Enjoying a rare day off after taking three out of four games against the Ottawa Champions, the Rockland Boulders returned to the diamond at Palisades Credit Union Park. They returned taking on the Cuban National Team, who last season swept a three-game series.
Scoreless through the first three innings in game one, Joe Maloney kept rolling. Slugging his 14th home run of the season. The lead would be short lived as Cuban scored four times off starter Justin Topa in the fifth. The Boulders responded in the sixth with two runs including Jon Smith bashing his 8th homer of the year.
In the ninth, Rockland had an opportunity to tie the game up with runners on first and second with two outs but Maloney popped up to end the game. Topa (6-1) sustained his first loss of the season despite tossing eight 1/3 innings, walking one and striking out five.
“A good baseball game, one bad inning for Topa and besides that absolutely dominant,” said Manager Jamie Keefe. “He pitched really well. We have to do the small things like getting bunts down, [that] makes it a different ball game. We did not perform and just one shy of what we needed.”
“One thing I can say up this point of the season is 38 games in and every single game we have had an opportunity to tie or win the ball game. Joe [Maloney] struggled early on putting up power numbers and not a streaky hitter but more of a good hitter. [He’s] been hot lately.”
Game two of the series featured a pitcher’s duel between the teams. Rockland Boulder starter Markus Solbach coming into the contest undefeated at 5-0 and Cuban pitcher Ulfrido Garcia.
Tied at 1-1 in the fourth, Maloney put the Boulders back on top with his league leading 49th RBI on a sac fly. Solbach wiggled out of several jams early on and retired 10 hitters at one point. With the bases loaded and one in the seventh, Alex Herceg cleared the bases ripping a double. When right fielder Yoelkis Cespedes’ throw got past catcher Yosvani Aalarcon, allowing Arron to cross home plate.
In the eighth, Rockland would break the game wide open scoring six more times including a three-run homer off the bat of Dylan Tice (3 for 4, 4 RBI’s, 2 runs scored). Solbach hurled seven innings allowing just one run on eight hits while walking one and fanning four to remain unbeaten.
“A very exciting game. We stuck with our game plan, that was to hit the fastball,” Keefe said. “We have a lot of guys with the ability and swinging it right now and come to fruition. A good bunch of guys and Markus threw the ball fantastic. We were able to run and advance on the bases. That was huge.”
In the rubber match of the series, Cuba jumped out to the quick 1-0 lead in the first inning. That was no problem for the Boulders going to their bread and butter: the long ball. Hitting the cover off the ball, Maloney went deep for a second time in the series swatting a majestic 3-run into the right center bleachers. Maloney’s Can-Am League fifteen of the season and tallying his 52nd RBI good for first a league first in that category.
After getting roughed up in the last start against Ottawa, CJ Riefenhouser bounced back going five innings yielding just one run on three hits. At one point Riefenhouser retired 13 of 14 hitters.
Making his Rockland Boulders debut, reliever Michael O’Neal encountered some rough patches as Cuba tagged O’Neal for two runs in the sixth. Leading 5-3 in the seventh, right fielder Mike Montville provided a key insurance with two-out pop up single down the right field line scoring Jon Smith from second base. Once again Cuba refused to go away quietly scoring twice off Matt Kostalos in the eighth. However, Kostalos managed to retire Yeniet Perez on a grounder to third.
Bizarre Ninth Inning
That would set the stage for a bizarre sequence of events in the ninth. New Boulders closer Jon Velasquez retired the first hitter of the inning only to surrender a single to Cespedes. On a ground ball hit by Victor Mesa to Mike Fransoso at short, Fransoso tossed the ball to Tice at second. Tice attempted to throw to Maloney at first as Cespedes bumped into Tice with the ball popping out.
Initially the umpires ruled Cespedes safe at second base. Keefe came running out of the dugout to challenge the call. The umpires conferred thereafter and ultimately reversed the call, setting off a wild melee. The entire Cuban coaching staff came out on to field kicking, bumping and throwing dirt on the umpires. With the scene so chaotic, the umpires called the game. Rockland (30-10) held a 6-5 advantage and one out.
“We cleaned it up and had some really good things happen,” said Keefe. “At the end of the day, we walk out with a win. There is no such thing as an ugly win, I said it a 1,000 times. [We were] able to close it out.”
Next up for the Boulders is a quick three-game road trip up to Canada against Trois-Rivieres before returning to Palisades Credit Union Park on Monday to take on the New Jersey Jackals.
“We can’t worry about New Jersey,” said Keefe. “[We] have to take care if business up in Canada and take two out of three. One game at a time and can’t get ahead of ourselves. We’re playing very good baseball. Sticking to the grindstone and who we are now.”
“We have some work to do [to] get better and be able to put bunts down. That time of the year, 40 games in and do the small things that we have not had to do all year because we have hit doubles. Now we’re at the point teams and they are learning how to pitch to us. If we do it, it will be much tougher to play us.”