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Boulders rocked by Sussex County in season opener

After days of inclement weather limited the Rockland Boulders spring training, the skies cleared up for the 2018 regular season opener at Palisades Credit Union Park on Thursday night against the Sussex County Miners. There was plenty of excitement in the ballpark with a crowd of 3,826 on hand.

Tabbed as the starter for Opening Day, Justin Topa looked to build off a dominant 2017 season where Topa won a franchise record 14 games. However, the Miners had a different agenda pushing across a pair of early runs. Topa settled down thereafter fanning six hitters through the first three innings. Rockland’s defense bailed Topa out of a couple jams as left fielder Jared McDonald and centerfielder Mike Montville making spectacular diving catches.

Traded to the Boulders just a couple of days ago, shortstop JC Rodriguez made a favorable impression lacing a two-out RBI single into left field in the second inning. After Aaron Wilson reached second base on an error to start the fifth, Rodriguez grounded out to third baseman Audy Ciriaco with Wilson sprinting towards third base Miners first base Martin Figueroa fired the ball to third but the ball skipped by allowing Wilson to score tying the contest up.

With one out in the sixth, things took a turn south for Rockland after Topa tossed a pitch and motioned towards his pitching hand/fingers. After conferring with pitching coach Marcus Nidiffer and trainer Lori Rahaim, Topa exited the game having thrown 91 pitches in 5 1/3 innings while surrendering two runs on seven hits and striking out seven. Nick Kennedy toed the rubber and managed to work out of a jam with runners on first and second with two outs retiring John Fussell on a grounder to second. In the seventh, Sussex County grabbed the lead on a RBI triple from Jayce Ray and RBI single by Ciriaco. Keefe made the call to the bullpen with runners on the corner, signaling for Matt Kostalos who uncorked a wild pitch allowing Ciriaco to trot home.

“We were ready to go and nothing better than that,” said Keefe. “We were able to get everybody out there and crowd was into it. When you tie it up 2-2 and Topa then gets the blister, an 11-minute delay and lose momentum. You get back out there and they score a couple of runs.”

With two outs in the seventh, JC Rodriguez got full acclimated with the cozy dimensions in right field swatting a monstrous solo shot onto the concourse. That would be as close as the Boulders would get the rest of the way as Sussex County tacked 8 runs in the final three innings putting the game out of reach.

“We were in it until the eighth but you can’t go out and throw 207 pitches and allow 14 hits and expect to win,” Keefe said. “We could have had our doors blown off early but stayed in it. We didn’t have any timely hitting and a ton of guys on base. It’s still early and we are learning. They came out swinging the bats tonight and we were not clicking on all cylinders. Guys want to be here and excited and that’s why we play 100 of them.”

“I break my seasons into four of them. It’s never easy and you have to put it behind you and get ready for tomorrow and ready to go.”

On Friday night the series switches to Skylands Stadium in Augusta, New Jersey with first pitch set for 6:05 p.m before returning to Palisades Credit Union Park on Saturday for a doubleheader starting at 6:30 p.m. and series finale on Sunday at 1:35 p.m.

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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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