Having won five games in row and reaching the top of the Can-Am League standings, the Rockland Boulders looked to carry that momentum into a mini two-game series at Sussex County against the Miners.
In game one of the series, having slugged seven home runs in the last two games, Rockland utilized that strength to grab the lead early on. Marcus Nidiffer crushed his 8th long ball of the season, a two-run shot in the first. The Miners responded in the bottom half of the frame on an RBI single by Rubi Silva. With two outs in the second, Aaron Wilson went deep belting a solo blast over the left field wall.
Boulders starting pitcher Richard Salazar(4-2) battled through 5 2/3 innings, tossing 102 pitches while yielding one run on two hits, striking out eight, and walking four. Fresh off being named Can-Am League Pointstreak Player of the Week, Joe Maloney walloped his league-leading 26th home run in the seventh, a tape-measure 450-foot bomb to left center. Sussex County made things interesting in the ninth, where they plated two runs. However, Boulders’ closer Jon Velasquez preserved the victory by fanning Juan Duran with runners on the corner.
“We’re streaky but when we start swinging it gets to be fun to watch and hope we can ride the wave…,” manager Jamie Keefe said. “Salazar threw the ball really well and in control of the game from first pitch on.”
“The order swung the bat well and when the [number] 9 hitter is able to leave the park that is huge and [the number] 8 hitter with a couple of RBI’s…It’s going to take people that are not counted on a daily basis to step up… Jon(Velasquez) hasn’t had a tough situation in a while so which is a good situation for all of us and shutting the door was huge for him.”
In the rubber match, the Miners jumped to an early 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly by Alexi Colon. The lead would be short-lived as Maloney continued to sizzle at the plate, belting his 24th double of the year and bringing in two runs into the left center gap. Colon kept Sussex County in the game, cranking a two-run double of his own to deep centerfield in the third.
After yielding a couple of runs early on, Rockland starter Chris Carmain got into a grove retiring 10 in a row at one point. In the fifth, with runners on first and second and one out, Mike Fransoso and Maloney engineered some bold base running, pulling off a successful double steal followed by Marcus Nidiffer drawing a free pass to load up the bases. Next stepped up Mike Montville and a big break came from Miners catcher Brian Mayer, who dropped a pop up after tripping over his own catcher’s mask.
Seizing upon the opportunity, Montville flied out to center as Fransoso tagged up and came into score tying the game up. Jared McDonald broke the tie smashing a two-run double into the right center gap. Carmain exited after six innings allowing three runs on four hits while striking out four and walking one.
“The fastball command was much better late in the game and huge,” said Carmain. “I struggled early in the game, especially in the third when I gave up a couple of runs but trusted my fastball later in the game and started to go to my slider and change-up later on.
“You believe when you go out, you have a chance to comeback with this lineup and whether it’s one through nine that somebody is going to put runs on the board and have that support behind you.”
Taking over the pitching duties in the seventh, Alex Farina would only face one batter in Rubi Silva due to taking a laser comeback liner to the chin and leaving the game in considerable pain. Summoned to pitch, Matt Kostalos escaped a jam coaxing Daniel Rockett into a double play and Juan Duran to fly out to left field.
In the eighth, the Boulders flexed their muscles starting with Mikael Mogues clobbering his third homer of the season, a two-run shot deep over the right center wall. Following Mogues, Herceg got into the home run party by also clobbering his third long ball of the year over the left field wall.
Once again, Sussex County refused to go away quietly, plating two runs off Kostalos in the bottom half of the frame. Thomas Lawrence entered the game with runners on first and second with two outs. Lawrence managed to get Silva into flying out to left field. Despite yielding a single to Juan Duran in the ninth, Jon Velasquez retired the side to register his 7th save of the season while Chris Carmain(5-3) earned his 5th win.
“A lot of guys stepped up when we needed tonight and Carmain threw the ball well and kept the pitch down and did a nice job.” Keefe said. “Our eight and nine hitters stepped up again tonight and everybody contributed through the lineup tonight”
“Alex(Farina) gets hurt and Matt(Kostalos) comes in and clean it up and made some pitches…Our prayers are with him and hope he will be okay”
With the victory, Rockland(50-25) marked four consecutive seasons of 50 wins or greater. The Boulders are currently up by a game and half over the Quebec Capitales in the Can-Am League standings. Next up, a four-game series on Thursday night against Trois-Rivieres at Palisades Credit Union Park.
“These are milestones to get to 50 [while] playing pretty good baseball and [we] hope to play .650-.700 baseball right through and keep doing our thing,” said Keefe. “A big series for us and [the Aigles] have played us well. [They are] tough and [we] had to scratch out a lot of wins and don’t expect anything less this weekend”
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