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Boulders Snap Five-Game Losing Skid in Series Finale Against Sussex County

Scoring one meager run in a series loss to the Cuban National Team at Palisades Credit Union Park, the Rockland Boulders looked to reverse that trend. But it would not come easy facing off against the first place Sussex County Miners with the first two game of the series taking place at Skylands Stadium, before returning home for the series finale.

In the series opener, Rockland sprinted out of the gate in the first inning versus Miners starting pitching Jeff Thompson, as Adam Ehlrich cranked a two-out RBI double to center field. In the second, Mitch Piatnk added to the lead driving in a sacrifice fly that plated Richie Fecteau. However, the advantage would not last that long with Sussex County responding in the bottom half of the frame against JD Busfield.

With the bases loaded and one out, former Boulder Cito Culver ripped a single back up the middle into center field, where Chase Harris misplayed the ball allowing two runs to come across. Yordany Salva followed with an RBI ground out to put the Miners ahead. In the fourth, Busfield faced another jam with runners on first and second one but got Culver to line into inning-ending double play.

The following inning, Ryne Birk belted a one out single, with John Brontsema following belting a line drive that found the left field gap enabling Birk to score all the way from first base tying the game up. In the sixth, Sussex County had runners on first and second with two outs, but Busfield managed to escape damage retiring Brandon Downes on a fly out to center field. On the night, Busfield retired the side in the order four time though departing the contest after tossing seven and one third innings yielding three runs, two of them earned on seven hits, one walk and five hits.

Rockland had a scoring opportunity in the seventh inning with runners on first and second on two outs. Thompson worked his way out of trouble by striking out Grant Heyman. In the eighth is where the game would turn as the Miners scored twice off reliever Nick Kennedy. An RBI check swing single from Audy Ciriaco followed by Jose Brizuela hammering an RBI double over the head of Heyman in left field.

One last scoring opportunity for the Boulders came in the ninth against Ryan Newell with runners on first and second two outs. Newell closed it out by retiring Heyman on a force out at second base. Even with collecting the 11 hits in the game, the Achilles heel for Rockland was leaving ten runners on base.

The very next day the Boulders got off to the good start with Collin Ferguson driving in the first run with an RBI double in the second inning. Making his third appearance and first as a starter, Zach Jemiola turned in a solid performance on the mound hurling five shutout innings permitting three hits, walking three and fanning one. Equally up to the task Sussex County starter Andrew Gist, despite allowing nine hits Gist gave up just the lone run, walked none and whiffed three in six innings.

It came down to a showdown of the bullpens with the Miners finding success against Nick Kennedy for second consecutive night scoring twice in the seventh. Just when it seemed the game was over, Heyman changed that conversation slugging a solo home run in the ninth inning.

With the game in extra innings, Rockland had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the 11th loading up the bases with none out. The failure to execute with runners in scoring position reared its ugly head again as Miners relief pitcher James Campbell registered back-to-back strikeouts along with retiring Mitch Piatnik on a fly out to right field. In the bottom half of the frame, Sussex County had the bases packed also with none out, Jarred Mederos ended it by raking a base hit to right field scoring Audy Ciriaco as the Boulders left 11 on base despite belting out 12 hits.

The series finale featured a full house of 6,854 that witnessed another pitchers’ duel, this time between Tommy Shirley and Cory Jones. Before the game started, the team released two players including Piatnik bringing in Craig Maddox and Marcos Almonte. Defensively, Almonet and Birk shined in the infield turning a couple of nifty double plays. In the fifth, the Miners struck first as catcher Gary Stupienski swatted a two-run home run into the Short Porch area in right field. That would be the only mistake Shirley would make in five innings of work, along with seven hits, walking one, and striking out two.

Hamstrung by Jones until the seventh, Rockland had opportunities to break through including the bases loaded in the fourth but Collin Ferguson grounded into a force out at second base. Despite a base running blunder, Harris finally cracked the armor blasting his second home run of the year with two outs. It appeared in the eighth the Boulders would at least tie it up with runners on the corner and one out but Kevin Grendell registered back-to-back strikeouts.

Facing the hard-throwing Jose Jose in the ninth, Harris drew a one out walk that brought up Almonte to the plate. With a swirling wind, Almonte drove an outside pitch that kept on carrying into the Short Porch area in right field for a two-run walk-off home run, setting off a jubilant celebration in the stands and among the players at home plate. For a third straight game the Boulders reached double digits in hits with 12.

“I feel great, very excited the way the wind carrying towards right field,” said Marcos Almonte. “I just tried to make good contact and hit the ball. So excited to be here with this team and gave me an opportunity.”

“Proud of the new guy, comes in here with the new team and it’s a good feeling,” said manager Kevin Baez on the victory. “Obviously helped us and we needed a win. To get that against a good team and their closer we’re feeling good about it. We have had our opportunities and not taken advantage of them and you are going to lose games.

“Tommy pitched well, made a few mistakes but kept us in the game and bullpen did its job. Chase works hard, gets his work in, not had the results that he wanted in the beginning but still works his butt off and hopefully gets his confidence going. We all know how this game can get you down.

“What a great atmosphere, I tell the guys when we go on the road and play at other places and if we’re going to play it’s here and fans are very supportive. Hopefully guys get their rest, arms and legs healed and come ready to play on Tuesday. I have seen Craig play for many years against me in the Atlantic League, swings the bat well, put the ball in play and expect him to be a good offensive player for us. I heard good things about Marcos, first game and displayed everything I was told. Offensively told anything was a bonus and defensively can play all over the infield but a true shortstop.”

Continuing an eight-game home stand, Rockland (18-21) welcomes in the second place Trois-Rivieres Aigles (22-17) for a four-game series including a doubleheader starting on Tuesday afternoon with first pitch set for 4:00 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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