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Boulders Take Two of Three In Ottawa; On Brink Of Playoff Berth

(Photo by Catalina Fragoso - Double G Media)

(Photo by Catalina Fragoso – Double G Media)


After taking two games from the New Jersey Jackals at Palisades Credit Union Park, the Rockland Boulders made the long trek back to Canada for a three-game series against the Ottawa Champions.

“The playoffs are in two weeks and we got to play sound baseball,” Manager Jamie Keefe said. “The guys are tired right at this time of the year but we went through a lull and winning can be contagious. It’s a lot more fun winning than losing and getting down to the nitty gritty.”

In game one of the series, Ottawa tagged Boulders starter Mike Adams for six runs in the third inning. Michael Mastroberti got things started with an RBI single. With the bases loaded, Sebastien Boucher drew a free pass forcing in a run. Next stepped up Kenny Bryant who delivered a monstrous two-run double over Quinnton Mack in center field. Andre Malleta capped off the scoring belted another two bagger.

The Champions continued to pour it on in the fourth on a two-run triple from Albert Cartwright. Stymied by Ottawa starter Austin Chrismon most of the night. Rockland finally broke through in the eighth on a sac fly from Devin Harris. The Boulders tacked on another run in the ninth and had the bases loaded with two outs but Josh Blanco managed to get Marcus Nidiffer on a pop out to end the game wiping out the five game winning streak in the process.

Rockland starter Richard Salazar proved to be the story in game two of the series tossing seven shutout innings of two-hit ball. Salazar (8-6) extended his scoreless innings streak to 21 while earning his third straight win and drawing close to 100 career victories. Quinnton Mack, Mike Montville and Junior Arrojo backed up Salazar’s gem with spectacular defensive plays.

“It means a lot more to Rich right now because he has his hands full right now,” said Keefe. “The game of baseball is very emotional and we needed him three starts ago and he has been awesome. He has that feeling that again and back to using his fastball again and not off the two-seamer or cutter. When he is ahead with his fastball he is able to get the strikeouts which he has had more than ever in his career. He has taken more of a role on the bench and on non-starts handling more responsibilities and knows he has to lead these guys by example.”

Marcus Nidiffer led the way on offense with an RBI single in the first inning and smoked a one-out double in the fourth as Arrojo came around to score from first base. Rockland put the game away in the ninth with a Devin Harris RBI single and two-run double from Pat McKenna. The only blemish of the night was Kenny Bryant breaking up the shutout in the ninth with a run producing single.

“Defense has been great with six double plays in the last two games,” said Keefe. “Guys have really stepped up and I bring up Pat McKenna’s name all the time and he will be a big part of this team. His numbers don’t show it but last ten games he is hitting .280 instead of .200.”

Despite leaving seven runners on base in the first four innings of the rubber match of the series and ejection of Keefe after the first inning, the Boulders stormed back in the top of the fourth, aided by the long ball. Marcus Nidiffer started it off smoking his 16th home run of the season deep over the left field wall, a two-run shot for a 2-1 advantage. Jared Schlehuber stepped into the batter’s box and mashed his 13th of the season in pretty much the exact spot. The home run procession continued with Devin Harris launching his 9th long ball of the season in the same vicinity.

In the sixth inning, Rockland would pad its lead thanks to a miscue by Champions first baseman Alexander Malleta on a ground ball hit by Nidiffer allowing Mike Fransoso to score from third base. With runners on the corner, Jared Schlehuber sac fly to center brought in Junior Arrojo. Devin Harris went deep for a second time cranking his tenth of the year, a two-run shot extending the lead to 8-2.

Ottawa refused to go away quietly, loading up the bases in the bottom half of the frame. Daniel Grauer drew a walk forcing in a run. Adron Chambers followed lashing a two-run bases loaded single to left center off new Rockland pitcher Matt Kostalos. Sebastien Boucher laced a single to right center cutting further into the lead. However, Kostalos worked out of the jam inducing Kenny Bryant into a 1-6-3 inning ending double play.

Boulders starter Brett Palanski gutted through five innings in yielding six runs with five earned on seven hits and walking seven and fanning two picking up his third win. Hector Nelo came on in the ninth to register his 15th save of the season.

Now, the Boulders return to face the Sussex County Miners in a four-game series with two in Sussex County and two at Palisades Credit Union Park. The magic number to clinch a playoff spot is one game.

“A month ago we felt pretty good where we were at and two weeks of misery around here and hard to play,” Keefe said. “Now 13-3 and that is a big shot in the arm for us and guys realize need to play hard and playoff baseball rest of the way. We have guys in here that do not just want to make the playoffs and want to win the league and means a lot to the guys that have been here.”

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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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