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After dodging the series sweep last weekend in Quebec, the Rockland Boulders moved on to face the Ottawa Champions in a three-game set at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park. The objective Manager Jamie Keefe said was to go into Ottawa and win at least two out of three and even go for a series sweep.

Game one of the series featured a pitcher’s duel for the first five innings between Rockland starter Markus Solbach and Champions starter Steve Borkowski. However, the Boulders broke through scoring four times in the sixth and seventh innings to break the contest wide open. Joe Bennie led the charge driving in three runs while Mike Montville added two. Solbach (3-0) tossed a gem hurling seven shutout innings while allowing just three hits, walking none and striking out two while earning his third win and lowering his E.R.A. to 3.04.

“Alex and him were on the same page all night and he was down hill,” said Keefe. “He threw the ball very well and Alex called a hell of a game back there. He had a long off-season for 7 months and didn’t go to spring training with anybody. He got the pitch count to where we were comfortable with at 85 to 90 pitches tonight. He has really worked with Salazar on a different grip on some of his pitches and definitely taking shape. A significant difference when the ball comes out of his hands.”

“Joe (Bennie) has fit right in and he runs very well that ends up putting the pressure on the defense by turning a single into a double. When runners are in scoring position he is locked in really well and driving the ball. One through nine these guys are producing.”

“With an opportunity to go out and one more or two the next time we can go out on the field and ensure ourselves of a win and go either 3-3 or 4-2 on the road trip.”

The second game of the series ended up being a washout forcing both teams’ to play a doubleheader that concluded the series. In game one, right fielder Mike Montville got the Boulders on the board first in the second inning clobbering a monstrous two-run homer over the right field wall, Montville’s third round tripper of the season.

Ottawa responded in the bottom half of the frame on a RBI double by Daniel Bick. In the third inning, Champions right field Steve Brown would crank a two-run blast off Rockland starter C.J. Riefenhouser putting Ottawa on top for the first time.

Riefenshouser settled down thereafter retiring seven in a row at one point. Stymied by Ottawa starter Pat Peterson after the second inning, the Boulders broke through with Jared McDonald leading off the inning with a double and moving to third on fly out to right by Dylan Tice. Mike Fransoso followed ripping a single to right scoring McDonald. With runners on the corner, Joe Maloney lifted a sac fly to center bringing in Fransoso putting Rockland back in the lead.

With Riefenhouser departing after five innings, Ethan Elias stepped on to the mound and was sharp yielding just one hit. In the seventh, Joe Bennie reached on an infield single with Alex Herceg following a single to center. Jared McDonald kept the inning going with runners on the corner with one out beating throw on the potential double play scoring Bennie from third extending the lead to 5-3. Closer Mayckol Guaipe entered the ball game in the seventh and shut the door with back-to-back strikeouts to end the game registering his seventh save of the year.

“In the first game we took care of a couple mistakes by Peterson, CJ threw the ball very well,” Keefe said. “One of those see-saw battles and the guys just don’t give in and difference in the series. This bullpen won the trip for us and they shut the door late and been dominant. The starting pitching has been great.”

Game two of the twin bill saw Ottawa claim the lead first on am RBI single by Tyson Gillies off Boulders starter Bo Budkevics in the second inning. That would be the only run Budkevics surrendered in six innings on the hill while allowing four hits, walking one and striking two.

Meanwhile Champions starter Phillippe Aumont proved to be unhittable through five innings striking out nine Rockland hitters. In the sixth inning, Joe Bennie cracked through the ice leading off with a single and advancing to second on a sacrifice by Jared McDonald. Dylan Tice stepped up and delivered a single to center scoring Bennie to tie the game up at 1-1.

With two outs in the inning, Mike Fransoso obliterated an Aumont offering over the right field wall making it 2-1. Fransoso also flashed the leather in the field robbing Steve Brown of a base hit up the middle and firing an off-balance strike to Joe Maloney at first base.

“Right now we’re playing really good baseball and doing the small things such as laying bunts down,” said Keefe. “If we do it early in the season, we’re going to continue to get better. Phillppe Aumont was the best pitcher we faced all season and absolutely dominant.”

Given the opportunity to close out the game in the seventh, Boulders reliever Alex Farina gave up a leadoff double to Ricky Oropesa who then advanced to third on a sac bunt. Daniel Grauer would lace a RBI single tying the game up at 2-2. In extra innings, Jon Smith led off with a walk and advanced to second on a sac bunt by Joe Bennie. Jared McDonald roped a single to right field as Smith motored around third and slide in headfirst safely at home putting Rockland back on top.

Matt Kostalos took over the pitching duties in the 8th and retired the first two hitters but then ran into control problems allowing a single and walking consecutive hitters to load up the bases with two outs. Facing Guastvo Pierre, Kostalos fell behind 2-0 in the count but managed to recover with two pitches for strikes before ultimately getting Pierre to ground into a game-ending force out. Farina earned his first win of the season while Kostalos recorded his first save of the year.

The Boulders return home first place in the Can-Am League standings and with a 16-5 record. Currently, they hold a 2.5 game lead over Quebec and up four on the New Jersey Jackals. This weekend Rockland and New Jersey play a four-game series with the first two in at Palisades Credit Union Park before finishing up with the last two games at Yogi Berra Stadium in Montclair, New Jersey.

“We don’t know much about them which is good and we’re going to go after it like every series and put some runs on the board and see if they can chase us,” Keefe said. “We feel like we’re a well-rounded team and want to take three out of four in the series and learn a little about the team we’re playing.”

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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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