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Sunil Sunder Raj

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Boulders fall to Sussex County 6-3 in 2019 regular season opener

With the Rockland Boulders opening up against the Sussex County Miners for a fourth consecutive season, Thursday night would feature a different vibe at Palisades Credit Union Park for both teams. The Miners, winning their first Can-Am League Championship last season while the Boulders undergoing wholesale changes in regards to their manager and roster. Kevin Baez taking over for Jamie Keefe who departed after six seasons while only two players returning from last year’s team.

“What an exciting ball park, came from the (Long Island) Ducks where we had fireworks and 7,000 fans but this stadium is really nice and fans were great and supportive,” said Baez.

In front of an announced crowd of 3,256, Sussex County wasted no time jumping out to an early lead as Miners shortstop Jarred Mederos belted a solo shot into the Short Porch area in right field in the first inning. Rockland starter Tommy Shirley managed to settle down fanning DK Carey.

With two outs in the bottom half of the frame, the Boulders bats caught fire with third baseman Matt Oberste cranking a solo blast into the Short Porch. Collin Ferguson decided to join in the home run derby finding the Short Porch as well socking a no doubter.

“That was nice to get us on the board after they just scored on a first inning home run,” Kevin Baez said.

Collin Ferguson on his go-ahead home run, “Anytime you can answer back to a first inning run is big because it’s a momentum game and being able to go back-to-back is always a good thing. For me personally to give the team the lead is huge and I want to stay within myself, approaches and swing at good pitches. Opening night is always special and wearing the uniform for the first time. The off-season is a long one and to finally play in front of people is a good time.”

“We have a good group of guys in the clubhouse and Kevin (Baez) has been awesome leading us so far. Very excited because we have a really good athletic team especially on the mound and we can make a run this year if we hit our stride at the right time.”

Just when you thought the power surge was done for the night, Sussex County DH Nick Zaharion socked a two-run missile into the left bleachers off Shirley in the following inning. Shirley ended up going five innings, yielding four runs on seven hits, striking out three and walking one.

Collecting three hits in the first inning, the Boulders offense was shut down the rest of the way by Miners starting pitcher Cory Jones and relief pitchers. Sussex County managed to tack on a pair of runs due to a couple of miscues committed by Rockland. Despite trailing 5-2 in the seventh, the Boulders caught a much needed break with runners on the corner and two outs with DH Blake Grant-Parks hitting a ground ball that scooted under the glove of Mederos into left center as Ferguson came across to score.

After pinch runner Mitch Piatnik swiped second base placing runners at second and third with two outs, Miners relief pitch Jose Jose ended Rockland’s best chance at tying up the contest striking out Ryne Birk. In the ninth inning Ryan Newell set Rockland down in order as the Miners came out on top 6-3.

“What hurt was the two out home run, we battled back but their pitcher Jones settled down and kept us off balance,” Baez said. “We couldn’t put anything and had a chance with first and second none out in the seventh but they brought in a pitcher and shut the door on us. Tommy (Shirley) made a couple of mistakes but other that he competed and threw the ball well. He had a quick fifth inning and let him go out for the sixth and got into trouble but (Nick) Kennedy did an unbelievable job and kept us in the game and all you could ask for from the bullpen.”

“A little sloppy on the first day, some jitters and four errors are not going to cut it. Off the bench Piatnik can fly and did his job stealing second. Obviously when you don’t win it’s tough but my message to the guys is be aggressive but smart. Looking up and down the lineup we have a lot of righties and lefties, guys who can put the ball in play, some speed and power.”

On Friday night, the series switches back to Skylands Stadium in Augusta, New Jersey with first pitch set for 7:00 p.m.

Sunil Sunder Raj

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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