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Sunil Sunder Raj

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Boulders offense struggles in series loss against Shikoku Island

Coming off of two consecutive series losses against Trois-Rivieres and New Jersey, the Rockland Boulders were looking to reverse that trend, opening up International Series play vs. Shikoku Island at Palisades Credit Union Park. After a Can-Am League mandatory day off on Monday, Rockland enjoyed a second straight day due to rain that forced both teams to play a doubleheader on Wednesday afternoon.

The Boulders wasted no time jumping out to an early lead, scoring four times off Shikoku Island starter Michihara Junya. Collin Ferguson got it started with an RBI single followed by a fielder’s choice from Matt Oberste. Adam Ehrlich capped off the inning with a two-run double. Rockland starter Tommy Shirley sparkled in five and one-third innings on the mound, yielding just one run on six hits, walking none and striking out three.

Returning to the lineup after landing on the disabled list, Grant Heyman provided some pop, swatting his third home run of the season into the right-field bleachers in the fifth inning. Taking over the pitching duties with runners at first and second and one out in the sixth, Tim Ponto registered back-to-back strikeouts to escape the jam. In the seventh, Ponto faced a similar situation with runners at first and second but managed to record the last two outs as. Shirley notched his first win of the season and the Boulders snapped a two-game losing streak.

Manager Kevin Baez on the victory, “We didn’t know this team, and they have pesky hitters, decent arms and play for the most pretty defense. I told the guys you have to come out and ready to play or else and don’t take this team lightly. We had not swung the bats and faced live pitching in a couple of days so it was nice to see. Tommy pitched well and I didn’t want to tax him too much. Grant responded big in his first day back in our lineup. It is good to have him come back. Hitting wise, Adam has been outstanding. He calls a great game and guys like throwing to him. Timmy comes in with runners at first and second with one out and gets a strikeout and another one that minimizes the damage. He went back in the seventh and got in a little trouble, but found a way to get out of it”

In game 2 of the doubleheader, Rockland starter Reinaldo Lopez and Shikoku Island starter Shoada Itsuki were locked in a pitchers duel for five shutout innings, allowing just five hits between both of them. The Boulders had a terrific scoring opportunity in the third inning with runners at first and second but could not cash in.

With the game going to extra innings, the International Rules kicked in with the last runner making the last out the previous inning. After Chase Harris reached on an infield single Ryne Birk broke the stalemate, poking a single past the third baseman and down the left field line.

Loading up the bases with none out, Rockland wasted a prime chance at breaking the game wide open. Reliever Shinohe Hiroaki struck out back-to-back hitters and finished off the inning getting Adam Ehrlich to fly out to center field.

In the bottom half of the frame, Senoo Katsuya started out at second base. Kawabata Koki quickly tied up the contest, smoking a single back up the middle into center field off Landon Holifield as Katsuya came into score easily after advancing to third base on a wild pitch. It would not far any better as Holifield gave up an infield single and hit a batter. With the bases loaded, Okamura Mizuki ended the game with a single into right field.

“We couldn’t get any offense going and they had the bases loaded. They got a hit and we didn’t even have a productive out,” said Kevin Baez. “It was a game you are supposed to win, but give credit to them in making plays they had to make. At the end of the day, they should not be beating us.”

In the series finale, Mother Nature played a role as heavy rains delayed the start of the game over two hours. Shikoku Island tagged Boulders starter JD Busfield for three runs in the first inning. It would only get worse as Busfield permitted six runs, four of them earned and was pelted with 13 hits in five+.

Shikoku Island starter Ishii Daichi stymied the Rockland offense, tossing six and one third shutout innings, allowing five hits, walking three and fanning seven. The Boulders averted posting a zero on the scoreboard, tallying two runs in the seventh. That would be as close as they would get, falling 7-2. Zach Jemiola made his Rockland debut in the ninth inning, surrendering one run on three hits, walking one and fanning two.

“Their pitcher really pitched well against us with his fastball, change-up and a good curveball that kept us off balance,” Kevin Baez said. “Anytime we got something going he shut us down. Sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due. We are not hitting as we are capable of doing. Busfield did not seem that he had it, he fell behind and they were hitting him. (Josh) Turner came in and shut it down. Zach came in, I had not seen him pitch live before. He definitely has a great arm, throwing in low 90’s. Zach has good off-speed stuff but we are going to build him up and put him in the rotation”

Sporting a 16-14 record, the Boulders are tied with the same identical record as the New Jersey Jackals for second place in the Can-Am League. This weekend, the task doesn’t get easier as they take on the first place Sussex County Miners (18-10) at Skylands Stadium in Augusta, New Jersey.

“We have to play a first game that is a continuation, they have a man on first with one out and 1-2 count and Ponto will be pitching for us,” said Baez. “With a couple of guys no longer on both sides, we have to make adjustments and certain guys who pitched in that game can’t pitch”

“Playing up and down, the only team playing well across the league is Sussex and we just need to find our niche. Moving forward, this is a big weekend series. We need to put these two games behind us and hopefully make up some ground”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

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