Boulders Drop 3 of 4 Against Sussex County
Yes, the Rockland Boulders dropped three out of four games and were swept in a doubleheader on Tuesday against the Sussex County Miners at Skylands Stadium. But manager Jamie Keefe said the team has no other choice but to put the series behind and get through it.
“The dog days have been with us for the entire month of August, not kidding around, we have to find a way to stay together,” said Keefe. “Sure, I would like to have ten more wins, but every manager in the league would like that right now. We’re scratching, clawing, kicking, biting, spitting and doing whatever we can to win a game.”
A starting pitching staff and now bullpen that has been decimated by injuries grew even worse with the news that Travis Hissong is done for the season with an elbow injury. Compounding that fact, Brian Ernst’s status is up in the air and Tommy Lawrence landed on the disabled list. Despite the grim news, Rockland still managed to get solid performances on the mound from Brad Schaenzer and Frank Moscatiello in the twin bill. After yielding a two-run homer in Game 1, Schaenzer retired 14 in a row at one point.
However, the Boulders offense could not capitalize on plenty of scoring opportunities, leaving a total of 14 runners on base. Making his professional debut on Wednesday night, Chris Pennell looked sharp early on through four innings on the mound. The offense provided early run support, as Marcus Nidiffer crushed a three-run homer in the fifth. In the bottom half of the frame, Sussex County roared back scoring six times off Tommy Lawrence. The wall caved in the sixth, as the Miners scored a run on a successful double steal with runners on the corner.
Nick Sarianides did his best in relief tossing 3 2/3 innings, yielding two runs, one of them earned and working out of a jam in the eighth with runners at first and second. Facing the prospect of dropping their third in a row, Reggie Wilson provided a much needed spark, clobbering a solo shot over the right center wall.
Conrad Gregor kept the game going with two outs, belting a single to center and Kevin Krause followed with a single. That set the stage for Nidiffer, slugging his second long ball of the night and 21st of the year deep over the left field wall. Just when the lead seemed safe, closer Kyle Hansen backed himself into a corner, loading the bases in the bottom ninth. Hansen composed himself and managed to strike out the side for his 15th save, capping off the remarkable comeback win.
“A heartfelt win, not only backs against the wall but gave in for a couple of innings,” Keefe said. “Chris Pennell went out and threw a gem. He threw well enough to stick around to get a win. When you throw strike one, it’s amazing what can happen. His fastball was around 84 or 85 but had some life on it and kept them off balance but just ran out of gas.
“We cruise off into the sunset with a 4-0 lead, they come back and punch us in the face in the sixth getting six and people misplayed balls. You’re either going to fight your way out of it or lay down. We put the foot on the gas pedal when we needed to and left it up to The Big Lion (Marcus Nidiffer) to put the boys on his back tonight and huge for us.
“Reggie Wilson, a little guy who can get out of the box and a couple of defensive plays. He made catches that are not made if he is not here and that ball he hit in the ninth, he just didn’t hit, an absolute tank to right center and probably biggest gap in the league and a bomb and fired the guys up and [was the] spark that lit the fuse.
“The MVP of the game is Marcus (Nidiffer) with two home runs and six RBI’s, but Nick Sarianides to go out with one unearned and just a great performance on his behalf and keeps us within striking distance. Kyle (Hansen) loads up the bases with none out and strikes out the side, more than impressive and kicked himself in the ass tonight. We had a situation where he needed to pitch and get himself out of a situation and he did. Sitting at 88 to 91 and then with the bases loaded, 91 to 93-or-94 and that’s the difference and blows them away with the cutter.”
The pitching situation became so desperate that the Boulders did not have starter for Thursday’s game.
“He didn’t know until noon time he was throwing and called him at 12:20 and he drove three and half hours from Westchester, Pennsylvania,” said Keefe on finding Josh McClain at the last minute.
McClain did more than anybody could have expected in his first professional league appearance on the mound, dominating for the first 4 2/3 innings by retiring the first 14 hitters in a row before yielding a two-out single to Martin Figueroa in the fifth and throwing only 33 pitches through four.
“Unreal, put a lot of smiles on our faces and we needed something like that,” said Keefe. “He was just calm and relaxed as I have ever seen any rookie in my life and went out and threw strikes.”
Once again, Rockland’s offense struggled, missing out on scoring opportunities in the first with runners at first and second and loading up the bases in the sixth. In the bottom half of the frame, the Miners broke the stalemate on a Mikey Reynolds bases loaded two-run double. Sussex County tacked on two more runs after Nick Kennedy entered the game. Down 4-2 in the ninth after Conrad Gregor drove in run with a single, Miners closer Martire Garcia struck out Kevin Krause to end the game.
The Boulders (47-44) return to Palisades Credit Union Park for a three-game series against the New Jersey Jackals (44-47). Currently, Rockland is ahead of fourth place Trois-Rivieres by one game and three games up on the Jackals in the standings.
“A huge series for us, take two out of three and put ourselves in a good spot,” Keefe said. “It’s playoff weekend for us and if we don’t play well going to be behind the 8-ball on the road for the next eight. We have to go out and play our game and swing the bats better than we have.”
Sunil Sunder Raj
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