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Boulders Offense Erupts in Series Sweep of Quebec

Returning home to Palisades Credit Union Park after a successful 5-2 road trip to Canada, the Rockland Boulders opened up a six-game home stand starting with the Quebec Capitales, a team that Rockland managed to swipe three out of four games at Stade Canac the week before.

“We had two series’ before the road trip where we didn’t play our best baseball and those long road trips brought us close together,”  said Boulders second baseman Ryne Birk on the road trip and manager Kevin Baez. “Nice everyone could joke around with each other, always fun hanging out in the hotel room with everybody and comfortable with each other. We had only been around each other including spring training for two weeks. We won a close one in the first game and kept it rolling.

“Kevin has been awesome, played in the big leagues for awhile and a good baseball mind. He preaches a good mindset and keeping the body right. He lets us do our own thing while getting us prepared for each game that has been sweet”

In the series opener, Rockland jumped out quickly to a 2-0 advantage after the second inning, highlighted by Birk’s second home run of the season. The Capitales answered back with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth, but John Brontsema changed the score in a flash blasting a solo shot in the bottom half of the frame.

Quebec responded in the sixth with TJ White booming a solo home run. The back and forth action continued in the bottom half of the inning, as the Boulders scored twice with Cito Culver driving in the game-winning run with a sacrifice fly. Birk and Culver cemented the 7-3 victory with back-to-back RBI doubles in the eighth.

James Mulry earned his second victory of the season in relief with the Rockland bullpen holding the fort down, tossing four innings, allowing just one run on three hits, walking one and striking out five.

On Saturday night, Quebec scored twice off Boulders starter JD Busfield in the second inning. Brontsema trimmed the deficit drilling an RBI double in the bottom half of the frame. Grant Heyman provided a clutch two out single in the third that brought in newcomer Ezequiel Carrera from second base.

Joe Lytle put the Capitales back in front with an RBI double in the fourth. However, Rockland struck back in the sixth with runners on the corner and none out. Brontsema smoked a RBI double over the head of right fielder Ryan Kinery. Continuing to sizzle at the plate, Birk hammered a game-winning two-run double into right field.

Quebec refused to go away quietly slicing the margin down to 5-4 in the seventh on a wild pitch uncorked by reliever Tim Ponto. Bearing down, Ponto managed to strike out Corey Bass to escape further damage. In the bottom half of the inning, Chase Harris provided a much needed insurance run belting a double into the left center gap as Carrera motored around the bases from first base. Brontsema collected his third RBI of the game in painful fashion getting plunked with the bases loaded.

“Just sticking with an approach and being confident in something you have always done, to work on something in your career and trust it,” said John Brontsema. “After a slow start in first few games everyone stayed with their approach and every guy one through nine seeing the ball well and coming from behind in games and true sign a team is clicking. Everyone’s confidence is pretty high right now. It’s great playing at home because we have great fans and never have a place with fans like this and really cool. It brings a whole new energy on the field and we want to perform for them.”

James Mulry (3-1) needed just to one inning of work on the hill to register his third win of the season. Robbie Gordon threw a spotless ninth to record his fourth save of the year. The trio of Adam Ehrlich, Brontsema and Birk went 6 for 10 with three runs scored and five RBI’s.

“The team has been playing well, our pitching has been outstanding and getting some timely hitting and formula for success,” Baez said on the victory. “It’s good to see the guys keep with the process because in the beginning of the year we were 1-4, guys were struggling but we’re still not where we want to be.

“I tell the guys to come to the ball park with a work ethic, get after it and good things will happen. Proud of the guys because they work their tails off and nice to see them have success. I can’t say enough about our bullpen, really working hard with a couple of guys down and trying to give them days here and there off.”

In the series finale, runs were scored at a dizzying pace in the first three innings, as both teams’ combined to tally 11 runs. Trailing 3-2 in the third inning, the Boulders utilized the friendly confines of Palisades Credit Union Park. Starting with Blake Grant-Park crushing his first home of the season into the right center field bleachers. Following Grant-Parks Richie Fecteau parked his first long ball of the season into the Short Porch area in right field. Not finished yet, Brontsema roped a RBI double to left field and Grant Heyman drove in a run with a sac fly.

Putting the pedal to the metal, Rockland score six more times as everyone in the lineup had at least one hit rolling to a 13-5 victory while pounding out 18 hits. Heyman and Birk had three hits apiece, while Birk drove in three runs giving him seven in the last three games played and extending his hitting streak to seven games. Overcoming a rocky start, Reinaldo Lopez (2-0) hurled six innings yielding five runs on eight hits while walking three and striking out two for his second win of the season.

The Boulders rolled up 27 runs in the series on 38 hits. Named Can-Am League Batter of the Week, Birk hit .556, 15 for 27 with six runs scored, tied with Adam Ehlirch on the team and in the Can-Am League with .409 batting average. Meanwhile Brontsema is on an 11 game hitting streak, 15 for 39 with six runs scored, four doubles, two home runs and 10 RBI’s.

“We have been hot of late and that has been nice and whole team putting it together and everyone is getting their timing down,” Birk said of the win and series sweep. “It’s still early in the season but we’re starting to get more comfortable with each other and playing more games together and fun time. The first couple of series’ we were struggling to rack up multiple hits in a row and everyone contributed and swinging it well. Just trying to stick to my approach and swing at better pitches that I can drive and take my walks when I need to.

“We have a lot of speed and chance to steal bases that is always nice and get into scoring position. We can definitely hit it out of the park and one through nine have some juice and complete hitting team.”

Winners of 8 out of 10, Rockland (9-6) wraps up the home stand against the first place Sussex County Miners (12-3) starting with a pair of morning games on Tuesday and Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. followed by the series finale on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. Sussex County swept the Boulders at the beginning of the season.

“Sussex beat us the first three games, we’re playing a lot better now than at the beginning and whole new series,” said Birk. “If we keep playing the way we have been we can hang with anybody. Playing in Rockland has been awesome, we get more fans than anyone that is a huge deal. Going to a Friday or Saturday night game, a ton of people cheering for you a whole different atmosphere than playing at a big stadium with a couple of hundred fans.”

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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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