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Boulders Falter Against Jackals But Ready For Can-Am Playoffs

(Photo by Sunil Sunder Raj)

(Photo by Sunil Sunder Raj)


Heading into a critical five-game series against the New Jersey Jackals at Palisades Credit Union Park, the Rockland Boulders were full of confidence riding a season high nine-game winning streak and winners of 14 of their last 15 games. However, New Jersey had different plans capturing the last three games of the series for their first Can-Am League pennant.

The two teams’ played a doubleheader to start the series with game one resuming what was suspended on August 21 with the contest tied at 3-3 in the fourth inning, Jared Schlehuber put the Boulders ahead to stay for good with a bases-loaded sac fly in the fifth. Rockland put on a power display with two outs in the seventh on back-to-back home runs from Leandro Castro and Marcus Nidiffer. Meanwhile, Matt Kostalos earned his first win in a Boulders uniform tossing four shutout innings allowing just one hit. Pat Butler came on to pitch a scoreless ninth recording his second save of the season.

“Aggressive right out of the gate and set the tone by swinging it and a shot in the arm for us,” Manager Jamie Keefe said after the first game. “We want to win four out of the five games in this series.”

“The biggest take of the game was Kostalos and we’re pretty confident and feel like we have a real good chance,” said Marcus Nidiffer. “If we take care of what we need to do and stay where were at we’ll just be fine. If you look at the teams’ that won the last couple of years including the big leagues it’s the teams’ that got hot at the end that won and it hurt us in 2015.”

Game two was seven inning contest. Rockland jumped to an early two 2-0 lead thanks to a couple of miscues by Jackals starting pitcher James Stokes. Carrying a Can-Am League scoreless streak of 27 1/3 innings, Boulders starting pitcher Richard Salazar looked to extend even further but in the third Rylan Sandoval broke it with an RBI double into the left center gap trimming the lead to 2-1.

In the third with the bases loaded Mike Montville ripped an RBI single scoring Jared Schelhuber. Pat McKenna followed with a two-run single. Salazar departed after six innings yielding two runs on four hits while fanning eight and walking one.

New Jersey made things interesting in the seventh as Taylor Brennan blasted a two-run shot off Tony Amezcua. Hector Nelo came on to face an imposing presence in Art Charles leading the league in most categories but Nelo proved to win the battle striking out Charles to end the game. Salazar earned his 10th victory, fifth in a row, and registered his 100th career victory. Nelo posted his 17th save of the season as Rockland extended their winning streak to 11 games.

“It’s good and didn’t take a look at the stats and I was looking for my 10th win because it would be four seasons in a row for me,” said Richard Salazar. “I’m just trying to give the team a chance to win and finish strong going into the playoffs. I just executed my pitches and not losing concentration. I’m almost down the finish line in my career but pushing myself every year to be better.”

“It can turn in a heartbeat and either way but when you can get the starting pitching we had the last three weeks you are going to be successful and been able to do that,” Keefe said. “We were locked in today giving up four runs in 12 innings. Salazar was in control from the get go and aside from losing the streak pitched his butt off and well-deserved 100th career win. A third of his wins have been here and a damn good Boulder.”

The Jackals potent offense that was held in check for the first two games woke up in game three of the series tagging Rockland starter Bo Budkevics for seven runs in the first two innings. Rockland managed to shave the lead to 3-2 in the third on an Elvin Soto two-run triple to deep center field.

New Jersey centerfielder D’Vontrey Richardson led the offensive charge driving in five including two, two-run triples. The Jackals number four through nine hitters racked up 14 hits along with seven RBI on the night. Marcus Nidiffer launched his 20th home run and second in last two games in the fourth, reducing the margin to 9-6. Rylan Sandoval stretched the lead out in the seventh, belting a two out, two-run triple into right center.

“They did their damage early and anytime that happens it’s going to be tough to win,” Keefe said. “A great run for 11 days and not going to hold that team down every night. There is a reason why you play 100 of these and there is nothing you can do about it.”

In a blink of an eye in game four of the series, New Jersey raced out to a 6-0 advantage after three innings against starter Brett Palanski. Devin Harris put the Boulders on the board with his 12th home run of the season in the fourth. Eddie Newton who had hit a two-run shot earlier in the game, socked a two-run triple in the fifth extending the margin to 8-1.

The biggest and most controversial play of the game took place in the fifth inning as Rockland loaded up the bases with two outs. Marcus Nidiffer crushed a drive that appeared to clear the yellow line for a grand slam but the umpires ruled it did not. Two runs scored on the play cutting the lead to 8-3. Quinnton Mack smashed his first home in a Boulders uniform in the sixth slicing the lead down to 8-5. Back came New Jersey as Daniel Rockett yanked a solo shot in the 8th. In the bottom half of the frame Mike Fransoso walloped a solo missile and 6th of the year into the right center bleachers but that as close it would get.

“They got to Brett and can’t pitch up those guys,” said Keefe. “A couple of walks and next thing you know three runs come in. They win the league and we come back tomorrow looking to play a good clean baseball game.”

Playing the final game of the 2016 regular season, the Boulders jumped to the early 2-0 lead in the second. New Jersey regained the lead behind two RBI’s from Taylor Brennan and run producing hit by Eddie newton. Art Charles padded the lead clubbing a 2-run moonshot, his league leading 29th homer off the signs in right-center field. Daniel Rockett added a solo shot making in 6-2.

Rockland refused to cave in chipping away at the lead thanks to the long ball in the seventh on a Mike Montville solo homer and Elvin Soto cranking a two-run shot into the Short Porch in right field. In the 8th with the bases loaded Pat McKenna ended up getting hit by a pitch forcing in a run. Mike Fransoso tied up the game with an infield RBI single.

The back and forth contest went on as Robert Stock put the Jackals back on top with an RBI double in the 9th. Matt Kostalos limited the damage with the bases loaded striking out Adam Martin and getting Eddie Newton on fly out to center. Down to their last out and pinch runner Quinnton Mack on third, Leandro Castro dropped down a perfect squeeze bunt as Mack darted home tying the game at 8-8.

After trading zeroes in the 10th and 11th, New Jersey broke through in the 12th as Newton’s sac fly to center brought in Rylan Sandoval. The Boulders still had one last opportunity with runners at the corner and out but second baseman Johnny Bladel subbing in as a pitcher got Mike Montville to line out and struck out Pat McKenna to end the game.

Next up for Rockland is the first round of the Can-Am League Playoffs, a best of five series starting Wednesday against the Quebec Capitales in Quebec City. Richard Salazar gets the ball in game one followed by David Fischer on the hill in game two and Brett Palanski takes the mound for game three on Friday night at Palisades Credit Union Park.

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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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