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Boulders Take 3 out of 4 Against New Jersey

Rockland Boulders Manager Jamie Keefe said it’s amazing how the game can change for you. Two weeks ago the Boulders were in a free fall, having slipped to fifth place in the Can-Am League standings and hovering just one game above the .500 mark. Fast forward, Rockland swiped three out of four games against the Quebec Capitales at Palisades Credit Union Park followed by splitting a doubleheader against the first place Sussex County Miners.

Invigorated by solid starting pitching performances and offense that reached the 100 home run plateau, the Boulders continued that trend versus the New Jersey Jackals in a four game set.

Starter Brian Ernst lived up to the billing in game one of the series, retiring ten in a row at one point. The Boulders offense provided enough run support, scoring twice in the third on a JC Rodriguez two-run homer and breaking the game wide open in the fifth, tallying six runs in different facets with a single, triple homer and sac fly. Rodriguez led the way driving in three runs while Conrad Gregor and Marcus Nidiffer each drove in two runs apiece.

Ernst lasted seven innings, yielding two runs that came on two-run homer off the bat of David Harris, allowing four hits and striking out five. Matt Kostalos preserved Ernst’s first win a Rockland uniform with two shutout innings.

“Guys throw strikes, look at Ernst,” said Keefe. “I want to throw the cleats back on and play behind him, works so fast and getting ground balls is so fun. Doing the small things and that’s what we need to be. We can feel it coming together, been so banged all year and guys are starting to get healthy and couple of guys borderline ready to come back. We got that big inning tonight, when we swing the bats we can be really fun to watch. JC has so much pop, a smart hitter and been struggling mentally swinging at pitches he doesn’t and fitting he hits a home run tonight.”

With the series switching to Yogi Berra Stadium for the remaining three games, rain played a factor once again, washing out Friday night’s contest and forcing both teams’ to play a twin bill on Saturday. In game one, New Jersey wasted no time jumping out to the lead as Conor Hofmann blasted a lead off home run in the first inning. The Jackals steadily tacked on runs from that point off Boulders starter Travis Hissong.

Rockland had ample opportunities for big innings, but were futile with runners in scoring position leaving nine on base. Mike Montville drove in the lone run of the game in the sixth with an infield single that brought Cody Regis in from third base.

In game two, the Boulders returned the favor racing out to a 5-0 advantage after the first inning. Rockland starter David Palladino dominated from beginning to end for a complete eight hit shutout, while striking out six and walking three, registering his second win of the season. Kevin Krause and Matt Dacey each plated two runs apiece.

In the series recap, Garrett Johnson tossed a gem in seven shutout innings on the mound, surrendering just four hits while whiffing nine batters. Johnson increased his strikeout total to 31 in his last four starts on the hill. Gregor put the Boulders on the scoreboard, clouting his eighth home run of the season, a two-run blast deep over the right field wall in the third. In the fourth, Conor Bierfeldt punched a two-out RBI single to left field.

Passing the baton off to the relief duo of Nick Kennedy and Kyle Hansen, both pitchers’ did their jobs effectively allowing no hits while walking two and striking out one. Hansen earned his 12th save of the season, while Johnson garnered his fifth win of the year and earned the Can-Am League Pitcher of the Week.

“These past couple of games I have been working on getting comfortable and my fastball is working well and getting strike out makes it easier,” said Johnson on his performance. “It comes down to throwing zeroes and always nice to look down and see who is coming in. Our bullpen is at the point anybody who comes in we’re comfortable with and getting outs and us through games.”

“A good series and pitching has been great,” said Keefe on the series win. “A lot of offense in Game 2 of the doubleheader carried over to today and Garrett was just awesome, feeling comfortable and his slider was real dirty. We’re starting to stretch him out and that DL stint meant to keep him sharp and starting to pay off for us in the long run.

“Conrad bailed us out and we needed runs, gets a 2-2 pitch up in the zone and doesn’t miss it and huge for us and puts us on the board. Conor with a big two out hit and puts us in the driver’s seat. Nick hasn’t pitched much lately but able to battle through and Kyle locked in after the walk and gets a couple of ground ball outs.”

Following a day off, Rockland travels up to Canada, taking on Quebec in a three-game set starting on Tuesday night followed, by a six game home stand facing off against the Trois-Rivieres Aigles and Capitales. Currently, the Boulders (36-31) are in third place and a half-game behind Quebec (37-31).

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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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