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Before heading into the All-Star break, the Rockland Boulders returned to Palisades Credit Union Park for a three-game series against the Trois-Rivieres Aigles. So far this season, Rockland had taken four out of six games between the two squads. After being swept by the Quebec Capitales where Rockland scored a grand total of just two runs, the Boulders found themselves tied atop the Can-Am League standings.

The goal according to Manager Jamie Keefe was to go out and have a good weekend and win a series.

“All three of our starts in Quebec were outstanding and bullpen was good,” said Keefe. “At the end of the day they’re hot and we’re not which is okay. We have played .700 ball all season long and in a lull. We need one bit hit, not a three-run homer and 1st & 2nd two outs.”

In game one of the series, the team received some much needed inspiration with the return of injured starters Jon Smith and Mike Fransoso to the dugout. Both players were shown on the scoreboard leading to a standing ovation from fans. All-Star third baseman Cody Regis batting second in the lineup, gave the home folks something to smile early on cranking his 13 home run of the season, a tape-measure, two-run shot off the top of the Powerade sign in right center. Daniel Arribas added an RBI single.

However, the lead would only last a couple of innings as Daniel Mateo slugged a three-run blast over Rockland starter Bo Budkevics putting Trois-Rivieres ahead 4-3 in the third. Held in check offensively in the Quebec series, Rockland collected seven hits by the third inning. Despite that success, Trois-Rivieres expanded the margin due to the long ball in the 6th. Alexander Ayala smoked a two-run shot on to the concourse in left field preceded by a solo missile by Brendan Webb on to the awning in right field.

Rockland responded in the bottom half of the frame starting with an RBI single from Dylan Tice. Held without a homer the past several games, Joe Maloney broke the string walloping a three-run laser with two outs on to the concourse in left field, Maloney’s team leading 20th long ball of the season.

Entering the game in the ninth, closer Jon Velasquez two outs away from finishing the game yielded a homer to Daniel Mateo who went yard for a second time on the night. In the bottom half of the frame, Dropped to the fifth slot in the batting order, Jared McDonald (3 for 4) reached on a single with two outs and advanced for the second on a wild pitch. Two weeks earlier Mike Montville delivered a walk-off single against Sussex County and this time would be no different with Montville lacing a single to left center as McDonald slid into home headfirst safely for the winning run.

“Good stuff there and my first hit all week and a plus,” said Montville. “We get down, take a lead and they tie the game in the ninth and guys were okay and cool with it. Everybody had a good at bat in the ninth and be able to do it with no panic and pressure. Guys are just staying composed and trust everyone in the locker room and in lineup to get the job done at any point.”

“We scrapped, dug, pounded, kicked and screamed,” Keefe said. “There is a hump you don’t get over last couple of days but when you win a game it’s going to be a two-out hit. Happy for Montville because he had a tough night at the plate. They’re not pitching to Joe (Maloney) or Marcus (Nidiffer) and I had to do something different. Jared has felt frustrated at the top of the lineup all year and not himself and worked on some things last couple of days. To be able to get those two faces back in the dugout and tonight was huge and be able to talk to Jon and Mike and everybody listened and seeing how they are.”

Rockland starter Chris Carmain and Aigles starter Matthew Rusch locked in a pitcher’s duel in game two of the series. Early on Trois-Rivieres scored twice-off Carmain including Daniel Mateo going deep for a third time in the series in the first inning.

Rusch pitched a gem retiring 13 in a row at one point including 15 of 16. Meanwhile Carmain settled down and pitched brilliant retiring seven and nine hitters at certain junctures during the game. Daniel Arribas broke up the shutout in the eighth inning belting his third home run just over the yellow line in left field. Just one out away from a complete game Carmain, lost the bid yielding a solo home run to Alexander Ayala.

“That was a fun one, Rusch was good as he has ever been and you run into that a couple of times a year and happened to be on the backside of it. Chris (Carmain) threw the ball well and one hell of a performance. Since Salazar went down he has took the bull by the horn and last three out of four starts have been really good by him.” 

“Offensively were not clicking right now and guys are exhausted and hoping to go into the All-Star break with a smile on your faces and get some rest. We get to the break and be in a good position to make a stretch run in the next couple of playoffs.”

Returning from disabled list on Thursday in Quebec, Richard Salazar returned to the starting rotation in the rubber match of the series. Daniel Mateo continued to light up Boulders pitching whacking his fourth homer of the season off Salazar in the first. That would be the only Salazar would surrender in four innings on the hill while allowing two hits and fanning three.

Rockland did not waste any time responding plating four runs in the bottom half of the frame highlighted by Mike Montville’s two-run triple to dead center. Newcomer Kelvin Ramos shining defensively at shortstop did it with his bat this time swatting his first home run in a Boulders uniform leading off the second. Cody Regis put the game out of reach in the third lining a bases loaded two-run single to left center.

Justin Topa (9-2) entered the game and tossed a spotless fifth to earn his league-leading ninth win of the year. Traded from the Aigles to Rockland on Friday, Nick Sarianides was solid hurling shutout innings while striking out three. 

“Good first inning to come back offensively and put a four game spot and big swing by Montville at that point,” said Keefe. “Everybody threw the ball well fantastic and nice to see Salazar’s velocity up and throwing strikes. A different feel in this clubhouse today and dugout with him and Marcus out there. Nice to get a look at Sarianides today and impressed us and like what we saw.” 

Rockland enters the All-Star break at 40-22, a franchise record best after 62 games. The team returns to the diamond on Thursday in Ottawa taking on the Champions in a four-game set followed by a three-game series at the Quebec Champions.

“To get our 40th in 62 games we’re happy about that and we just have to keep that going and take a deep breathe and enjoy a few days off,” Keefe said.

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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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