D1 Playoffs (Week 5): Huskies, Templiers Punch Their Finals Tickets

France’s reigning baseball champs continued their late-season surge on Sunday, beating the Boucaniers of La Rochelle twice to secure a spot in the D1 finals series, which begins Aug. 17.

Not only that, but the hungry Huskies of Rouen — winners of the past four league titles — moved into a two-way tie atop the playoff standings with their arch rivals, the Sénart Templiers, who clinched the D1’s other finals berth despite dropping the second game of a double-header against the Lions of Savigny-sur-Orge.

The two powerhouse clubs now have equal 14-4 records against playoff teams. It also so happens that the Huskies and Templiers face each other next Saturday and Sunday, in Rouen, for the final weekend of the league’s six-week playoff phase. The Saturday showdown (Aug. 3) begins at 5:30 p.m. The teams play again the next day at 11 a.m.

For now, momentum seems to be with the Huskies, which earned their second-straight road sweep by beating the Boucaniers 13-0 and 7-2 in La Rochelle.

In the opener, Rouen’s “Balou” Dagneau hit his sixth homerun of the season and scored three runs. Teammate Ariel Soriano of the Dominican Republic also had a big game at the plate, connecting for a homerun of his own as part of a three-for-six performance.

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Ariel Soriano of the Dominican Republic is all smiles this season.

Rouen’s bats cooled off quite a bit in the second game. La Rochelle pitcher Rayner Oliveros of Venezuela struck out eight and gave up just two runs in eight innings. But in the 10th, the Huskies pounced, taking advantage of some iffy defense by the Boucaniers to score five runs on three hits.

Finishing strong

Rouen’s impressive run over the past several weeks has been unwelcome news for the Montpellier Barracudas, who were officially eliminated from the championship hunt despite earning a pair of impressive road wins Sunday against the Cougars of Montigny-le-Bretonneux.

The opener featured another dominating performance by Montpellier’s star pitcher, Kevin ‘The King’ Canelón, who gave up just one run in eight innings while striking out six. With the win, the Venezuelan ace moves to 11-1 on the season with a league-best 0.49 ERA. Fellow Venezuelans Andrés Martínez and Larry Infante also contributed, each scoring a run in Montpellier’s 3-1 victory.

Martínez, the team’s third baseman and RBI leader, knocked in a pair of runs in the second game, bringing his season total to 29 — second in the league behind Sénart’s Felix Brown (31). His countryman, shortstop Infante, collected two hits to push his team-high batting average to .356.

The afternoon’s biggest swing, however, came from Montpellier’s Fabian Kovacs, who connected for his first homerun of the season. The Barracudas held on to win the game 6-5 despite giving up three runs in the ninth inning.

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Teenager Fabian Kovacs connected for a homerun on Sunday

The victories were the latest in what has been an impressive run for Montpellier, which was 3-5 against playoff teams coming into the postseason and fell even further behind in the standings after the opening weekend, when they dropped a pair to the Templiers. Since then, however, the Barracudas have been en fuego, winning seven of eight to secure a solid, two-game lead over Savigny for third place in the playoff standings.

Standing tall

Like Montpellier, the Savigny Lions also played with a real dose of pride on Sunday, losing their opener to Sénart, 3-8, but bouncing back to win the second half of the doubleheader 6-3.

American pitcher Joe Rivera picked up the win for the Templiers in the first game, striking out nine and giving up just two runs. He moves to 10-2 on the season. Carlos Belonis of the Dominican Republic, one of the league’s top batters, with a .383 batting average, helped the home team on the offensive side, going one-for-two with a triple and three RBIs.

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Carlos Belonis, a former Milwaukee Brewers recruit, is tied for the league lead in hits (44).

Belonis picked up a hit in the day’s second game as well, but it was one of just five for Sénart, which struggled at the plate against Savigny pitcher Evertz Orozco, the league’s only Nicaraguan player. Orozco gave up just two hits in six innings.

The Lions, in contrast, collected 12 hits, two of them from their star catcher, Ivan Acuña of Venezuela, who is now batting an impressive .402, first in the league among players with at least 100 at-bats.

Acuña’s teammate, first baseman Jacques Boucheron, is tied for second on the list with a .394 average after going four-for-eight on the day. Jonathan Montas, a Dominican outfielder with Nice Cavigal, is also batting .394.

By Benjamin Witte (benjawitte@gmail.com)

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