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Having split a four-game series with Trois-Rivieres and entrenched in a tight battle with Quebec for first place in the Can-Am League standings, the Rockland Boulders took on the New Jersey Jackals in a four-game set alternating between Palisades Credit Union Park and Yogi Berra Stadium.

Up to this point the season series between both teams’ has been a close one, with Rockland holding the advantage 7 to 6.

In game one of the series at Yogi Berra Stadium, Rockland wasted no time jumping out to the lead, plating five runs in the first inning. Marcus Nidiffer started the action with an RBI single, followed by an RBI double from Mike Montville. With the bases loaded and two outs, Aaron Wilson continued to swing a hot bat, cranking a double to the left center wall, giving Wilson five RBI’s in the last three games.

Mike Fransoso’s sac fly with the bases packed and one out in the third brought in Jared McDonald. Rockland’s speed was a pivotal factor, swiping six bases on the night. New Jersey got on the board in the bottom half of the inning on a two-run double by Brian Burgamy.

However, Boulders starter Chris Carmain battled through, recording five strikeouts through four innings on the mound and escaping unscathed in a bases loaded situation with one out in the sixth. Carmain retired Adam Martin and Yariel Vargas on ground outs.

Departing after five innings, Carmain(6-3) tossed 95 pitches, yielding two runs on five hits while fanning six and walking three. The bullpen trio of Matt Kostalos, Thomas Lawrence and Jon Velasquez slammed the door shut hurling three shutout innings and no hits allowed. In the seventh, New Jersey loaded the bases with two outs but Kostalos recovered by striking out Taylor Brennan.

“Chris Carmain pitched well and those early runs were huge” said Manager Jamie Keefe. “Aaron came out on fire in the beginning of the year and went through a drought. He is constantly working on things and goes out and does anything you can ask for…” 

The series shifted back to Palisades Credit Union Park for games two and three. Early on, Boulders starter Richard Salazar and Jackals starter Lee Sosa were bringing the heat, combining for five total strikeouts.

In the second, the Jackals broke through as Salazar walked Max Casper with the bases loaded and two outs forcing a run in. Rylan Sandoval followed that up by hitting a grounder to Daniel Arribas at third but Arribas threw wide of the bag at first, enabling all three runners to score on the play. Leading off the third, Martin smashed a solo shot off the railing in right field.

Salazar settled down thereafter, retiring 12 in a row at one point. Departing after six innings, Salazar(4-3) threw 108 pitches, allowing only two earned runs on six hits while striking out eight and walking two. Sosa pitched brilliantly on the mound spinning six shutout innings fanning nine and walking none.

Rockland finally broke through in the seventh off New Jersey reliever Keuhl McEachern, loading up the bases with nobody out. Arribas ripped a single to left field, scoring McDonald. A pair of sac flies by Mikael Mogues and Wilson trimmed the lead even further. Trailing 7-4 in the ninth after Dylan Tice cranked a RBI single to left field, the Boulders had runners on first and second with two outs but Jackals closer Johnny Hellweg retired Joe Maloney on a fly out to center field to end the game.

“He(Richard Salazar) got squeezed with the two out walk that led to five runs and that hurt” Keefe said. “He only gave up two earned, Sosa threw the ball well fantastic against us tonight and we haven’t chased in awhile but chased tonight and got ourselves in a hole.” 

“We bring up the big guys and [were] a double away from tying it up in three different innings. Can’t look back and say we stink because we’re 7-3 in our last 10 games and [are] playing good baseball.”

In game three, the Boulders reversed course racing out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a bases loaded one out monstrous double off the bat of Montville to dead center. Cruising through the first three innings, Justin Topa(12-3) ran into trouble into the fourth with Martin smoking a two-run missile out of the ball park in left field. Ryan Retz stepped up to the plate and on the very first pitch from Topa deposited a solo shot into the left center grandstand.

McDonald connected on his fifth homer of the season off Jackals starter David Richardson in the sixth into the Short Porch area in right field. With runners at the corner and one out in the 8th, Lawrence uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Retz to score, making it 5-3. New Jersey broke the game wide open in the ninth on a RBI single by Joe Dunigan and Brian Joynt clobbering a massive two-run double off the base of the green monster wall in center field.

“Left a couple of guys out there and [it] came back to bite us” said Keefe. “We got to Richardson all year but tonight he was really good.” “We’re not firing on all cylinders right now and in a big stretch of games and tired. [We’re] playing .600 ball in last 10 games and [I’m]not going to complain [because we’re] playing pretty good baseball.”

The rubber match of the series at Yogi Berra Stadium got off to crazy start with Rockland starter Markus Solbach hit by two line drives in the first inning. Remarkably, Solbach recovered and managed to stay in the game.

Leading off the second, Nidiffer drilled his 9th home run of the season over the left field wall. With runners on the corner and one out, Mogues added to the lead by lifting a sac fly to center. After departing the previous game with a stomach bug, Maloney was back in the lineup and displayed no ill effects. In the third, Maloney slugged his league-leading 28th homer of the season over the left center wall.

Meanwhile, Solbach dominated retiring eight in a row with the only blip on the screen coming in the fourth on a two-out RBI single by Taylor Brennan. Attempting to tie the franchise record for most home runs in a season set by Keith Brachold with 29 in 2012, Maloney provided a signature highlight reel moment clouting a no-doubter high over the left field wall.

Solbach(9-3) closed out his spectacular performance on the hill retiring the last 13 hitters. Only having thrown 98 pitches, 71 for strikes while whiffing eight and walking none. Velasquez closed it out in the ninth registering his ninth save of the year.

“Yesterday I wasn’t feeling too well, got some rest, hydrated up and felt better today” said Maloney. “Been on a skid lately, got some good pitches to hit and put some good swings on it. Honestly I didn’t know about the record was coming into the game and after I hit the second one tonight Fransoso came up to me and said congratulations. Exciting to hold any record no matter what it is and testament to the hard work I put in the off-season and last year with the Twins. It didn’t work out but I was still working hard and didn’t want to give up yet.”

“Maybe that ball that hit me in the bicep was a wake-up call and after that a felt locked in and good” said Solbach. “Danny Arribas called a great game and [we were[ literally on the same exact page and put down everything I wanted to throw. He just outsmarted every hitter.”

This weekend the Boulders will travel up to Canada taking on the Trois-Rivieres Aigles in a three-game set. Currently, Rockland(54-29) trails Quebec(55-28) by one game in the Can-Am League standings.

“We evened the series with New Jersey and [are going] back up to Canada and stayed within reach of winning the league outright.” said Keefe. “There hasn’t been an easy win against them(Trois-Rivieres) this year and [they] keep themselves in the game. We have to put the pedal to the metal when we have an opportunity. When we go up there this weekend we have to take care of business.”

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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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