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20170727-DrewWohlReturning to action after a couple days off due to the All-Star break, the Rockland Boulders began a seven-game Canadian road trip with a four-game series against the Ottawa Champions at RCGT Park. So far this season Rockland had dominated the series between the clubs, taking eight out of 10 games.

The Boulders also welcomed back shortstop Mike Fransoso in game one of the series. Fransoso had been out since July 11 after colliding with teammate Jon Smith while sustaining a severe concussion.

However, it was the Champions that struck quickly, scoring four times off starter Chris Carmain in the first inning. Carmain would eventually settle down striking out six in five innings on the hill.

Down 6-0 in the seventh, Rockland finally got on the board thanks to a miscue by Ottawa third baseman Gustavo Pierre on a ground ball hit by Alex Herceg allowing Aaron Wilson to score all the way from first base.

Stymied by Champions starter Austin Chrismon, the Boulders began their surge in the eighth against reliever Raydel Sanchez. With runners on first and second none out, Jared McDonald laced a single to right field bringing in Joe Maloney. Mike Montville followed bashing a double down to the left field wall scoring Marcus Nidiffer.

With runners at second and third, Aaron Wilson grounded out to Pierre bringing in McDonald trimming the deficit to 5-4. Fransoso kept the inning alive drawing a pivotal two-out walk. All-Star second baseman Dylan Tice played the hero crushing a three-run blast deep over the right field wall.

Ottawa did not go away quietly in the ninth against closer Jon Velasquez with runners at second and third one out, Sebastien Boucher’s sac fly to left brought in Tyler Nordgren from third making it a one run game. Velasquez managed to shut the door coaxing Steve Brown into grounding out to Maloney at first base while recording his 6th save of the season. Alex Farina(3-1) earned the win in relief tossing one inning of shutout ball.

“Nice to see him (Mike Fransoso) out there and just getting him back into game shape and will take a couple of days to get his feet under him and his head back and take a deep breathe,” said Manager Jamie Keefe.

“We have been looking for that for a month and bullpen was great. Baseball doesn’t lie and we were able to get the big when we needed it tonight. We’re at a point in the season when we needed something special to happen and great atmosphere in the ball park tonight and had the All-Star Game two days ago and had 4500 or 5000 people tonight who were loud and boisterous. Nice to go out and do what we needed to do and get the lead and shut the door.”

Game 2 of the series mirrored the night before with Ottawa jumping out to an early advantage in the first inning off starter Ari Kaufman. The Champions would push the lead scoring six more times in the second highlighted by a Steve Brown three-run homer.

After the rough start, Kaufman managed to settle down retiring 10 in a row at one point. In the fifth, Mike Fransoso got Rockland on the board with an RBI single. Loading up the bases with two outs, Joe Maloney cleared them smoking a double over Sebastien Boucher in center field. Marcus Nidiffer followed hitting a ground ball into shallow left field, attempting to score on the Maloney ended up getting thrown out ending the inning. Ottawa put the game away scoring four times in the sixth.

Rockland flipped the script in game three of the series tallying two runs against Champions All-Star pitcher Phillippe Aumont in the first inning. In the third, the Boulders increased the advantage tacking on two more runs.

Meanwhile, starter Bo Budkevics(5-2) tossed a gem firing six shutout innings yielding just four hits while striking out two and walking one.

In the fifth, Joe Maloney(3 for 3, 3 RBI’s, 3 runs scored) crushed his 21st home run tying Quebec’s Kalian Sams for the league lead, a two-run shot making it 6-0. Rockland finished off the victory adding three runs in the eighth highlighted by Mike Montville hammering a two-run missile over the left field wall.

“Bo (Budkevics) and Marcus (Nidiffer) were an awesome battery tonight and fun to watch,” Keefe said. “We needed that and came out swinging and put it on them quick. Nice change as it looked like the Boulders in June.”

In the series finale, Rockland picked up where they started the night before scoring early in the second inning on a two-run double from Mikael Mogues. Leading off the third, Cody Regis slugged his 14th home run off the foul in left field. In the fifth, Regis drove in his second run of the game with a two-out single.

Leading the league in wins with 9, Justin Topa (10-2) was brilliant on the hill retiring the first 11 in a row before surrendering a two-out double to Sebastien Boucher in the fourth inning. Topa went five innings allowing just one run on four hits while striking out eight and walking one. The Boulders bullpen slammed the door shut hurling four shutout innings while permitting just hit and fanning three.

“Topa was awesome and we swung the bats really well and everybody aggressive at the plate,” said Keefe. “Nice to take three out of four. Cody had lined out a couple of times to center and was ready to break out and nice to see that today. Nice to get Mikael in there today and defensively absolutely awesome at first base and dug out a couple of balls in the dirt and cash in on a two-run double.”

Coupled with Quebec’s loss at Trois-Rivieres on Sunday, Rockland (43-23) regained sole possession of first place in the Can-Am League by one game. Before returning to Palisades Credit Union Park, the Boulders face off against the Capitales in a three-game set. Last time the two teams’ met Quebec swept the series outscoring Rockland 12-2.

“It will be nice to get home but we have an important series coming up and try to win two out of three and gain some ground. We have been going with a six-man rotation to get us through these last two rough weeks. We’re pretty excited with what we have going on and keep going out and getting it done.”

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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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