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Boulders drop two of three to New Jersey

A quick three-game road trip up to Canada did not fare well for the Rockland Boulders as the Trois-Rivieres Aigles swiped two out of three games in the first match-up between both teams’ and snapping the Boulders three game winning streak. Despite hitting a speed bump, Rockland returned home to Palisades Credit Union Park for a six game home stand.

Facing off against the New Jersey Jackals, the Boulders had taken two out of three games from New Jersey the previous weekend at Yogi Berra Stadium in Montclair, New Jersey. In game one of the series, JD Busfield returned to the Rockland starting rotation after a stint on the disabled list. Despite yielding three runs in the first inning, Busfield settled down from that point on tossing five shutout innings permitting four hits, walking two and striking out four.

Down 3-2 after the first inning, Colin Ferguson tied the game in the second with a sacrifice fly. John Brontsema put the team ahead for good with another sacrifice fly as the Boulders went on to break the contest wide open tallying four more runs. The trio of Ryne Birk, Brontsema and Adam Ehrlich went 6 for 11 on the night with six hits, four runs scored and six RBI’s as Rockland banged out 11 hits.

Out of the bullpen, Nick Kennedy, James Mulry and Robbie Gordon worked the final three innings, giving up one run on two hits, one walk and fanning four to preserve Busfield’s third win of the year.

“JD hasn’t pitched in awhile, been throwing and staying in shape,” said Manager Kevin Baez. “For him to come in here in the first game, pitched really well and hopefully can build on that in his next outing. This game went according to plan, we were coming off two losses and to get a W with the guys swinging the bats well and pitching was good.”

On Saturday night, the Boulders faced off against a former teammate in Jackals starting pitcher Justin Brantley. Rockland jumped out to an early lead off Brantley on a Matt Oberste RBI single in the first inning. However, New Jersey answered back in the second inning tying the game up on an RBI ground out from Gregg Veneklasen.

Between the fourth and fifth inning is where the Jackals did their damage off Rockland starter Pasquale Mazzoccoli scoring three times highlighted by another former Boulders player in Conrad Gregor belting a two run double. Brantley dominated in seven innings of work giving up two runs on four hits, walking one and whiffing 10. Blake Grant-Parks blasted his fifth home run of the season in the seventh to make it 4-2 but that would be as close as Rockland would get.

In the series finale, Mother Nature wreaked havoc briefly with a 15-minute rain delay. After the skies cleared New Jersey did not waste anytime sprinting out to an early advantage tagging Boulders starter Justin Valdespina for two runs. Rockland managed to get one back in the bottom half of the frame off Jackals starter Brendan Butler.

Encountering a jam in the second with runner at third base and one out, Valdespina escaped it without permitting a run on a terrific defensive play by third baseman Richie Fecteau on a ground ball hit by Jason Agresti and throwing to home plate as Adam Ehrlich applied the tag on Nelson Ward. Not out of the woods New Jersey loaded up the bases with two only for Valdespina to come out unscathed striking out Santiago Chirino.

Playing for the most part error free baseball during a stretch where Rockland won seven out of nine games, miscues came back to bite the team with right fielder Blake Grant-Parks committing his second error of the game leading to runners on second and third with two outs. The Jackals cashed in on the opportunity as Emilio Guerrero cranked a two-run single as the Boulders ended up with four errors on the day and six in their last two games.

With Valdespina departing after the third inning, Brett Schneider took over the pitching duties. In the fifth inning is where New Jersey broke the game wide open with back-to-back home runs from Richard Stock and Ward. For a second consecutive game the Boulders offense struggled as Butler retired 11 in a row at one point while Rockland could only muster two hits on the day and went six innings without a runner on base.

“That’s when you go against good pitching, Baez said. Their pitchers really stifled our bats and we couldn’t figure them out. We have to go back to the drawing board, have to learn and get better. We have to play a little bit cleaner, crisper, making too many errors and throwing to the wrong base. We will try to clean it up this week having infield/outfield and go for it in preparation for the game but once the game comes it’s about the players in that moment making the right decision. It’s a long season, we started out slow and some ups and downs but we have to stay a little bit more consistent.”

Currently Rockland is 15-12, in second place in the Can-Am League Standings and two and half games behind first place Sussex County (17-12). The race is definitely tightening up with Ottawa and New Jersey a game back of the Boulders and Aigles one and half games. After a day off on Monday, Rockland commences play in the International Series taking on Shikoku Island (1-2) in a three-game set with first pitch set for 7:00 p.m. at Palisades Credit Union Park followed by a pivotal series vs. the Miners at Skyland Stadium starting on Friday.

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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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