D1 Playoffs: Montpellier Wins A Pair; Rouen And Sénart Roll

Winning in style (B. Witte)

MONTPELLIER — After taking a week off, the six top teams in France’s D1 baseball league were back in action Sunday for the second date of the playoff phase.

In Montpellier, temperatures were already soaring when the home team Barracudas and visiting Cougars of Montigny-le-Bretonneux took the field for the first of their two-game encounter. It soon became apparent that the competition would be heated too.

Both teams came into the day having dropped their first two post-season games. And with identical 3-7 records against playoff teams, neither could afford to lose.

As it turned out, it would take more than eight innings for either team to even give up a run, thanks to sizzling pitching performances by their respective aces: Montpellier’s Kevin Canelón and Montigny’s Yorfrank López, both from Venezuela.

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Canelón (right) pushed his season strikeout total to 99.

Canelón gave up seven hits and struck out eight in a complete-game, bringing his season strikeout total to just shy of the century mark (99), second in the league behind Rouen’s Yoimer Camacho (104). López pitched masterfully as well, giving up just five hits and striking out nine.

One of those hits, though, came with two outs in the ninth inning: an RBI double by Montpellier’s Fabi Kovacs that gave the Barracudas a thrilling, 1-0 walk-off victory.

The home team seemed to ride that momentum into the afternoon’s second game, scoring in each of the first three innings, thanks in part to some timely hitting by second baseman Mathis Guiraud, who went 3-3 in the game, with three runs scored. But in the sixth, the Cougars stormed back, scoring three runs to take a 4-3 lead.

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Montpellier catcher Fabi Kovacs was the hero of the opener with his walk-off RBI double

The Barracudas brushed off the blow and tied the score in the next frame, on an RBI single by their star shortstop, Larry Infante. Overall, the veteran Venezuelan went 3-6 on the day, bringing his season batting average up to .398, fifth in the league for hitters with at least 70 at-bats.

Montpellier scored two more runs in the eighth thanks to a monster double by first baseman Maël Zan, who had four RBIs on the day. But to hold on the lead, the Barracudas needed some solid relief pitching by their third baseman and RBI leader, Andrés Martínez.

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The birthday boy! Martínez picked up his third win of the season as a pitcher.

The Venezuelan infielder was 2-2 in the game before taking the mound for the final 1 and 2/3 innings. He walked two and gave up a heart-stopping run in the ninth, but got enough outs in the end to secure the victory — and on his 24thbirthday, no less!

Feliz cumpleaños Andrés.

The standings

With the two wins over Montigny-le-Bretonneux (1-0 and 6-5), Montpellier moves to fourth place in the six-team post-season standings with a 5-7 record against fellow playoff teams. The top two teams after the playoff phase will go to the D1 championship, a five-game series beginning Aug. 17.

The question now is whether Sunday’s heroics will be too little too late for the Barracudas considering the distance that the league’s top two teams — the first-place Templiers of Sénart and defending champion Huskies of Rouen — have already put between themselves and the rest of the pack.

Road warriors

The Templiers are now a convincing 11-1 against playoff teams after cruising to a pair of victories Sunday against the home team Lions of Savigny-sur-Orge.

The visitors won the first half of the double-header 12-0. Pitcher Joe Rivera of the United States moved to 9-0 after pitching six scoreless innings with four strikeouts.

His countryman, catcher Daniel Jackson, went 2-4 in the game with three RBIs and is now the league leader in batting average (.422) among players with at least 70 at-bats. Third baseman Felix Brown (France) and right fielder Carlos Belonis (the Dominican Republic) also had three-RBIs apiece.

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The second game was more competitive, but still went the way of Sénart, which won 3-1. The team’s other American ace, Brendan Jenkins, gave up just one run and struck out six, pushing his record to 10-1. Belonis continued his hot hitting with three singles — he went a combined 6-7 on the day — and Brown picked up a hit in the second game as well.

Keeping pace

In Rouen, the hometown Huskies — winners of 13 of the past 14 league championships — also enjoyed a two-victory afternoon, blanking the visiting Boucaniers of La Rochelle 10-0 and 4-0. Rouen moves to 9-3 in the playoff standings, two games behind Sénart but three ahead of Savigny-sur-Orge and four ahead of Monptellier.

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Huskies ace Yolmer Camacho struck out seven in the first game and gave up just four hits. Fellow Venezuelan Junior Sosa went 2-4 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs. David Gautheir also had a two-hit, two-RBI day for the home team.

In the second game, Rouen’s Ely Izturriaga (also from Venezuela) had a heck of a day on the mound as well, fanning seven in nearly eight hitless innings. The team’s star shortstop, Ariel Soriano of the Dominican Republic, went 2-4 with an RBI, as did Louis Brainville, a French player.

A look ahead

The D1 playoffs will pick up again next weekend, July 13/14, with games in Sénart, La Rochelle and Savigny-sur-Orge.

All eyes will be on Sénart, where the Templiers will be hosting the Huskies — their biggest rivals and likely finals opponent — for a prime-time showdown on Saturday night, starting at 8 p.m. The teams play again on Sunday starting at 11 a.m.

The struggling Boucaniers of La Rochelle, just 2-10 now against playoff teams, will host the Montpellier Barracudas for a Sunday double-header (start times at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.)

And in Savigny-sur-Orge, both the home team Lions and visiting Cougars of Montigny-le-Bretonneux will be looking to bounce back Sunday (start times at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.) from the previous weekend’s disappointing losses.

To keep track of D1 results, statistics, rosters and more, visit the website of the FFBS (Fédération Française de Baseball & Softball).

By Benjamin Witte (benjawitte@gmail.com)

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