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Having dropped of two out of three games at New Jersey, the Rockland Boulders wrapped up the 2017 regular season with a four-game series in Ottawa. There was still plenty on the line with Rockland battling the Quebec Capitales for 1st place in the Can-Am League and attempting to shatter the franchise record of 63 wins set by the 2015 squad.

In game one of the series, Joe Maloney’s first inning RBI single gave Rockland the early advantage and would prove to be the only run scored in the contest. Shooting for his 14th win of the year, Justin Topa produced a masterful performance, retiring eight in a row at one point. He finished with seven innings in the books, scattering three hits while striking out four and walking one.

In the eighth inning, Ottawa threatened with the bases loaded and two outs, causing manager Jamie Keefe to call upon Mayckol Guaipe. Down 3-1 in the count to Sebastien Boucher, Guaipe recovered to retire Boucher on a fly out to left field. Guaipe preserved the victory for Topa, working a 1-2-3 ninth and registering his 13th save of the season. Topa became the 4th player in Can-Am League history to win 14 games or more.

“You could have not asked for anymore from him (Topa) and a kid (Guaipe) who came in and had not started in a while and 10 months off his second Tommy John surgery and got 19 starts which was great” said Keefe. “The time in between starts helped him down the stretch and cut down the innings that helped him stay fresh all the way through August and September.”

Rockland wasted no time getting ahead in game two of the series on a two-out RBI single from Cody Regis in the first inning. In the second, Mike Fransoso padded the margin smoking a two-run triple down the right field line and Dylan Tice finishing it off with a sac fly.

That set the stage for another dominating start, this time by Markus Solbach, retiring nine in a row at one juncture. Maloney put the icing on the victory crushing his league leading 34th home run of the season, a two-run over the left field wall in the sixth inning. Solbach went six innings, allowing two hits and no walks for his 11th win of the season. C.J. Riefenhouser closed it out in the ninth striking out the side.

Rain washed out the third game of the series, forcing both teams’ to play a doubleheader. Scoreless in game one of the twin bill, the Boulders manufactured a couple of runs in the third inning to take the lead. With runners at second and third and Regis up at the plate, Champions starter Phillippe Aumont looked down momentarily that gave Fransoso the opportunity to bolt down the line and swipe home plate successfully.

In the process, a balk was called on Aumont allowing Maloney to advance to third base. Miscues continued to plague Aumont, who uncorked a wild pitch, which allowed Maloney to score. After Regis and Mike Montville drew walks, Jared McDonald extended the lead belting a single off shortstop Daniel Bick as Regis scored from second on the play.

Meanwhile, starter David Fischer looked spectacular on the mound, throwing five shutout innings, including back-to-back strikeouts ending the fourth and fifth innings. In the sixth, Ottawa cut into the margin behind an RBI double off the bat of Tyson Gillies and ground out by Ricky Oropesa. Called upon in relief, Riefenhouser halted the momentum getting Matt Helms to fly out to left field.

Named the Can-Am League Player of the Year, Maloney cemented that honor blasting his league and franchise record breaking 35th homer, a two-run shot deep over the left field wall in the seventh. With the homer, Maloney also went over the century mark with his 100 & 101st RBI’s. Guaipe closed it out retiring the side in order for his 14th save. With the victory, Rockland broke the franchise-record for most regular seasons with 64.

“Drawing walks has been huge and on base percentage fantastic,” Keefe said. “We know  what Joe [Maloney] has been able to do and [with] Fransoso back in since the injury.” 

“With Cody(Regis) up and two strikes and runners on second and third, we played Russian Roulette and both Fransoso and I looked at each other and I said go…Sometimes you have to push the label a bit and get a couple of big runs early.” 

On the franchise-record 64th regular season win, Keefe reflected on how much this means for the organization and the players.

“It means a lot and we have put ourselves in a situation to where we are looked at in the league as one of the places to play and from year to year, make your organization a destination for people,” said Keefe. “[To] have done that [the] last four years and [is] tribute to the guys that put hard work in. As a Rockland Boulder, you are going to have success and hard work and determination sets a good example for the next regime…It really adds up and makes it a fun place to play and work every day”

Mother Nature hampered plans for game two of the doubleheader to be cancelled and coupled with Quebec sweeping New Jersey in a twin bill enabled the Capitales(65-35) to win the regular season title by a half-game over the Boulders(64-35).

Over the weekend second baseman Tice was named to the 2017 Can-Am League 2017 postseason All-Star team, shortstop Fransoso named Defensive Player of the Year and outfielder Montville named Rookie of the Year. Rockland also set a Can-Am League record with the fewest team errors in a season with 40 breaking the 2011 mark of 72 set by Quebec.

“The last three years have been special and we’ve done everything we’ve asked to except win a championship in 2015 and 2016,” said Keefe. “At the end of the day in a pennant race [we] didn’t get it accomplished but not the end game and at the end of the season is to win the last game and put ourselves in a good situation with a good seed in the playoffs and battle for five games with the Jackals…”

On Wednesday night, the Boulders and New Jersey Jackals face off in Game 1 of the Can-Am League Playoffs at Yogi Berra Stadium in Montclair, New Jersey with first pitch at 7:00 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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