By Bob Behre
Baseball practice is underway at Columbia University and former Diamond Jack and Super 17 player Jack Chernow couldn’t be happier.
Chernow, a sophomore at the Ivy League school, is coming off a freshman campaign that should provide he and his coaches plenty of optimism heading into the 2019 season. Jack batted .259 while starting 32 of the 40 games he played for the Lions.
Chernow came to Columbia in September of 2017 embracing the challenge of playing Division 1 baseball while carrying a difficult academic load at a prestigious university.
“College life with baseball took some adjusting and getting used to,” admitted Chernow. “I struggled in our fall season, but continued to improve and get better. I ended up starting our first game of the spring against UNLV and got a hit in my first at bat.
“Academically, the classes are definitely challenging but manageable. We have a lot of core requirements that mainly fill your freshman schedule. Being in New York City has been great for learning outside of the classroom, like going to the MET for art history class and going to multiple concerts for salsa and reggae classes.”
Columbia finished 20-30 in 2018 thanks to a rugged out-of-conference schedule but managed to succeed at a high enough level in the Ivy League, reaching a conference final against Yale that provided plenty of drama.
“We typically schedule challenging pre-conference games, which is great experience against tougher competition and it prepares us for Ivy League play,” said Chernow.
Columbia defeated Yale, 4-0, in the best-of-three opener before the two teams engaged in a memorable 15-inning marathon in game 2. Joe Engel stepped to the plate for Columbia with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 15th and promptly lofted a fly ball to center fielder that scored Ben Porter from third with the winning run in a thrilling 2-1 victory.
“We had great leadership all year long,” said Chernow, who played second base and batted ninth in the game, going 1-for-6. “Winning that clinching 15-inning game at Yale was one of the best feelings.”
The Ivy League title qualified Columbia for the NCAA Tournament and a trip to the Gainesville (Fla.) Regional. But the Lions drew No. 1 Florida in its opener, falling 13-5, before Florida Atlantic bounced them from the tournament in the second game, 11-2.
“The regional was a great experience,” said Chernow, who split his time in the field last year between second base and center field. Chernow’s statistical line in 2018 included 30 hits, three doubles, a home run, 15 runs scored and a 5-for-5 stolen base efficiency. He posted a .315 on-base percentage.
The 2017 Mendham High grad has been taking most of his reps in the early going at second base as he prepares for his sophomore season.
Chernow ran into a pair of fellow Diamond Jacks -- Jack Mahala and Nico Motessi -- during the course of Columbia’s 2018 Ivy League schedule. Mahala pitches for Harvard and Motessi was an outfielder for Cornell. Both are Seton Hall Prep grads.
“Being able to play my old Diamond Jack teammates made the series against Harvard and Cornell extra fun,” said Chernow.
The lefty-hitting Chernow went 3-for-11 and scored twice as Columbia defeated Harvard in two of the three games played on March 31 and April 1. The righty Mahala pitched a third of an inning of scoreless relief during Columbia’s 7-1 victory in the second game of the series but did not face Chernow. Columbia also defeated Cornell in two of the three games in the series on May 12-13. Chernow went 3-for-10 with an RBI and a run-scored in that series. Motessi did not play.
Chernow’s signature game in 2018 came against Texas-San Antonio on March 10 when he went 3-for-5, hit his first college home run and drove home two runs. He certainly shows signs of delivering more big games like that in 2019.
“We are returning most of our team this season,” Chernow said. “And will get back an ace in Josh Simpson from Tommy John surgery. Our pre-conference games this year include a weekend at Oklahoma University, a weekend at Cal Poly and spring break against North Florida and Miami.”
Did you know?: Jack was named to the 2017 Star-Ledger All-Group 3 Third Team. He also played soccer for two seasons at Mendham and his 2015 team won the NJSIAA Group 3 championship.