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Rockland Takes Two of Three From New Jersey

(Photo by Grant Kelly - Double G Media)

(Photo by Grant Kelly – Double G Media)


The Rockland Boulders are running out of arms with pitchers’ contracts purchased by major league baseball teams’ and injuries piling up. With Alex Gouin and Markus Solbach signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks and Bo Budkevics on the disabled list with an elbow injury, left-handed Jason Byers from Shawnee State University got the ball in game one of a three-game series against New Jersey.

The Jackals potent lineup greeted Byers rudely in the first inning batting around and scoring five times. However, Byers righted the ship tossing five shutout innings before departing the game. Rockland’s bats came alive in the sixth scoring four times New Jersey starter Matt Parish. The Jackals answered back with two runs in the seventh and third baseman Taylor have driven in two runs with a double in the first added to that total socking a three-run blast in the eighth making it 10-4.

In the ninth inning, the Boulders made things interesting on a two-out RBI single from Elvin Soto. Mike Montville followed with a run-producing single cutting the lead to 10-7. New Jersey brought in their closer Fernando Cruz to face Devin Harris with two runners on but the rally fell short as Cruz got Harris to fly out to right ending the ball game.

“Chalk some of it for nerves for Byers and wanting so badly to get out of that first inning,” said Manager Jamie Keefe. “It’s what it is and getting another start on Sunday. They kept adding on and we fought back no matter who hit for them. We had a chance to tie it up in the ninth but dug ourselves a hole early.”

The series shifted back to Yogi Berra Stadium in Montclair, New Jersey for game two of the series and Rockland wasted no time getting on the board. In the first inning, Jared Schlehuber belted a two-run bases loaded single. Mike Fransoso tacked on run-scoring single.

In the third inning, Mike Montville extended the margin clubbing a three-run shot off Jackals reliever David Anderson. Devin Harris continued to swing a hot bat ambushing a three-run missile over the left-field wall in the fifth making it 10-2.

Boulders starter David Fischer labored through five innings encountering multiple jams to earn his third win of the season. New Jersey scored twice in the sixth trimming the lead down to 10-4 but Daniel Carela managed to get Richard Stock to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. Edgar Valle and Hector Nelo slammed the door shut the last two innings allowing just one hit and combining for four strikeouts.

“We’re starting to drive guys in and it’s not going to happen every day but have to keep putting that lineup out every day,” Keefe said. “If we can be in attack mode with runners in scoring position, we’re going to be a much better baseball team. Montville is starting to figure how to put the ball in play. Harris has put up number wherever he has been and reason why he hit fourth in Double A last year and ninth here (Can-Am League).”

The rubber match of the series turned out to be a Palisades Credit Union Park slugfest that lasted four hours and twenty-six minutes and featured runs, walks and two bench-clearing brawls. Luis Sanz making his season debut only could go one and two-thirds due to a left calf strain injury. Liarvis Breto replaced Sanz running into several jams but escaped them without serious damage. By the end of the third inning, New Jersey had left 10 runners on base. Daniel Carela entered the game in the fourth only to come up hobbling with a leg injury forcing Carela out of the game.

Rockland jumped to a 3-0 advantage buoyed by a two-run moonshot into the left grandstand from Marcus Nidiffer in the third inning. New Jersey broke out the lumber in the sixth tallying six runs with five of them against Pat Butler. Art Charles leading the Can-Am League in home runs, socked his 15th of the year with a moonshot off a sign in right-center in the 7th.

Just when you thought the lead was safe in the ninth, Rockland drew three consecutive walks. New Jersey went to their closer Fernando Cruz who ended up plunking Marcus Nidiffer forcing in a run. As Nidiffer proceeded up to first base, words were exchanged that led to both benches emptying on to the field.

After cooler heads prevailed, Cruz imploded yielding a two-run single by Jared Schlehuber to left-center making it 8-6. That set the stage for Mike Fransoso who jolted a drive to deep right field and over Cory Vaughn as two runs scored on the play. Fransoso motoring around the bases attempted to score the game-winning run as the throw from the outfield sailed over home plate was thrown out at home sending the game into extras and home crowd into a frenzy.

Boulders closer Hector Nelo threw a dominant top 10th striking out the side. In between innings, Fernando Cruz sprinted out of the Jackals dugout towards the Rockland dugout leading to a second melee. Cruz was ejected from the game along with two other New Jersey players.

In the bottom half of the frame, Devin Harris singled with one out and took second on a wild pitch uncorked by Richard Stock. Junior Arrojo capped off the epic comeback hitting a chopper to Taylor Brennan at third that ended up throwing wide of Art Charles allowing Harris to dart home for the game-winning run. Hector Nelo registered his first victory of the season.

“A heavyweight fight that went all 10 rounds and we were a little better than they were,” said Keefe. “You have to dig a little deeper and find out what you are really made of and I think we did that tonight.”

“A total team win and we never feel like we’re out of the game until the last out and good to have on every team,” said Junior Arrojo. “We had the lead early and then didn’t doing anything offensively. We got behind early but stayed positive despite being down five in the ninth. Schlehuber with a huge hit got the crowd into the game and Fransoso with two strikes is battling and clutch play of the game.”

Rockland returns to Canada this weekend facing off against the Ottawa Champions in a three-game set. “The next couple of days are going to be interesting and we’re short pitching,” Keefe said. “We’re going to have to sneak through and win two out of three in that series.”

The Boulders record stands at 31-21 and one and half games behind the Quebec Capitales for first place in the Can-Am League standings.

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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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