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Clutch hitting sparks Boulders to series win against Trois-Rivieres

Despite only scoring four runs and dropping two out of three in Quebec, Rockland Boulders Manager Jamie Keefe sensed his team coming together heading into a three-game series against the Trois-Rivieres Aigles at Palisades Credit Union Park.

“We’re not tearing the cover off the ball but playing good baseball but it’s not good enough and have to change things up a little bit,” he said.

That was quite apparent in the series opener, jumping out to a 2-0 lead after the first inning. Making his second start at home, Brian Ernst came up with another stellar performance on the mound tossing six innings yielding just one run on three hits while walking three and striking out nine. Up 4-3 in the 8th, Rockland busted out the lumber tacking on four additional runs including a bases loaded clearing double from Conrad Gregor. On the dish, Gregor went two for three and scored two runs spearheading a 15 hit attack. JC Rodriguez blasted his 13th home run of the season.

“To get two runs in the 1st after that long trip was big and Ernst dominant for five innings, overall a good game,” said Keefe. “Conrad swung the bat well and don’t sleep on Jared McDonald raising his average 40 points in the last 10 days and been the catalyst the past few days.”

“JC played out of his mind defensively and any offense out of the shortstop is what we want. He prides himself on defense and playing shortstop at our ballpark can be tough with a big infield and a lot of dirt. It’s not a normal depth at most ball parks. We have been spoiled at shortstop for a long time with Steve Nyisztor, Junior Arrojo and Mike Fransoso that are special players and JC is right there with 13 home runs, near 40 RBI and 35 runs scored.”

McDonald kept backing up his strong play of late on Saturday night and in front of a packed house on Star Wars night slugging two home runs. Travis Hissong got the starting assignment, sharp early on retiring the first eight in a row, Hissong ran in trouble due to issuing six walks on the night. Down 3-2 in the eighth, Conrad Gregor tied it up belting a single to right field that brought in Conor Bierfeldt.

In the ninth, the inning had appeared to have ended on a fly ball hit to right field by Javier Herrera but the home plate umpire ruled catcher’s interference on the play placing runners at first & second. Trois-Rivieres took full advantage of the opportunity presented as Taylor Brennan and Kevin Cornelius hit consecutive RBI singles.

“It is what it is and you still have to compete and make pitches,” Keefe said. “They got it done and we didn’t. Jared has looked great at the lead off spot and all we can do is go out and keep battling and see what happens. 10 walks and we haven’t been doing that and free passes come back and bit you and did tonight.”

In the series finale, both teams counterpunched early on with the Aigles racing out to 2-0 advantage only to see Rockland respond with three in the second. However, Trois-Rivieres answered back tallying with three runs in the fifth off Boulders starter Garrett Johnson. Making matters worse Johnson would have to depart the contest due to an undisclosed injury.

With Tommy Lawrence assuming the pitching duties, Lawrence turned in a masterful performance in relief hurling 4 2/3 shutout innings, surrendering just two hits and whiffing seven. Even more impressive the fact Lawrence retired 14 hitters in a row at one point.

“Tommy saved the bullpen and doesn’t get talked about and for tomorrow’s game for sure,” said Keefe. “A tough situation to come into and did not really get to warm in the bullpen but on the field. Outside of two hitters he just dominated and fun to watch.”

Down to their final three outs in the ninth, the Boulders refused to cave in as Jared McDonald’s RBI ground out made it a 5-4 game. With two outs, Conor Bierfeldt hit a grounder to deep third, hustling down the first base line beat the throw from Kevin Cornelius to Michael Suchy as Mike Montville came into score and sending the contest into extra innings.

After a scoreless tenth, the international tie-breaker rules went into effect in the 11th, with Javier Herrera at third, Sam Dexter ripped a double off the left field wall bringing in Herrera. Alexi Colon followed up Dexter with another double making it 7-5. That is when things got crazy as the lights went out in the stadium forcing a 27-minute delay. Once play resumed, the Aigles had the bases loaded with two out but Kyle Hansen escaped the jam striking out Suchy.

Facing the prospects of dropping their second straight series, McDonald and Bierfeldt proved to be the catalysts for a comeback as McDonald kicked it off with an RBI single to left center. Bierfeldt tied the game up again smashing a single to right field that plated Montville. Conrad Gregor played the role of hero bashing a single into right field as McDonald coasted into home setting off a jubilant celebration in the infield.

“A good, long game and mix in the 27-minute delay seems like you were there all night,” Keefe said. “We never gave in and kept battling and battling. You get that opportunity with the tying run at the plate and all you are asking for and able to do that in the 9th and 11th and able to pull it off.”

“Conor know how to play hard and fun to watch each and every day and goes as hard as he can. What is going to go unseen is his diving catch in the 10th and difference in the ball game. He played a hell of game and brought a lot of energy to the ballpark and to the guys. Jared has been battling at the plate, locked in last 10 days and been awesome. He is a guy who knows how to win and get us to the playoffs.”

The Boulders (39-34) wrap up their six game home stand against Quebec (40-34) starting on Monday night.

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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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