanup hitter, Frisch’s catcher Mark Abramovitz called for an inside fastball, but the pitch was just a bit too far inside and hit another batter. After an infield fly for the next batter, Flatbush successfully executed a double steal, with Laniado sliding into third base just below the Rosenberg tag. With two runners in scoring position and only one out, Flatbush was prepared to run on contact, a strategy that they would shortly regret. Fischer threw a changeup that yielded a hard ground ball to shortstop Jake Lebovitch, and Lebovitch came up firing home to Mark Abramovitz, who was perfectly positioned to lay the tag on Laniado a few feet short of home plate. In the fourth inning, Flatbush again tried to test the Frisch battery by trying to steal second after a leadoff walk, but Frisch’s catcher Abramovitz displayed the arm that has made him a four-year starter for the Cougars and threw the runner out by about 10 feet. Frisch tacked on some insurance runs starting in the top of the fifth inning. Mark Abramovitz and Daniel Fischoff opened the inning with back-to-back singles and stolen bases, then scoring on sacrifice flies by Ari Rosenberg and Jake Lebovitch. The sixth inning saw one of the top defensive plays of the tournament. With two outs, Flatbush right-fielder Mo Goldman hit a ground ball in the hole to the right of Frisch’s shortstop, whose throw to first skipped past the first baseman. The Flatbush runner immediately broke for second base, but failed to realize that the Frisch catcher was also running down to first and was in perfect position to back up the play and throw Goldman out at second base. Evan Caplan added another run for Frisch in the seventh frame to boost the lead to four, where it remained until the end of the game. Fischer pitched a complete game three-hitter, striking out 11 along the way. Frisch’s 5-1 win over the Falcons was a double victory for the Cougars, as the coaches had agreed before the game that the game would also serve as the as-yet unplayed regular season matchup between the two teams. The victory therefore put the Cougars one game away from a CBI repeat, while also extending their MYHSAL record to a perfect 7-0.

One of the highlights of the 2017 CBI tournament was that former MLB umpire Al Clark, who holds the distinction of being the first Jewish umpire hired by the American League, stayed in the dorms with the athletes and was available around the fields to answer questions and chat about baseball with the athletes and their parents. Clark shared stories from his days on the field and gave the athletes pointers about how to approach the game, even sharing special words of wisdom with the Cougars’ young second baseman, Evan Caplan (‘19). Following a pregame talk from Clark on Tuesday morning, Frisch was ready to take the field for the tournament finale against the Valley Torah Wolfpack of Santa Barbara, California,. It was the Wolfpack’s first appearance in Columbus and also the first time that the two teams would meet on the diamond.

The championship game was set to be one for the ages, as Jake Lebovitch started the game for the Frisch Cougars, squaring off against Valley Torah senior Dovie Solomon, who would go on to be voted Tournament MVP after pitching 19 innings in three days. The first inning showed off Frisch’s talents at both ends of the game. Following a single by the Wolfpack’s leadoff hitter, Frisch right-fielder Avi Nat came up gunning on what would have been a line drive single, and fired a strike to Ari Rosenberg covering second for the forced out. In the bottom of the inning, Frisch again attacked and got on the board early. Daniel Fischoff led off with a hit and a stolen base. Ari Rosenberg showed bunt and the third basemen charged, but the Valley Torah shortstop did not rotate to cover third base, so Daniel Fischoff broke for third. When the catcher threw the ball in that direction not realizing the base was unmanned, Fischoff scored with what proved to be the game’s only, and winning, run. Jake Lebovitch masterfully outdueled Valley Torah’s starting pitcher over the next six innings, keeping both teams and the fans on the edges of their seats. The Cougars threatened to score a couple of times, but the Wolfpack threw out Frisch runners at home plate in each of the fourth and fifth innings. However, behind Lebovitch’s pitching and timely defense, the Cougars allowed only one runner past second base after the first inning. When sophomore first baseman Benny Matheson caught the final out of the game, it capped a three-hit, seven strikeout performance by Lebovitch.

Frisch won their second consecutive CBI title with incredible pitching, great defensive plays, timely hitting and—most importantly—teamwork. Frisch’s senior captains led the team both on the field and in the dugout. Three of them, Rafi Jacobs, RJ Fischer and Jake Lebovitch pitched complete games, collectively allowing just two runs and seven hits, and struck out 24 batters over 21 innings, while their battery-mate Mark Abramovitz controlled the game from behind the plate for all three of his classmates’ victories while throwing out 50% of baserunners trying to steal. However, the Frisch underclassmen also made key contributions in the field and at the plate, showing that Frisch baseball continues to have a bright future.

With the CBI title under their collective belts, the Frisch Cougars returned to Paramus to wrap up their MYHSAL regular season with a May 23 game away at HAFTR and their home finale on May 28 against MTA at Englewood’s Wilkens Field. The Cougars and their senior captains will then try to complete a championship cycle as they pursue a fourth consecutive Yeshiva League championship.