PARIS — Don’t sleep on the champs. With two weeks to go in France’s D1 baseball playoffs, the Huskies of Rouen — winners of four straight league titles (2015-2018) — are closing in on yet another finals appearance.
Not only that, but they’re now within striking distance of finishing first in the playoff standings thanks to a pair of tough road wins Sunday coupled with a loss by the league leaders, the Templiers of Sénart.
Playing away for the second weekend in a row, the Huskies traveled to Montigny-le-Bretonneux to face the Cougars. In the opener, Rouen drew first blood, scoring a run in the second and two more in the third, when shortstop Maxime Lefevre connected for a homer down the right-field line.
The Cougars fought their way back, however, scoring two runs in the third and another in the fifth to the tie the game. For the next three innings, neither team scored, but in the ninth, Rouen’s first baseman, David Gauthier, knocked in Valentin Durier for what would prove to be the winning run. Final score: 4-3.
The host team played the defending champions tough in Sunday’s second game as well, but again lost by a single run (6-5). Rouen’s Yolmer Camacho of Venezuela picked up the win — his 11th of the season with no losses— and struck out 11, pushing his season total to a league-best 125.
The Huskies also got a boost from slugger Bastien “Balou” Dagneau, who hit a three-run homer (his 5th of the season) in the opening frame.
The Huskies are now 12-4 against playoff teams, just one game back from the Templiers (13-3). The rivals went head-to-head the previous weekend, splitting their two-game series, and will meet again on Aug. 3 and Aug. 4 — this time in Rouen — for the final weekend of the D1 playoffs.
The two powerhouse clubs also met in the final of the “Challenge de France,” an annual mid-season tournament held this year in Montpellier (May 9-12). Sénart won the game 7-5 to secure a berth in the Coupe d’Europe, a continent-wide competition featuring Europe’s top teams.
Canelón wins again
Rouen’s two wins on Sunday were bad news for the third-place Montpellier Barracudas, which came into the weekend riding a four-game winning streak and then won again (4-2) in their opener against the visiting Templiers.
The game featured another dominant performance by Kevin ‘The King’ Canelón, who pitched all nine innings, giving up just four hits and striking out eight. The Venezuelan ace is now 10-1 on the season with 119 strikeouts (tied for second in the D1) and a league-best 0.53 ERA.
Canelón’s countryman, third-baseman Andrés Martínez, came up big in the win also, going three-for-three with three RBIs. He now has 27 on the season, third in the league behind Sénart’s Felix Brown (30) and Rafael Jimenez (28) of Montigny-le-Bretonneux.
The Barracudas struggled in the second game despite a three-for-five performance by their speedy leadoff hitter, Paolo Brossier. The rest of the roster managed just four hits between them against Sénart’s Brendan Jenkins, a former University of San Francisco player from California who is now 11-2 on the season.
With the split, Montpellier holds on to third place in the playoff standings, but at 8-8 — and with just four games remaining in the playoffs — their chances of catching Rouen to earn a place in the finals are all but over.
Acuña ups his average
The two other playoff teams competing on Sunday — the Lions of Savigny-sur-Orge and La Rochelle Boucaniers — are officially out of the running for a place in this year’s finals. But between them, they feature three of the league’s best hitters: Ivan Acuña and Yeixon Ruiz of Savigny, and Jesse Baker of La Rochelle. All three are in the running for the D1 batting title.
The visiting Boucaniers won the opener 5-2 behind a strong pitching performance from Canadian Nick Kyrose, who gave up just three hits in nearly seven innings. The Lions flipped the script in the day’s second game, however, winning 5-3 on an impressive 13 hits.
Three of those hits came from Acuña, a Venezuelan who played university ball in the United States. Overall, the versatile infielder/catcher went four-for-eight on the day, pushing his average up to a league-leading .413 (among players with at least 90 at-bats).
Next on the list is Jesse Baker (.398), who went hitless on the day but did pick up an RBI and a couple of walks. Acuña’s teammate Yeixon Ruiz of the Dominican Republic is batting .391 after collecting two hits on the day. He now has 43 on the season, tied for first in the D1 with La Rochelle’s Baker, a former first-team All-American from Florida.
The top homerun hitter in the league is Rouen’s Junior Sosa, of Venezuela, with six. Fellow Husky “Balou” Dagneau is second on the list with five.
The six teams in the playoff phase will be in action again on Sunday, July 28, when La Rochelle hosts Rouen, Montigny welcomes Montpellier, and Sénart hosts the Savigny Lions. All of the meetings will be double-headers, with start times at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
By Benjamin Witte (firstname.lastname@example.org)