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Boulders split four game series at Sussex County

Having dropped three consecutive series’, including the last two games against Shikoku Island at Palisades Credit Union Park, the Rockland Boulders looked to snap their slide, knowing it would not come easy against the first place Sussex County Miners at Skylands Stadium.

Resuming a suspended game from May 19, the game was tied at 6-6 entering the ninth inning when Chase Harris put the Boulders ahead for good with a sacrifice fly to left field that brought in Ryne Birk. Shortly after the conclusion of the suspended game, both teams hit the diamond for another nine innings.

Rockland wasted no time teeing off former Boulders pitcher David Palladino in the first inning with Adam Ehrlich knocking home two runs with a bases loaded single followed by Grant Heyman  crushing a three-run home run, Ferguson’s fourth of the season. However, the lead would shrink quickly as the Miners scored four times off starter Pasquale Mazzoccoli between the first and second innings.

In the fourth, Sussex County fed off the long ball to jump ahead as Brandon Downes blasted a two-run missile over the left field wall. Troy Dixon swatted a solo shot over the right field wall. Heyman continued to swing the hot bat ripping an RBI double in the fifth. With runners on the corner and one out in the sixth, a ground out to shortstop by John Brontsema brought in Chase Harris tying up the game.

Once again the pendulum swung back in the Boulders favor as Matt Oberste led off the seventh walloping a solo home run deep over the left field wall. Loading up the bases with two outs, Ryne Birk’s hustle on a ground ball hit to first baseman Audy Ciriaco beating relief pitcher Jose Jose to the bag with Heyman crossing the plate. Just when Rockland appeared on the verge of winning their second straight game in a row, Ciriaco wiped that out cranking a two-out two-run double down the left field line thus sending the game into extra innings.

The International Rules kicked into effect in the 10th with the last runner the inning before starting out at second base. With runners on the corners and none out, Ryne Birk lifted a fly ball to left field, Richie Fecteau attempted to score on the play tagging up from third base but a perfect strike from Noah Cummings to home plate erased Fecteau. In the bottom half of the frame the Miners loaded up the bases after two intentional walks, Troy Dixon drilled a single to right field bringing in Nick Zaharion for the game-winning run.

On Saturday night, Sussex County sprinted right out of the gate in the first inning against Rockland starter Justin Valdespina tallying two runs. After retiring the side in the second, Valdespina was one out from escaping a jam with runners on first and second but the floodgates opened up five consecutive RBI singles in a row that put the game out of reach as the Miners led 8-0.

Chase Harris finally got the Boulders on the scoreboard with an RBI single followed by John Brontsema’s two-run single in the seventh but that would be as close as Rockland would get the rest of the night as Sussex County starter Jeff Thompason went the distance registering his fifth win of the season that is tied for tops in the Can-Am League.

In the series finale, Rockland flipped the tables roughing up Miners starter Tyler Mondile in four one and third innings for five runs and hits with the highlight reel moment coming off the bat of  Grant Heyman, slugging his second, three-run home run of the series in the third inning and third since returning from the disabled list on Wednesday against Shikoku Island. Heyman ended up with another four RBI day while Chase Harris blasted his first long ball of the season, a two-run over the left field wall in the fifth inning. Over all the Boulders banged out 15 hits with eight of the players in the starting lineup getting a hit.

Grant Heyman on the game, “A really big win and happy to have done my job. My job is to drive guys in and why they brought me on this team. So anytime I can do that personally I’m very happy. I had to miss some time with my broken nose and took me a few games to get my timing back and I found that in the series against Sussex. Pretty frustrating not being on the field but since I have been on the DL before I have some techniques I do while not playing and keep my mind in the game. I do a lot of visualization so I don’t lose so much time.”

“I really think our line up is starting to mesh together and guys are starting to swing it. Our team has dealt with some injuries so hopefully we can get healthy and this starts rolling here. A great balance in our lineup and there is not too pressure on one guy and everyone can do their job and contributing. These guys at the top of the lineup keep getting on base for me is awesome.”

With starter Zach Jemiola departing after three innings, it was a bullpen by committee that preserved a 9-5 victory despite Sussex County making a late comeback. Tim Ponto notched his first win of the season tossing two and third innings yielding one run on one hit while walking one and striking out two.

Ponto on the victory, “Everyone in the bullpen has done a really good job, we all kind of feed off each other and has become a friendly competition. Every time we go out there and being the end piece for our pitching. When we come into the game normally a very important time.”

“Good to get a couple of wins this weekend against a good team like that and bounce back from a mid week series against Shikoku Island and lost a couple of tough games but we all know the season is pretty long and everyone has to continue to find that consistency and not get too high or low with streaks.”

“They are the defending champs and brought a lot of guys back and we respect they are in first place and have a pretty stacked team but we look at our clubhouse and feel our team is pretty stacked as well. We’re starting to play better ball and feel we can compete with anyone in this league.”

Manager Kevin Baez on splitting the series, “A tough loss the other day but for the guys to bounce back that is important. What I love about this group is that they put it behind you and move forward to the next game. Valdespina struggled, we went to the bullpen and Turner and Holifield pitched well and we had guys fresh for Sunday and huge for us. Sussex doesn’t quit, a good team and offense so we needed to hold them down. They kept picking away but our guys battled and came out on top.”

“It took one at bat for Grant to get used to that helmet and good he felt comfortable wearing it and a big part of our lineup. To get him off to a quick start after the injury is very good for him.”

After a league mandatory day off on Monday, the Boulders return to action with The International Series against the Cuban National Team in a three-game set at Palisades Credit Union with first pitch set for 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday night. Currently, Rockland sits in third place in the standings with a 17-16 record trailing second place New Jersey and Trois-Rivieres by one game.

“Not familiar with Cuba team as with Shikoku Island, have to go out there and play the game and wee what they have,” Baez said. “After the first game we will make the adjustments and mindset is playing one game at a time and can’t look too ahead in the game of baseball or else going to kick you in the butt.”

“My message is the game at hand and then moving forward each day and attitude you have to take. Can’t worry about who is next week and cliché holds truth and weight because it’s a long season and take one game at a time, prepare, be confident and ready to play the game.”

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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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