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(Boulders – Credit: Drew Wohl)

Despite a rain delay and playing a doubleheader on Memorial Day in front of a sparse crowd. Also, back-to-back 10:30 a.m. games against the defending 2016 Can-Am League champs Ottawa Champions. There was no obvious signs of the Rockland Boulders offense slowing down. The Boulders earned 94 runs and 22 home runs in 15 games.

“The offense is there and no matter who you put in the lineup hitting is contagious when you have guys one through nine putting the ball in play and driving the ball into the gap,” said Manager Jamie Keefe. “Our lineup is shaped for this ballpark and going out there and pushing the envelope every single day.”

Having swept Can-Am League honors for a second consecutive week in a row, Pointstreak Player of the Week Cody Regis continued his torrid streak (11 for 22, 3 HR’s and & RBI’s) in game one of the doubleheader. Regis drove in three more runs including his fourth home run of the season in the bottom of the third, putting Rockland up 3-0.

Starter Justin tossed five shutout innings yielding two hits while striking out four to earn his second win. With the victory, the Boulders improved to a franchise best 10-2 through the first 12 games and 7-1 at home.

“A dominant start by Justin and kept ahead. Anytime you can do that are going to have success,” said Jamie Keefe. “We got guys on early and anytime you can get out to a lead at this ballpark is huge for us.  Cody has been on fire and fun to watch and got to ride the wave and keep him out there”.

“I did a lot of work this off-season. Changing my approach at the plate, trying to get more lift and extra-base hits. Its fun to see dividends paying off,” Regis said. On being named Can-Am League Pointstreak Player of the Week, “An honor and testament to the work I put in. I have gotten some good pitches to hit and been able to do damage with them. A fun lineup to be part of and top to bottom no weak spots and to have that protection they have to come after every one of us.”

In game two of the twin bill, Rockland held the lead twice early on. The Champions reclaimed the lead in the top 4 on a two-run double by Ricky Oropesa off starter Jason Byers. Ottawa would break it wide open in the sixth inning tacking on three more runs, going on to the 10-3 victory snapping a seven-game losing streak.

“You’re going to have days like these and is the worst game we have played all year,” Keefe said. “Jason’s command wasn’t as good as it’s been but when he’s got command is good and when not going to struggle. You play 14 innings in one day and things are going to happen.”

Playing the first of two back-to-back morning games, both teams’ went back and forth early on. In the fourth inning, Ricky Oropesa crushed a solo blast off starter Markus Solbach that hit the flagpole beyond the concourse in right field. However, Ottawa had an opportunity to inflict further damage with the bases loaded and out but Solbach escaped the jam getting Adron Chambers to pop out and striking out Bistagne to end the threat.

Feeding off that energy, Rockland responded in the bottom half of the frame as Jon Smith launched his 5th home run of the season. A 2-run moonshot that landed on to the concourse in right field. The Boulders were not finished leaving the yard as the red-hot Regis socked his 5th long ball of the season. Another two-run jack into the “Short Porch” area in right field extending the lead to 6-3.

The bullpen combination of Ethan Elias and Alex Farina shined brightly once again as the duo surrendered just three hits. Facing a 1st & 2nd situation with two outs in the eighth, Farina fanned Daniel Bick to preserve the lead. The Champions did not go quietly in the ninth, Sebastien Boucher slugged a two-run homer off closer Mayckol Guaipe trimming the deficit to 6-5. Guaipe managed to recover retiring the last two batters to earn his 5th save of the season. Rockland tied the 2-15 squad for the best start to a season at 11-3.

“The joy of watching him (Solbach) pitch is when he is pitching down hill, changes speeds and locates pitches” said Jamie Keefe. “These two (Smith) and (Regis) are seeing the ball as well I have seen in a long time and when they make contact it’s loud. Nice to see Ethan make some pitches and improvements today. Alex is throwing the ball very well and firm Mayckol made one bad pitch and so far has attacked and attacked and thrown right into the strike zone. [Its] been so good and excited to have him on our side.”

“I saw the ball pretty well today,” said Jon Smith. “On that at bat the kid made a couple of good pitches on me. Ending up leaving one in the middle of the plate with two strikes and I had a guy in scoring position and my job was to get the barrel on the ball today”.

On Solbach’s second win of the season, “It’s been a little frustrating and taken too long to hit that spot and get comfortable. I found what I had in the fourth inning and when you give up one run and your offense comes out and scores the same amount it’s always a good day”.

The rubber match of the series proved to be a pitcher’s duel in the first four innings between Boulders starter CJ Riefenhouser and Champions starter Yean Carlos Gil. Mike Montville ended the stalemate in the 4th swatting his second homer of the season into the “Short Porch” area in right field. The following inning Daniel Bick tied the game up stroking a two-out solo blast into the right center field bleachers.

After a sac fly by Marcus Nidffer in the bottom of the frame that put Rockland back on top, Champions left field Matt Helms cranked a two-run shot also into the right center field bleachers as Ottawa went ahead again. Capitalizing on two-out hits, Sebastien Boucher lined a single into left center increasing the lead to 4-2 in the 7th.

Once again, the Boulders responded thanks to the captain Marcus Nidffer starting to heat up the last several games with 7 RBI’s in his last four games mashed a three-run homer into the favorite part of the ballpark on this day the right center field bleachers as Rockland regained the advantage 5-4. Joe Maloney joined the home run parade crushing a titanic blast, his 6th of the year that is tops in the Can-Am League on to the concourse in left field making it 6-4.

Attempting to notch his 6th save of the season, Mayckol Guaipe ran into control issues in the ninth allowing two single and walking one hitter to load up the bases. Ottawa cashed in on the opportunity as Steve Brown laced a two-out, two-run single tying the game up at 6-6.

In the bottom half of the frame, Rockland returned the favor starting with Cody Regis drawing a free pass. Mike Montville, singling to left field and most importantly Alex Herceg, reaching on an error with two outs. That set the stage for Jared McDonald chopping a grounder down the first base line and beating Ottawa reliever Victor Beriguete to the bag before getting tagged out for the 7-6 walk-off win.

“A win is a win and made a lot mistakes today and able to get some clutch hits today,” Jamie Keefe said. “A team is a team and got to play all 27 outs. Five or six guys can hit in the middle of lineup and doing the small things to win games.”

“Guys in front of me are doing their job and putting me in that position,” said Marcus Nidiffer on recent hitting streak. “So it’s really up to me to have a good at bat and guys have been battling to get on base. Hats off to them and they do a great job.”

The Boulders hit the road with six games in Canada first starting with a three-game set against the Quebec Capitales, finishing up in Ottawa. Last weekend Rockland took 2 out of 3 against Quebec at Palisades Credit Union Park.

“Six important games and try to come back 4-2,” Jamie Keefe said. “We’re all happy to get on the road and with the 10:30 a.m. games. We’re going to get some rest and be ready to go on the new field (Stade Canac).”

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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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