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Boulders Advance to Can-Am League Championship Series

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(Photo by Sunil Sunder Raj)

The Rockland Boulders faced a two-game deficit to the Quebec Capitales in the Can-Am League semi-finals.

The series began with a heartbreaking Game 1 loss where the Boulders held a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning, only to see the Capitales win it on a walk-off single by Marcus Knecht.

Facing elimination, Boulders manager Jamie Keefe was still full of confidence heading into Game 3 at Palisades Credit Union Park in Pomona, New York.

“We grounded into four or five double plays in a huge situation and hitting the ball hard at somebody,” said Keefe after Game 2. “We’re one bounce or swing away from breaking out. Confident with our backs against the wall and a reason why we have home field advantage and last opportunity to hit and already had our backs against the wall for 11 days straight.”

No one could anticipate or forecast the wild and crazy Game 3 that would take place. Both teams were locked in a heavyweight fight and duked it out for nine innings. Quebec quickly jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning only to see the Boulders answer in the bottom half of the frame on an RBI double from Jared Schlehuber and two-run single by Leandro Castro who drove in a game high five RBI.

The Capitales went up 6-3 in the second inning only to see Rockland respond again, tying the game up at 6-6 in the third on a two-run homer from Castro. The pendulum swung back in Quebec’s favor in the fourth, pouring in five runs to take a 11-6 advantage. Rockland hit back in the bottom half of the frame as Schlehuber drove in his second RBI double of the contest followed by a two-run producing single from Devin Harris.

In the fifth inning, the Boulders utilized the long ball, starting with Quinnton Mack walloping a two-run shot into the Short Porch area tying the game up at 11-11. Marcus Nidffer gave Rockland its first lead of the game socking a two-run moonshot into the right center field concourse.

Quebec refused to go away with two runs of their own in the sixth, knotting the game at 13-13. The Boulders returned the favor in the seventh thanks to the hustle of Nidiffer after Schlehuber reached on an error by Capitales third baseman Lachlan Fontaine scoring all the way from first base. Castro drove in his fifth run of the game with a double down the left field line.

Closer Hector Nelo came on the ninth attempting to close the door but ran into trouble allowing two-out RBI single to Maxx Tissenbaum and walking Tanner Nivins with the bases loaded tying the game up for a fourth time. With two outs in the ninth, Mike Montville gave the Boulders their first of the series crushing a titanic blast into the left center field bleachers.

“I can’t remember any other game that was a dogfight than that and runs exchanged almost every inning of the game,” said Mike Montville. “Quick three pitches but just wanted to attack. I was just looking for a pitch up in the zone.”

“We had to do whatever to we could to stop the bleeding,” Keefe said. “We got to hit last and that’s why you have home field advantage and difference in ball game. We’re not here if Leandro isn’t here and is a tough out and nobody better. I can’t tell you what Quinnton Mack has meant to us the past five weeks and never complained when he is not in there. Mike has his family here and the kid’s upside is ridiculous has the ability to get better.”

Bo Budkevics was the story in game four of the series throwing 134 pitches while tossing eight innings giving up two runs on six hits, striking out 10 and walking none.

Quebec jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first only to see the Boulders come back in the second on a two-out double from Elvin Soto. An RBI ground out by Maxx Tissenbaum tied the game up in the sixth. Soto delivered in the clutch once again in the sixth rapping a two-run bases loaded single through the hole into field and Pat McKenna scored on the play making it 5-2. Matt Kostalos pitched a scoreless ninth to lock down the victory evening the series at 2-2.

“Four months ago if you told me I was going to be playing in the playoffs and one win away from a championship game I would call you a liar and ready to hang it up and gave it another shot and it was a well worth decision,” said Elvin Soto.

“I’m really proud of no walks and on 3-2 counts bearing down and making a good quality pitch,” Budkevics said. “I told Jamie and Rich I had no problem going 130 or 140 pitches.”

“Well we’re here and sun is going to come up tomorrow and play another baseball game. I don’t think I got as many gray hair as Rich (Salazar) got today. We win the series and the MVP is Bo Budkevics because what he did tonight and has done in it past playoff series with a 3-0 record and 33 K’s. The last two nights the lower half of the order has carried us and so we’re going to go out tomorrow and leave it out all on the field.”

It all came down to game 5 on Monday night at Palisades Credit Union Parrk where Capitales starter Karl Gelinas and Rockland starter Joe Ravert engaged in a pitcher’s duel. Gelinas was masterful on the hill tossing seven shutout innings fanning nine and walking four. Meanwhile Ravert went just four innings but was strong yielding just one run on four hits and retiring seven in a row at one point.

Jordan Lennerton gave Quebec the lead in the fourth inning with a sac fly. The Boulders had squandered scoring opportunities in the third and fifth inning. Mike Montville belted a drive to right field only to see Asif Shah haul the catch in while crashing into the wall.

Capitales manager Patrick Scalabrini went to his bullpen in the eighth calling upon Shaun Ellis. With one out Junior Arrojo stepped up and slugged a solo missile on to the concourse tying the game up.

Having already thrown nearly 100 pitches in game two of the series, David Fischer came back on short rest and looked invincible hurling 4 2/3 innings and striking out five but made one mistake surrendering a ninth inning RBI single to Shah.

Down to their last three outs in the bottom half of the inning, Rockland quickly loaded up the bases on three consecutive singles. That set the stage for Mike Fransoso ripping a two-run walk off single into the right center gap sending the Boulders back to the Can-Am League Championship Series  for time since 2014 where Rockland captured their first title over New Jersey Jackals in six games.

“So many emotions going through me right now but that was a team effort,” said Mike Fransoso. “The fight we have in this team and Junior one of the leaders coming up and hitting that home run that tied up the game. We have done it all year long giving ourselves a chance to win in the ninth and just fighting and clawing for each other. This team has its ups and downs as no other with the 11 game losing streak but going on a 11 game winning streak. I was just trying to get a pitch that I could elevate and get in the air deep.”

“There isn’t much you can say and an unreal series and reason why you have the last at bat,” Keefe said. “We had to do something unconventional and way Fischer threw the ball. These guys don’t give in and Junior has been here three years with me and had my back the whole time and put team on his back and said let’s go.”

Next up for the Boulders is a match-up with the Ottawa Champions who eliminated the Jackals in four games. The first two games will take place in Ottawa at RCGT Park starting on Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. before returning to Palisades Credit Union Park for game three on Thursday night at 7:00 p.m.

“It’s going to be a fun ride up there tomorrow and a lot of sleep for some but get up there and strap it on and no stopping these guys,” said Keefe. “The guys are confident, proud of themselves and it’s going to be what we can do and go up there and play our game and that all that matters. I can tell you if we have to play five games, good luck because we’re going to hit last here and do what we have to do.”

Sunil Sunder Raj

Sunil is the Rockland Boulders Beat Writer for DoubleGSports.com and also covers North Jersey High School Sports
Sunil Sunder Raj
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