MONTPELLIER — Thanks to a late-season surge, the defending champion Huskies are well positioned to claim yet another D1 title, especially since the deciding games of the French baseball finals will take place on their home field, in Rouen.
But first they’ll have to test their mettle in Sénart, where the league’s other powerhouse club — the Templiers — host the first two games of the five-game, D1 championship series. Game 1 begins Saturday night at 8 p.m. The teams meet again the following day, Aug. 18, starting at noon.
As a team, the Huskies boast the league’s best batting average (.291). They can also hit for power. Outfielder Bastien ‘Balou’ Dagneau (.340) was the D1’s home run king this year with seven, while his teammate Junior Sosa (.360) of Venezuela hit six.
Dominican infielder Ariel Soriano is another force to be reckoned with at the plate. He hit .355 on the season with 44 hits while striking out just eight times.
Rouen led the league in pitching too, thanks in large part to another Venezuelan standout, Yoimer Camacho, who went 13-0 with a lights-out 0.75 ERA and 138 strikeouts. Only Montpellier’s Kevin Canelon (11-1), also from Venezuela, had a better ERA (0.49).
Still, the Huskies have their work cut out for them against the Templiers, who went 9-3 in the playoffs. The two teams split their four post-season meetings, and earlier in the year, Sénart beat Rouen in the final of the mid-season “Challenge de France” tournament, held in Montpellier between May 9-12.
The two championship contenders met most recently on the final weekend (Aug. 3/4) of the six-week playoff phase. Sénart dropped the opener 7-1 but won the second game 4-1 thanks to a combined pitching effort by their dynamic American duo of Joe Rivera and Brendan Jenkins. Rivera was 10-2 on the year with a 0.85 ERA. Jenkins, a California native, went 13-2 with an ERA of 1.68.
The Templiers have some dangerous bats as well. Carlos Belonis, a former Milwaukee Brewers prospect, hit a more than respectable .366 on the season. He also collected 25 RBIs, led the league in triples, with six, and finished second (tied with La Rochelle’s Jesse Baker) in total hits (45).
Sénart’s Daniel Jackson, a former Long Beach State star, had an impressive first season in the D1 in his own right, batting .341 with 42 hits, 25 RBIs and a league leading 36 runs scored. The roster also features the D1’s RBI leader, Felix Brown, who finished with 31 to go along with 34 runs scored and four triples.
Just behind Brown on the RBI list is Rouen’s Dagneau, who drove in 30 runs. Ivan Acuña of the Savigny Lions — the D1 batting champion (.409) among player with at least 100 at bats — also collected 30 RBIs on the season, as did Rafael Jimenez of the Montigny Cougars and Montpellier’s Andrés Martínez.
Winners of the past four D1 championships, the Huskies have history — and home field advantage — on their side. Games 3, 4 and 5 of the series will take place in Rouen, starting Saturday Aug. 23, at 3 p.m.
But the Templiers may have a slight depth advantage on the pitching end, and as they’ve proven all season long, they can score in bunches. The 2019 D1 title is very much up for grabs, in other words. Let the games begin!