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Boulders win 2 of 3 at New Jersey

Riding a four-game winning streak, having scored 46 runs in their last six games and climbed back to the .500 mark the Rockland Boulders were a more confident team heading into a three-game series against the New Jersey Jackals at Yogi Berra Stadium. The last time both teams’ square off against each other, Rockland swiped two out of the three games.

During the series, Rockland’s starting pitching continued to shine on the mound with Justin Topa, Travis Hissong and Garrett Johnson. In the series opener, Topa dominated on the hill yielding just two runs, one of them earned on eight hits while striking out five.

Manager Jamie Keefe on Topa’s outing, “Topa was dominant from pitch number 1, 77 pitches through 7 innings.”

The Boulders offense displayed no signs of a letdown bashing three home runs on the night with Marcus Nidiffer, Mikael Mogues and Jared McDonald each driving in three runs apiece. The bullpen combination of Marc Huberman and David Palladino sparkled in relief tossing a shutout inning apiece while allowing two hits and fanning one as Topa earned his first victory of the season in the 10-2 rout.

On Saturday night, Rockland fell behind 1-0 after the first inning but managed to rebound and take a 3-1 advantage after six innings of play including Kevin Krause belting his fourth home run of the season. However, the contest was marred by an ugly bench-clearing brawl after New Jersey starter Mat Latos threw over the head of Krause as both players emptied out of the dugout.

Travis Hissong turned in masterful performance in six innings, surrendering one run on four hits, walking one and striking out seven while tossing 86 pitches. Nick Kennedy took over the pitching duties hurling two shutout innings giving up just one hit and whiffing two. Matt Kostalos received the assignment to close it out but the Jackals had other ideas as Seth Spivey hit a walk-off three run homer for the 5-3 win and ending Rockland’s five game winning streak.

“Great start by Travis, 86 pitches through 6 innings,” Keefe said. We had our opportunities in the 7th and 8th with first and third but didn’t take advantage of them and popped out both times. Both teams’ are lucky more guys didn’t get hurt and could have gotten really ugly.”

In the rubber match on Sunday, rain forced the start of the gem to be delayed by 35 minutes. That certainly did not affect Boulders starter Garrett Johnson standing tall at 6’10, Johnson was unhittable through 3 2/3 innings while striking out eight hitters.

Rockland’s offense went right to work off New Jersey starter Vic Black in the second inning. Marcus Nidffer led off crushing a solo shot deep over the right center wall, Nidiffer’s second round tripper in the last three games and fourth of the year. With two outs, Jared McDonald belted a two-run single into right center.

“A long season and I’m always a slow starter and just have to keep grinding and tried to get a good pitch and swing,” said Marcus Nidiffer. “We have enough guys around in the lineup who are hitting and taking the pressure off me. It’s a tough lineup when we are going on all cylinders.”

Johnson’s only blemish on this day would be uncorking a couple of wild pitches in the fifth that led the Jackals plating their first run of the game and  Keefe to call upon Nick Kennedy who went on to strike out Rony Cabrera ending the inning. Catching a break on a critical play earlier in the inning when Jackals third baseman Gerald Bautista appeared to have bashed a two-run homer near the foul pole in the left field but the home plate umpire Pete Lakkis ruled it foul leading to the ejection of third base coach Daisuke Yoshida.

The anger and frustration became too much for New Jersey in the sixth inning on a ground ball hit by Conor Hofmann to second baseman Jared McDonald whose throw went wide of the first base bag. Hofmann appeared to either to have overstepped the bag or taken a turn for second base but when Mikael Mogues tagged Hofmann he was ruled out setting off manager Brooks Carey who emptied out bats and balls on the field leading to Carey’s ejection.

Meanwhile the Boulders bullpen consisting of Kennedy, Marc Huberman, Tommy Lawrence, Matt Kostalos and Kyle Hansen slammed the door the rest of the way scattering three hits while whiffing six. Conor Bierfeldt provided some additional breathing room in the eight crushing an RBI double to dead center. Hansen worked a spotless ninth registering his fifth save of the season.

“Garrett Johnson was awesome and we’re stretching him out a little bit more with each start and really good today,” said Keefe. “He had no hit stuff for the game and bullpen was great. We added on one late and we didn’t do it yesterday. A great week going into an off day and feel pretty good about ourselves.”

Sporting a 12-11 record, Rockland faces Sussex County in a four game series at Palisades Credit Union Park including a morning doubleheader on Tuesday starting at 10:30 a.m. Currently, the Miners hold the top spot in the Can-Am League standings at 15-8. The teams’ split a series Opening Day weekend in May.

“Sussex has really good players and talented and we’re going to have play some good baseball,” Nidiffer said. “Bobby (Jones) is going to have his A game and always does and knows the guys here and how to compete against us so it will be a battle and that’s why we put the gear on every day.”

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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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