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Boulders Drop Two of Three Against Shikoku Island



The Rockland Boulders were on a roll, winners of four in a row and having scored 31 runs during that span heading into a three-game series against the Shikoku Island League All-Stars at Palisades Credit Union Park but Shikoku Island managed to put a damper on the winning streak taking two out of the three games knocking the Boulders out of first place in the Can-Am League.

In game 1, Rockland starting pitcher Richard Salazar tossed a gem, hurling six shutout innings while giving up two runs on eight hits in seven innings of work registering his fourth victory. Junior Arrojo and Mike Schwartz paced the offense with two runs driven in apiece. Mike Fransoso belted his second home run of the season.

Arrojo provided the highlight of the night yanking a drive to the left center gap that was misplayed by centerfielder Yuske Matsuzawa allowing Arrojo to motor around the bases and a slow throw into the infield enabled Arrojo to come into score.

“It was two outs and just trying to put a good swing on the ball and keep running,” said Junior Arrojo. “I saw the throw coming in and had a pretty good chance to score and just took off and going.”

“This offense is crazy good and we have a little bit of everything and got ballplayers throughout the lineup,” continued Arroyo. “I played against Mike (Schwartz) and he always comes up with big hits. You know what you’re going to get with Rich (Salazar) and I have played three years with him and gives us really good chance to win every game he pitches. Playing behind him that confidence is definitely up when he steps on the mound.”

“We are swinging the bats and Salazar was excellent,” said Manager Jamie Keefe. “He used his fastball more than he has and spotted the ball really well. We’re taking advantage of other teams’ mistakes and that’s baseball and how we’re going to win games.”

The Boulders fell behind early 2-0 in game two of the series but starter Alex Gouin regained his control shutting out Shikoku Island the next five innings. Mike Schwartz continuing his recent surge at the plate clubbing an RBI double to left in the 5th as Arrojo scored all the way from first base.

With runners at second and third, Jared Schlehuber roped a two-run double to the right field wall making it 3-2. Pat McKenna capped the scoring in the inning with a single back up the middle bringing in Schlehuber. Marcus Nidiffer extended the advantage to 7-2 in the 6th slugging a three-run jack deep into the left field bleachers, Nidiffer’s 6th homer of the season.

Gouin exited after the sixth inning allowing two runs on six hits while walking two and fanning four. Daniel Carela took over the pitching duties in the seventh where the tide turned as Carela lost command of the strike zone walking four hitters that led to two runs. The erratic pitching would come back to sting Carela as Yoshihiro Kobayashi laced a 3-2 pitch into right for a two-run single making it 7-6.

That spelled the end for Carela as Jamie Keefe called upon Donnie Joseph. The next batter Hayato Hirama chopped a grounder to Mike Fransoso at third but the throw to first ended up hitting Hirama in the back allowing two runs to score on the play. Shikoku Island would add an insurance run in the 8th as Joseph uncorked two wild pitches allowing Takahiro Hayashi to score from 3rd.

Rockland made interesting in the 8th as Schwartz drove in his 7th run in the last three games hammering a sacrifice fly to the warning track in dead center. Reliever Junki Kishimoto closed the door striking out Nidiffer and Scheluber. In the ninth, the Boulders put runner on first and second with no outs but Osamu Taira worked out of the jam getting Mike Montville to pop out and 6-4-3 double playing ending the game.

“No excuses, when you don’t throw strikes and issue free passes it’s going to come back and get you,” said Keefe. “We had some good timely hitting when we needed to early and couldn’t get a break at the end. We can’t get bunts down and that’s not going to help.”

In the rubber match of the series, Shikoku Island jumped out of the game scoring a run off Boulders started Jarret Martin in the first inning. Rockland responded in the bottom half of the frame taking advantage of the wildness of starter Shungo Fukunaga who issued five walks.

Jared McDonald took off third and ended up scoring as the throw from catcher Yuki Tarui sailed into left field tying the game up. Jared Schlehuber followed ripping an RBI double to the right field wall. Fukunaga escaped further trouble with the bases loaded and one out getting Brenden Webb on a lineout and whiffing Alex DeBellis.

Rockland put two runs on the board in the following inning on a sinking fly ball to right hit by Schlehuber that ended up rolling by right fielder Takahiro Hayashi. Fukunaga shut the Boulders down from that point retiring 11 in a row. Meanwhile, Jarret Martin settled into a groove as well mowing down six hitters through four innings. The momentum started shifting in the fifth as Hirama lifted an RBI flare single to center making it 4-2. A pick off throw attempt at first base ended up being a pivotal moment as the ball hit the umpire but Hirama was awarded second. Ryosuke Yotsuya smoked a single to right bringing in Hirama cutting the lead down to 4-3. Incensed with the call at first Jamie Keefe came out to argue vociferously and was ejected from the game.

Martin left after hurling seven impressive innings yielding three runs on seven hits, walking four and striking out nine. With runners on first and second in the 8th, Shikoku Island pinch hitter Taiju Furukawa tied it up at 4-4 singling off Hector Nelo scoring Masashi Muneyuki.

In the 10th Muneyuki led off doubling down the right field line and advancing to third on a fly out. Pinch hitter Hiroki Tsuruta put Shikoku Island ahead for good lifting a fly ball to center that Jared McDonald dropped allowing Muneyuki to score the game-winning run.

“A tough loss but we can’t have six hits and expect to win,” said Keefe.

After a day off on Monday, the Boulders(19-11) return to action on Tuesday opening a three-game set against the first place New Jersey Jackals(20-10) who hold a one game edge over Rockland with the first game at Palisades Credit Union Park and remaining two games at Yogi Berra Stadium.

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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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