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Despite dropping two out of three games in Quebec (10-6) over the weekend, the Rockland Boulders came away with many positives that included remaining in first place in the Can-Am League standings with a record of 13-5 and for the third consecutive week, sweeping Pointstreak Player of the Week and Pitcher of the Week Honors.

“Three really good baseball games up here and have to play all 27 outs to win up here and we’re able to do that today and score two more than they did,” said Boulders manager Jamie Keefe. “At the end of the day we walk out of here with a chance to go into Ottawa and salvage the trip.”

Starting pitcher Justin Topa earned his third win of the season Sunday and is tied for the league lead with teammate Richard Salazar. Meanwhile, Cody Regis made it back-to-back as the Pointstreak Player of the Week, hitting a blazing .440 (11 for 25) with two doubles, three home runs, eight RBI. So far this season, Regis is leading the league in batting with a .412 average, tied for the league lead in home runs at six with teammates Joe Maloney and Jon Smith and fifth in RBI with 16.

Quebec wasted no time jumping out to the lead against Rockland starter Bo Budkevics in game one of the series. Capitales first baseman Jordan Lennerton clubbed a three-run blast over the left field wall in the first inning. Centerfielder Kalian Sams went yard in the fifth belting a two-run jack. Those were the only two mistakes Budkevics made in the contest.

Jason Byers took over the pitching duties in the sixth and kept the Boulders in the game, hurling two shutout innings without a hit and fanning two. Stymied by Quebec starter Arik Sikula for the first seven innings, Rockland fared much better against the Capitales bullpen. In the eighth, Jon Smith and Jared McDonald drew consecutive walks ahead of a single to load the bases.

Reliever Jaspreet Shergill proceeded to plunk Dylan Tice, forcing in a run. However, the big blow came off the bat of captain Marcus Nidiffer who slugged a mammoth grand slam over the left field wall tying the game up at 5-5.

The Capitales had an opportunity to win it in the ninth on a deep fly ball hit but Rockland right fielder Mike Montville made a sensational diving catch on the warning track. In the bottom of the tenth, Kalian Sams led off with an out single off Boulders relief pitcher Matt Kostalos, swiped second and moved over to third on a passed ball.

Following Sams, Yurisbel Garcial walked and Kostalos nicked Taylor Oldham to load up the bases. With the infield drawn in, James McOwen laced a single past Mike Fransoso for the game winning run.

“Got rocked to sleep by the starter but when they went to the pen the boys woke up,” Keefe said” “We had some big life late and made pitches when he needed to. Byers and Kostalos were good and they (Quebec) found a hole and not much you can do.”

Game two of the series turned out to be a carbon copy with Quebec sprinting out to a 3-0 advantage after two innings. The Boulders responded scoring twice in the third only to see the Capitales tag starter Richard Salazar for three additional runs taking a 6-2 lead. Keefe was not around to see the rest of the game after getting into a heated confrontation with the home plate umpire and ultimately ejected for the first time this season.

Once again Rockland’s bullpen held down the fort starting first with Thomas Lawrence taking over for Salazar in the fourth retiring five in a row at one point. Left fielder Jon Smith closed the gap even further walloping a two-run shot, his sixth of the season in the seventh. Ethan Elias entered the game and was brilliant on the mound allowing no runs on two hits while mowing down three hitters.

Just as good as the Boulders were, Quebec managed to match that intensity starting with Miles Moeller striking out the first four batters he faced. In the ninth, Nolan Becker came in and got McDonald to ground into a game ending double play.

“Tough outing for Rich but Tommy kept the game in check,” Keefe said. “The bullpen was great and a lot of fight in the boys.”

Attempting to avoid the sweep on Sunday afternoon, the Boulders found themselves in a familiar spot trailing after the first inning. Just as he did in the first game of the series, Jordan Lennerton launched a three-run bomb off starter Justin Topa. An RBI single by Capitales shortstop Yordan Manduley would make it 4-0 after the second inning.

Topa managed to stop the bleeding thereafter retiring the side twice and six in a row at one point. A sac fly from Cody Regis in the fourth trimmed Quebec’s lead to 4-1. Regis was not finished for the day unleashing a two-run laser, his sixth round tripper of the season in the sixth inning.

With the Capitales going to their bullpen in the seventh in Joseph Maher, Rockland put the pressure on starting with McDonald drawing a one out walk. Tice stepped up to the plate and dropped a perfect squeeze bunt down the third base line for the infield single. An intentional walk to Nidiffer loaded up the bases. Maloney provided the biggest hit of the game, lacing a go ahead two-run single into left field.

Quebec refused to go away quietly in the bottom half of the frame. With Alex Farina on the hill,  the momentum-shifting defensive play of the came when Manduley smacked a line drive down the right field line but Mike Montville tracked down the ball quickly, firing the ball back into the infield where Mike Fransoso caught it. Manduly caught up in between first and second Fransoso smartly pursued Manduley tagging him out before he could return back to first base.

In the eighth, DH Joe Bennie led off with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice but by Alex Herceg. Next up was McDonald who delivered a key insurance run fisting a bloop single into center bringing in Bennie. Off two shaking outings, closer Mayckol Guaipe displayed his dominant form with a 1-2-3 ninth for his sixth save of the season.

“A great baseball game and one of the better ones of the year and a couple more and put them away,” said Keefe. “Justin really settled in after that first inning and Alex called a great game. Farina comes in and does his job as well and attacked the strike zone. Mayckol pitched in the strike zone today and got three ground balls.”

The Boulders move on to Ottawa (6-10) for a three-game set. Last week at Palisaded Credit Union Park, Rockland took three out of four against the Champions.

“We want to in there and win two out of three and would like to win all three but anything less than two out of three is going to be upsetting,” Keefe said. “We’re playing really good baseball going into Ottawa and see what happens.”

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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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