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Riding a six-game winning streak and having taken 6 out of 7 games against the defending 2016 Can-Am League champs in Ottawa, the Rockland Boulders returned to Palisades Credit Union Park a confident team and ready to take on the Champions in a four-game set.

In the first game of the series, Ottawa quickly took a 1-0 lead in the first on a RBI fielder’s choice. With the bases loaded and two outs, Rockland starter Markus Solbach escaped further damaged thanks in part to an incredible defensive play by right fielder Mike Montville on a fly ball hit down the right line, making a full extension diving catch. The Boulders responded in their bottom half of the frame tying the contest up on a RBI fielder’s choice by Cody Regis.

Solbach eventually settled down into a groove, retiring seven in a row at one point. However, Ottawa regained the lead in the 6th on an RBI double into the right center gap by Tyler Nordgren. The Champions proceeded to tack on two more runs in the seventh on an RBI double by former Boulder Steve Nyisztor, as well as an RBI triple by Steve Brown.

Stymied most of the night by Ottawa starter Phillippe Aumont, Rockland finally broke through in the eighth, where Joe Maloney cracked his 12th homer of the season. With runners at first and second and two outs, Jon Smith delivered one of the biggest hits of the night belting a double into the right center gap scoring Marcus Nidiffer and Montville tying the game up at 4-4.

In the top of the ninth with one out, the Champions threatened with runners on the corners, but reliever Matt Kostalos (1-1) wiggled out of the game inducing Brown into an inning-ending double play. Held homer-less for the first 33 games, Jared McDonald just needed one swing to end that streak, slugging a solo shot into the “Short Porch” area in the right field giving the Boulders a dramatic walk-off 5-4 victory. Not only that, but manager Jamie Keefe earned his 700th regular season managerial win.

“You go with the flow of the game at which we do a lot and guys are going to wake up at some point,” said Keefe. “We got to the bullpen and Joe got one for us, that was big, and Jon Smith’s double put fire in these guys.” 

The Boulders flipped the script in game two of the series, racing out to a 5-0 advantage after the second inning. Maloney continued to tear it up at the plate, driving in three of the runs scored with a two-run double and sacrifice fly. Ottawa answered back in the third, plating three runs with two of them coming on a bases loaded throwing error by Rockland second baseman Dylan Tice.

Champions catcher Daniel Grauer became the offensive machine, mashing a laser solo shot off the train station railing in left field, trimming the lead to 5-4. Grauer went deep for a second time in the following inning, blasting a three-run homer into the left center bleachers.

A see-saw battle ensued with the Boulders responding in the 6th tying the game up on Alex Herceg sac fly and McDonald going deep for a second time in two nights, socking the ball into the same spot as the walk-off homer the night before.

Grauer was not finished filling the stats sheet, as he put Ottawa back on top with an RBI single in the seventh. Rockland wasted a prime scoring opportunity with the bases loaded in the bottom half of the inning but Herceg flied out to left field. The Champions would break the game wide open in the eighth, pushing across five runs to take a 13-7 lead. The Boulders refused to throw in the towel, scoring twice in the ninth and bringing the tying run to plate with the bases loaded but Cody Regis flied out to right field to end the game.

“Things are going to happen and Grauer got us today and made a couple of bad pitches on him and took care of business,” Keefe said. “We got back into the game and gave ourselves a chance but didn’t make the pitches when we had to…” 

The tone of game three started out just as game one did with Ottawa scoring twice off Boulders starter Chris Carmain in the first. There was no stopping the red hot Maloney, who plated his 5th RBI in the last two games after hammering a two-run double down the right field line in the second. Herceg came up with two defensive gems, where he threw out two runners in the inning.

Ottawa came back behind an RBI ground out by Sebastien Boucher in the third. A Daniel Bick RBI single would make it 4-2 in the fourth. However, the momentum changer came on the play with Carmain(2-1) backing up home plate on the throw home from left field by Smith and proceeded to throw out Matt Helms attempting to take third on the play.

Feeding off that energy, Rockland started cutting into the margin. The first came way after an RBI double from Herceg. Immediately after, newcomer Mikael Mogues delivered a sac fly to left, scoring Mike Fransoso. The biggest break would come off the bat of McDonald, flicking a pop up into shallow left field that was dropped by Nordgren, allowing Herceg to score, making it 5-4.

In the seventh, Rockland got much needed insurance from Smith, driving in his 26th RBI of the season on a sac fly to left. Fransoso would answer by smashing a grounder off Champions reliever Matt Tulley, allowing  Maloney to score. Ottawa refused to go away quietly, scoring once off reliever Jon Velasquez. However. Velasquez managed to preserve the lead by getting Nordgren to ground out to third with runners on first and second. In the ninth, closer Mayckol Guaipe locked it down striking out the last two hitters for his 10th save.

“Scratching runs out and Mikael comes up with second at bat and puts the ball deep enough to get an RBI out of it and happy for him,” said Keefe. “Carmain locked in for a bit and so many things that go unseen in the game and Alex throwing out two runners the difference in the game.”

“Struggling throughout the game to find my release point and in [the] 5th and 6th, [it] just clicked,” said Carmain. “With this team, I can go out and battle and [get] support behind me…When you have an offense like this, you just have to go out there consistently and keep them in the game.”

In the series finale, both teams’ had no problems putting up runs on the scoreboard. Rockland sprinted out to a 6-0 lead after the first inning. The Champions charged back scoring five times. On this day, however, it was the long ball that carried the Boulders, led by Maloney, who smoked his 13th homer of the season and increasing his Can-Am League leading RBI total to 47. McDonald (2 RBI) went deep for the third time in four games, while Regis added his 8th of the year. Smith participated in the scoring by driving in two runs.

Despite yielding five runs on eight hits in 6 innings on the hill, Bo Budkevics (3-1) earned his third win. In what was his final appearance in a Boulders uniform, Guaipe struck out the last two batters with the bases loaded in the ninth inning for his 11th save.

“We win another series and [that’s] the most important part,” said Keefe. “At the end of the day we pulled it out on top and the long ball did well for us.” 

After a day off, Rockland (28-9) continues the International Series welcoming the Cuban National Team(4-14) in for a three-game series. Last year, Cuba swept the Boulders at Palisades Credit Union Park.

“Cuba came in here a game under .500 and absolutely handed it to us…” Keefe said. “We got some things going, [we have to] play our game and offensively put the ball in play.”

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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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