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Riding high on a seven-game winning streak and having reclaimed first place in the Can-Am League, the Rockland Boulders were looking to build upon that momentum welcoming in the Trois-Rivieres Aigles for a four-game series at Palisades Credit Union Park.

So far this season, Rockland had taken four out of the six meetings between both teams’.

In game one, the pendulum swung back and forth in the first six innings, as the Boulders held the lead three times only to see Trois-Rivieres respond and tie the game up. In the eighth inning, the Aigles loaded up the bases and with two outs, Boulders reliever C.J. Riefenhouser uncorked a wild pitch allowing the go-ahead run to come in.

Rockland still had one last shot in the ninth with Dylan Tice at third, but Mike Montville flied out to left field to end the game. Marcus Nidiffer drove in three runs while starter Ari Kaufman fell to 0-5 on the year yielding six runs, four earned on seven hits while striking out five and walking two.

“You have to look back and [in the] first couple of innings we had way too many opportunities that we didn’t take care of and they came back to bite us” said Boulders manager Jamie Keefe. “Ari pitched well enough to keep us in the game but we should have put that game away early and didn’t…When you think you are playing really good baseball, sometimes you have a wake-up call and this was one of them.”

Aiming for his league-leading 12th victory in game two of the series, Boulders pitcher Justin Topa(12-2) faced a bunch of early jams but thanks to solid defense, especially fro the infield duo of Tice and Mike Fransoso, turned a couple of double plays and bailed out Topa.

The weather forecasts called for rain much later in the night but Mother Nature decided for an earlier time as downpours cascaded upon Palisades Credit Union Park.

In the fourth inning, Tice led off with an infield single and proceeded to swipe his 27th stolen base of the season, which leads the Can-Am League. After reaching third on a ground out, Tice came into score on a Jared McDonald double down the right field line. With the rain picking up in intensity in the fifth, Topa finished off the inning with back-to-back strikeouts. Shortly afterwards, the tarp came on to the field and an hour delay ensued only to see the game called as Rockland emerged with the 1-0 win.

“Just trying to build on consistency…,” said McDonald. “We’ll take a win whether it’s five or 15 innings and everything is becoming real once you get that magic number and get ready for that playoff run”

“August is when everyone shines and if we take care of what we need to, we will have one of the two top spots and our goal is the top spot,” said Keefe.

Once again, pitching dominated the scene in game three of the series. Rockland starter Markus Solbach was brilliant on the hill, tossing 7 2/3 innings yielding just one run on five hits while fanning six and walking one to register not only his eighth win of the season but lock up Pointstreak Player of the Week honors.

Right fielder Montville not only shined on this night driving in two runs but also as musician performing in concert after the game ended. The bullpen trio of Thomas Lawrence and Jon Velasquez shut the door tight with Velasquez recording his eighth save in a game that lasted just two hours and twenty-eight minutes.

“It doesn’t happen too much, Solbach was in control from the first batter on and we love that,” said Keefe. “We scored early and made them chase us and we got Solabch into buying in and throwing a certain way. All about the small things that are adding up at the end of the day and we’re playing smart baseball.”

Coming off quality back-to-back starts, Bo Budkevics cruised through the early innings as did Aigles starter Matthew Rusch. That all changed in the top of the fourth inning, with Daniel Mateo clubbing a three-run homer into the Short Porch in right field. With two outs, David Glaude went yard, belting a shot into the same area as Mateo’s long ball.

Trois-Rivieres did not let up in the following inning, as Javier Herrera golfed a blast on to the right field concourse. Mateo tagged Budkevics for a second time, crushing a two-run missile into the Short Porch area in right field. Budkevics(6-3) departed after five innings surrendering seven runs on eight hits while striking out six and walking two.

Stymied by Rusch through five innings, Joe Maloney changed that scenario with one swing of the bat, clobbering his league-leading 27th home run of the season, a two-run moonshot into the right center grandstand and moving to within two of the franchise record set by Keith Brachold in 2012. Finding their groove, the Boulders continued to chip away at the deficit in the seventh on a RBI single by Aaron Wilson and Tice lacing a two-run double into the left center gap.

The Aigles had a big game opportunity to bust things open off Lawrence, loading up the bases with one out in the eighth. However, Lawrence caught a break on a Carter McEachern line drive snagged by Maloney at first and stepping on the bag to complete the inning ending double play.

Rockland had ample opportunities bringing the tying run to the plate in both the eighth and ninth innings but was unable to cash in. Trois-Rivieres closer Kyle Hansen struck out Montville to end the game.

“Nothing wrong with a little humility this time of the year,” said Keefe. “We were able to give it a shot and did our part offensively and made some mistakes and [it] cost us here and there.”

Next up for the Boulders(52-27) is a four-game series against the New Jersey Jackals(45-35) with the first and fourth games at Yogi Berra Stadium and second and third games at Palisades Credit Union Park. This season, Rockland has won 7 out of the 12 games. Currently the Boulders hold half-game lead over the Quebec Capitales(52-28).

“We got our match-ups in this series and have Salazar going [Monday],” said Keefe. “We have roster moves to make and do what we have to do. We’re in a good position to make the moves we need to make the team better.”

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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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