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Rockland Boulders

(Rockland Boulders Photo Credit: Drew Wohl)

Fresh off a four-game split series against the New Jersey Jackals, the Rockland Boulders traveled up to Canada taking on the Trois-Rivieres Aigles in a three-game set. So far this season Rockland had taken six out of 10 games. In addition, the Boulders were looking to clinch their fourth consecutive playoff berth. They were also one game out of first in the Can-Am League standings,

Mother Nature did cooperate washing out the series opener. However, the Boulders did not even have to take the field to clinch a playoff spot with Ottawa losing against Quebec. Manager Jamie Keefe commented on the significance of appearing in the post-season for a 4th straight year.

“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to make the playoffs number one,” explained Keefe. “Number two, have that number one seed so we get to pick. That is the next step. One thing at a time for us. The opportunity for the players to play more games and win a championship. Four years in a row means we have come a long way and know the feeling in 2013 when you don’t make the playoffs. Most importantly we keep moving forward. The important goal in winning the league outright and ultimate goal winning a ring.”

The rainout forced both teams’ to play a twin bill at Stade Steereo. In game one, Joe Maloney drove in his league-leading 88th RBI of the season on a ground out. Trois-Rivieres quickly responded in the bottom half of the frame plating two runs. An RBI fielder’s choice by Daniel Arribas tied the game in the sixth. Still nodded at 2-2 in the seventh, Marcus Nidiffer provided the spark clubbing a go-ahead three run homer.

Bo Budkevics tossed five innings allowing two runs on four hits. He struck out one and walked two but it did not factor in the decision. It was an old face that would earn the victory in relief, David Fischer pitching for the first time since last September threw one scoreless inning while Jon Velasquez despite surrendering a solo homer to Carter McEachern in the 7th notched his 10th save.

“We need him [Marcus Nidiffer] hot the last two out of three days,” said Keefe. “He definitely feels it but his back is healthy. He’s in good shape and with all the strength and conditioning, he has done is huge and seeing the ball well. Fischer comes in and we score right away then Johnny closes it out. Nice to see [Fischer] in throwing against hitters again. Good feel in the clubhouse.”

In the nightcap, Trois-Rivieres jumped out to an early advantage on a solo home off the bat of Javier Herrera in the first inning. The Boulders roared back erupting for 8 runs in the second highlighted by Marcus Nidiffer slugging a 3-run blast, second home in two games and 11th of the year.

Slowly the Aigles would chip away at the deficit scoring twice in the fifth and four times in the sixth. Holding on to a 11-9 lead in the seventh, Matt Kostalos attempted to shut the door but surrendered back-to-back two runs doubles by Connor Crane and Carter McEachern sending the game to extras. In the eighth inning, Daniel Mateo ended it drilling a two-run homer. Between starter Chris Carmain, reliever CJ Riefenhouser and Kostalos walked eight batters.

“It’s a crazy day when Matt Rusch gives up eight earned runs,” said Keefe. “We were patient and hit the ball pretty hard off him. At the end of the end, we look back and if you don’t throw the ball down the middle of the field. You let them put in play and can’t walk or hit this guy, they kept adding it up and tied it up. Mateo took care of business. Yes, probably one of the more memorable losses I have had as a Boulder. Sometimes you can’t stop the bleeding, nice part is you have tomorrow.”

In the series finale, Rockland certainly came out with a purpose in the first inning loading up the bases. Jared McDonald clubbed a two-out, two-run double down the right field inning. The following inning the clutch two-out hitting continued with Daniel Arribas reaching on an infield single scoring Joe Maloney from third. With runners on the corner, Mikael Mogues drove in his fourth run in the last two games clubbing a single to right field plating Marcus Nidiffer. The Boulders capped off the scoring with Aaron Wilson at the plate, Aigles starter Kurt Heyer uncorked a wild pitch enabling Arribas to come onto score from third.

Richard Salazar was solid on the mound hurling six innings allowing two runs on eight hits while fanning seven and walking one. Thomas Lawrence came into the game and threw a spotless seventh. The rain returned forcing an hour plus delay. Once play resumed in the seventh, Rockland welcome back another familiar face in Mayckol Guaipe who fired a shutout inning giving way to closer Jon Velasquez in the ninth closing the door for his 11th save of the season.

“One of the things in the last four or five games we have been doing is two-out hitting,” said Keefe. “Most important thing, we had really good at bats and nobody giving in. Mogues is a silent gem and hitting the ball hard. We have been waiting for that for a long time and finally got him [Mayckol Guaipe] activated and excited. You have five or six guys contributing in the bullpen now. We can go out and continue to have a lead and tough to beat us.”

The Boulders return home wrapping up their 2017 regular season home schedule. Starting with a four-game set against the Sussex County Miners with one of the games taking place at Skylands Stadium and finishing up a pivotal three-game series against the Quebec Capitales at Palisades Credit Union Park. Currently, Rockland(56-30) trails Quebec Capitales by two games in the Can-Am League standings.

“With 14 games, we have to take care of business at home,” said Keefe. “We have played well in Sussex, New Jersey and Ottawa. It’s the end of the season and everyone is grinding it out. They’re getting W’s and turn into playoff baseball really quick.”

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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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