After salvaging the final game of a three-game set that lasted nearly four hours to break a five-game losing streak against the Quebec Capitales, the Rockland Boulders returned to Palisades Credit Union Park tied with Quebec for first place in the Can-Am league. They then took on the Ottawa Champions in a four-game series.
Rockland looked to keep the momentum going against the Champions who they had already taken 11 out of 14 games this season. The injury bug hit once again as All-Star third baseman Cody Regis and newcomer Nick Sarianides were shelved on the disabled list with oblique injuries.
Ottawa jumped out to an early 2-1 lead after the second inning. The heavens opened up shortly thereafter, forcing a 32-minute rain delay that fueled the Boulders. In the bottom of the fourth, Daniel Arribas drove in his second run of the game with a fielder’s choice and Mikael Mogues put Rockland ahead with another fielder’s choice.
However, Ottawa responded in the sixth on back-to-back RBI doubles from Tyson Gillies and Daniel Bick. The back and forth action would continue in the seventh with Joe Maloney belting his league leading 23rd home run, a two-run shot into the Short Porch area in right field.
One out away from victory in the ninth and Champions third baseman Gustavo Pierre at first base, Ryan Brockett’s hit a shallow pop up to Maloney in left field but remarkably the ball popped out of Maloney’s glove as Pierre raced around the bases coming into score.
Searching for the walk-off win in the 9th and runners at first & second with one out, Marcus Nidiffer grounded into a inning-ending double play. Mogues sent the remaining fans home happy in the tenth, smashing a towering two-run walk off home run onto the concourse in right field.
“What a blast by Mikael and this kid is going to be some kind of hitter,” said Manager Jamie Keefe. “His numbers don’t show but will. We just need to have patience with him.”
Game two of the series featured a pitcher’s duel between Rockland starter Justin Topa and Ottawa starter Yean Carlos Gil. In the fifth the Champions would catch a break on a fly ball hit by Alex Venditti fly ball to left field as Aaron Wilson would end up losing the ball in the lights putting runners at second and third and one out. A ground out by Tyler Nordgren plated Matt Helms breaking the deadlock.
Ottawa extended the advantage to 2-0 in the seventh on a RBI double by Helms. Gil dominated the first six innings fanning eight but departed afterwards, Rockland faced a new pitcher in Adam Eggnatz and immediately cashed in on the opportunity. Loading up bases behind a Jared McDonald lead off double, Daniel Arribas hit by a pitch and Alex Herceg drawing a walk, making his home debut after being on the disabled list since July 11, Mike Fransoso fly ball to center scored McDonald.
A pivotal moment occurred next with Dylan Tice shattering his bat on a ground ball as Tice reached on the infield single, Arribas sprinted around the bases from second sliding safely headfirst at home plate. Next up, Maloney would draw a free pass loading up the bases for a second time in the inning. Nidiffer stepped up with Eggnatz nowhere near the strike zone walked Nidiffer forced in the run as Herceg crossed home plate.
Topa left after seven innings allowing two runs on eight hits while striking out three. Thomas Lawrence entered a bases loaded situation with two outs in the eighth and retired Helms on a ground out to first. Lawrence closed it out with a spotless ninth as Topa earned his league-leading 11th victory and Lawrence registered his second save of the year.
“Another grinder and every inning is a battle right now and Justin was absolutely awesome tonight,” Keefe said. “His velocity is around 94-95 instead of 91-92 and making all the difference in the world right now. We did the small things today and got a bunt down and last couple of days. We put in the extra work into bunts in pre-game. Nobody is trying to be a hero and over swing and huge.”
In game three of the series, Rockland came blazing out of the gate in the first inning tallying four runs off Ottawa starter Raydel Sanchez including Jared McDonald (4th) slugging a two-run homer into the Short Porch in right field. The runs kept on pouring in the following inning with Joe Maloney finding the same area blasting a grand slam and second long ball of the series. Nidiffer (7th) got into the home run act bashing a missile into the left field bleachers.
Meanwhile, starter Markus Solbach (7-3) was brilliant on the hill tossing seven innings yielding three runs on nine hits while striking out four and walking one for his seventh win of the season. In the fourth, Mike Fransoso and Mike Montville joined the home run derby with Fransoso leading off with a laser on to the concourse in right field and Montville (2 for 3, 5 RBI, 4 runs scored) hammering his 10th of the season, a two-run shot into the favorite area of the night the Short Porch.
The wheels would come off the bus in the seventh with Rockland drawing seven walks off Champions relief pitcher Chris Motta, leading to a 6-run inning and total of 14 walks in the game. Not done in the eighth, the Boulders tacked on four runs as the 23 runs scored in the contest a season-high and franchise total.
“From start to finish we didn’t give a bat away and we have not had a big night in a long time and breathe of fresh air,” said Keefe. “We’re a fastball hitting team and the ball carries in this ballpark and we didn’t miss much. The two out walks with the bases loaded you don’t see every day and eight RBI off walks and to be that patient and foul pitches and get yourself into that situation and grind at bats.”
“Guys have been able to trust themselves and stick to a plan and I was able to execute for the most part” said Mike Montville. “Guys were looking for a certain pitch and got it”
In the rubber match, Steve Brown quickly put Ottawa on top clubbing a two-run shot off Rockland starter Bo Budkevics in the first inning. The Boulders wasted no time responding as Mikael Mogues RBI single in the second trimmed the deficit. With runners on first and second, Mike Fransoso belted a single into right field, Mogues would come into score and when the throw from Brown in right field to home plate got away allowing Aaron Wilson to score.
After allowing the early runs, Budkevics (6-2) settled in hurling five shutout innings permitting two runs on four hits while striking out two and walking one registering his sixth win of the season. Joe Maloney hit the trifecta for the series launching his 25th home run into the Short Porch in the third inning. Leading 5-3 in the seventh, Fransoso stuck the dagger smashing his second long ball in two games and 4th of the season onto the concourse in right field and finishing up last two games 4 for 8 with two home runs and five runs driven in. The Boulders pushed their home run season total to 89 on the year, nine away from equaling the 2016 mark.
“Just trying to put together good at bats and working on a few things and carry over that into the game,” Fransoso said. “Putting good swings on it and help the guys behind me. One through nine everyone is doing their job right now and passing the baton to the guy behind them.”
“We’re at crunch time right now and bunch of teams trying to compete for the top spot right now and trying to play our best baseball right now and roll into last month playing well. Nice to put the home uniform on again and get on our home field and felt good to be out there.”
“After the first, Bo (Budkevics) settled right in and threw the pitches where he needed to and spotted up with his fastball,” Keefe said. “Everybody through the lineup swung the bat well and Fransoso with big home run to lock it up and Joe (Maloney) with another bomb. Joe is having a pretty good year and we need to ride him and fun to watch all year and average keeps on climbing.”
Maloney earned his first Can-Am League Pointstreak Player of the Week honors since 2015 going 10 for 24 (.417) with four home runs, four doubles and nine RBI. Hitting .304 on the season, leads the league with 25 home runs and 78 RBI.
In sole possession of first place, the Boulders (48-25) hit the road for a mini two-game series at Sussex County (35-36) starting on Tuesday night at Skylands Stadium. Before dropping their last three games, the Miners had won seven in a row.
“A big series up there and they are playing as well we are at .700 baseball,” said Keefe. “Every game is going to be a grind right now and three players down and it’s next guy up right now. Now we have guys stepping up and getting big hits when we need from top to bottom.”