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Boulders Clinch Third Straight Can-Am League Playoff Berth, Take Series From Sussex County

(Photo by Sunil Sunder Raj)

(Photo by Sunil Sunder Raj)


Rockland Boulders third baseman Mike Fransoso knew going into a four-game series with the Sussex County Miners it would take only one game to clinch a playoff spot. Fransoso made sure Rockland would achieve that goal in game one of the series going 4-for-6 with three runs scored including his third home run of the season in the eighth inning that sealed an 8-2 win over the Miners and third straight trip to the Can-Am League Playoffs for the Boulders.

“We went out and did what we did all year long playing Boulder baseball and just happy I could contribute and it was awesome to get on base with the guys behind me and break out with a home run because I have not had one of those,” said Fransoso.

The pivotal inning for Rockland came in the fourth inning with the score tied at 2-2. Leandro Castro who went 4-for-5 including a two-run bases loaded single in the first inning led off with a single to center. Mike Montville followed, belting a triple over Dominique Taylor, scoring Castro from first. Elvin Soto kept the scoring going with a sacrifice fly to left field bringing in Montville. Fransoso cracked his third hit of the game keeping the inning alive. Junior Arrojo, who went 3-for-6 on the night, capped the scoring yanking a triple down the left field line as Fransoso raced around the bases and dove head first safely at home, making it 5-2.

“It’s tough shoes to follow in when you are trying to follow Jared McDonald in the lead off spot so I’m just trying to do the best job I can up there and working well with Junior and myself at 1-2 spot especially when we get on base and try to steal and cause some havoc on bases that helps guys behind us especially Schlehuber in the three hole and having an unbelievable August,” said Fransoso.

“Third straight year to get an opportunity to represent in the playoffs and we don’t know where we are don’t know where we are going to be but I tell you the feel in the clubhouse and on the field the guys are having fun and that’s the first time I can say all year and in the last three to four days we’re playing on all cylinders,” Manager Jamie Keefe said. “We’re spraying some champagne and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. These guys 1 to 22 have each other’s back and supposed to be. We went through a rough bout there and that’s all supposed to happen. Last year it happen late and this year earlier.”

Starting pitcher Jason Byers gutted through six innings, working out of numerous jams to earn his third win of the season yielding two runs on seven hits while striking out three and walking one. A perfect relief bridge of Mike Adams, Pat Butler and Daniel Carela surrendered just two hits over the final three innings to seal the game.

“Jason squirted through a couple of innings here and there and made pitches when he needed to,” said Keefe. “Leandro hasn’t played five days in a row and you have to realize it’s going to be a struggle with his Canadian visa and it’s been tough and now got it. He got us where to be by solidifying lineup.”

Not even 24 hours after celebrating a third straight to the postseason, the Boulders showed no effects pounding out 14 runs on 17 hits including four home runs in a 14-2 rout of Sussex County at Palisades Credit Union Park. Marcus Nidiffer paced the offense with four runs driven in along with crushing his 17th home run of the season. Jared Schlehuber chipped in with three RBI while Devin Harris added four hits. Starting pitcher David Fischer tossed seven inning allowing one run on five hits while striking out nine increasing his season total to 105 that leads the Can-Am League and posting his 8th victory.

After almost a two-week layoff Bo Budkevics displayed no ill effects in game three of the series at Sussex County hurling seven shutout innings and surrendering just four hits and fanning four for his fifth win. The relief duo of Daniel Carela and Mike Adams shut the door over the final two innings not allowing a single hit. Meanwhile, Devin Harris led the offensive charge driving in two runs along with three hits.

“It’s that time of the year for Bo and late August when he shines,” Keefe said. “He’s had a little bit of extra rest and absolutely dominated that game and probably best start I have seen him have and outside of finals in 2014 that’s as good as it’s been.”

Heading nnto the rubber match of the series, Boulders starting pitcher Richard Salazar was on a roll having won three straight and 20 1/3 scoreless inning streak. Locked in a pitcher’s duel with former Boulder Joe Donino who had struck seven through four innings, Rockland broke the deadlock in the fifth courtesy of a couple of miscues by the Miners.

With Mike Monvtille at second base, Nick Giarraputo fielded a check swing grounder by Pat McKenna and ended up throwing it away at first base allowing Montville to score the game’s first run. After advancing to third on a passed ball, McKenna raced home on a wild pitch uncorked by Donino. Marcus Nidiffer drove in his 69th RBI of the season with a sac fly in the 7th.

Rockland closer Hector Nelo entered the ninth with a 4-0 lead but walked the first two batters he faced. Another former Boulder Alex DeBellis ripped a drive down the right field line that Mike Montville would be unable to corral leading to a two-run double. However, Nelo settled down finishing Dominique Taylor off with a strikeout. Salazar (9-6) posted his fourth straight win and set a Can-Am League record for 27 1/3 scoreless innings in a row earning him the honor of Pointstreak Player of the Week.

“Rich with a fourth outstanding start and we can’t get better pitching than we have been getting from these guys and let the defense play behind them,” said Keefe. “Throwing a lot of strikes and staying ahead of hitters and not giving up a lot of base runners are the difference in wins and losses.”

The Boulders will wrap up the regular season with an eight game home stand at Palisades Credit Union Park. First,m starting a three-game series against the Ottawa Champions and finishing up with a five-game set against the first place New Jersey Jackals. Currently, Rockland(53-39) sits three games behind New Jersey in the Can-Am League standings.

“These guys don’t want to finish in second place and wan’t to win the league title before we roll into the playoffs,” Keefe said. “We don’t want to stop here and that’s huge for us. We take pride in saying last two years we have been league champs and want to do it again and keep moving forward so we’re coming after New Jersey.”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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