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Boulders Take 2 out of 3 Against Sussex County

After completing a sweep of the Quebec Capitales, the Rockland Boulders enjoyed a much-needed day off before returning to action on Tuesday facing off against the Sussex County Miners at Palisades Credit Union Park. The 2018 Can-Am League champs were off to a solid start at 13-3 entering the three-game set.

With an early 10:30 a.m. start, it did not affect Rockland, jumping out to a 2-0 advantage after three innings of play. Grant Heyman delivering a sac fly in the first followed by Mitch Piatnik blasting his first home of the season in the third. Ryne Birk extended the margin to 3-0 in the fourth with an RBI single.

Meanwhile Boulders starter Pasquale Mazzoccoli looked sharp early on not yielding a hit until the fifth inning. Trouble arose for Mazzoccoli in the sixth with Sussex County loading up the bases. Audy Ciriaco made it a 3-1 game with a sac fly. With runners at second and third, Mazzoccoli uncorked a wild pitch allowing another run to come across.

After walking Jose Brizuela, manager Kevin Baez called upon Nick Kennedy. Facing Andy Paz with runners on the corner and two outs, Kennedy managed to get Paz to ground into a fielder’s choice but Brizuela raced home tying the contest up.

In the eighth, the Miners were back in business with runners at first and second none out. Taking over the pitching duties, Tim Ponto faced Paz who hit a ground ball that was misplayed by shortstop Cito Culver allowing Ciriaco to score all the way from second base. Nick Zaharion made it 5-3 with a sac fly that proved to be enough as the Miners snapped the Boulders four-game winning streak.

Up and early again with a 10:30 a.m. first pitch the next day, the Boulders faced off against a former player in starting pitcher David Palladino. John Brontsema put Rockland up 1-0 in the first inning with an RBI single. Boulders starter Justin Valdespina locked in retiring eight in a row at one point. In the fourth Valdespina would run into a jam with runners at first and second one out. Facing Paz, Valdespina served up a three-run homer into the right center field bleachers.

In the bottom half of the frame, Ryne Birk extended his hitting streak to nine games with a double down the right field line. With runners at second and third none out, Blake Grant-Parks made it a one run game with a ground out. The following inning would feature a crazy play as John Brontsema crushed a towering drive to the warning track in center field.

Miners centerfielder Brandon Downes dropped the ball with Brontsema motoring towards third base Downes threw the ball back to shortstop Jarred Mederos who in turn fired the ball to third baseman Jose Brizuela but the ball skipped by into the Sussex County dugout allowing Brontsema to trot across home plate.

The pendulum swung back in the Miners corner as Trey Hair drilled an RBI single in the seventh. Back came the Boulders in the bottom half of the inning as Collin Ferguson clubbed a two-run home run off lefty reliever Kevin Grendell. Grant Heyman provided some additional fireworks walloping a solo missile into the right center field seats.

With James Mulry on the hill for Rockland in the eighth, Paz greeted Mulry by rudely smashing a two-run bomb that tucked inside of the right field foul pole. Sussex County had a golden opportunity to retake the lead in the ninth with runners on second and third two outs but Robbie Gordon reared back and fanned Brizuela.

Starting in the tenth inning, Can-Am League extra innings rules went into place with a runner at second base, Adam Ehrlich put the Boulders back in the win column belting a single as Collin Ferguson chugged around third and slid in safely at home plate setting off a jubilant celebration. Gordon registered his first win of the year.

In the series finale, Sussex County wasted no time getting off the mat with Hair and Ciriaco socking back-to-back home runs off Rockland starter Brett Schneider in the first inning. The Boulders responded in the third with Chase Harris clubbing an RBI double down the left field line. With runners at second and third two outs, Brontsema belted a clutch two-run single into shallow right field.

“Watching every guy from the dugout you can tell every guy has confidence and that’s the key,” said John Brontsema. “Hoping we can continue to have that for every series and if we do that going to win a lot of games. Two-out RBI’s are huge no mater how guys are going to get on base and everyone contributing in those situations.

“Sussex is a good team, they are in first place and beat us in three games to open up the year so it was important to get back at what they did to us and show we can play with anyone and hang with a first place team.”

Facing reliever Andrew Gist, Rockland’s offense went to work tallying three more runs in the third. After a rough first inning, Schneider settled down in the next four innings aided by a tremendous defensive play by Mitch Piatnik in the fourth making a leaping grab in front of the Short Porch wall in right field. Backed into a corner with runners on corner with none out in the fifth, Schneider struck out two of three hitters to escape unscathed.

“The first inning was not the way I wanted to start the game but just had to compete out there, said Brett Schneider. “Guys on base I had to make my pitches and trust my stuff and when it was not my best the defense made the plays. Piatnik pretty much saved the day and if he doesn’t make the catch it’s a 7-5 game and huge for momentum purposes. The bats came alive and put some runs up that made it easier to pitch. A relief when you come out and back end is going to hold it down. Nick and Josh definitely picked it up tonight.”

The Boulders blew the game wide open thanks to the power of the long ball as Grant Heyman went yard for second time in two days and Blake Grant-Park getting into the home run column as well. Facing his last at bat of the night in the seventh, Ryne Birk extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a single. Handing the ball off to the bullpen, Nick Kennedy and Josh Turner preserved the 8-2 victory and Schneider’s first win of the season tossing four shutout innings yielding three hits and striking out two.

“We talk about taking advantage of their mistakes and limiting ours and that’s winning baseball,” manager Kevin Baez said of the win. “The defense helps the pitcher get out of jams and limiting workload especially when you are down pitchers’. Nick has been amazing this year with whatever role I put him in and does the job. Josh has not been pitching regularly but staying sharp, staying ready and credit to him doing the job every time he comes in”

Currently the Boulders are 11-7 and in second place in the Can-Am League standings. Rockland hits the road for a six game swing, starting first with three games against the New Jersey Jackals at Yogi Berra Stadium with first pitch set for 7:05 p.m. on Friday night. The Jackals are 10-9 and in third place.

“New Jersey is pretty scrappy,” said Brontsema. “We just have to stick with our approach and don’t really change anything no matter who you are playing and do the same thing every day.”

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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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