Temperatures across France may have cooled somewhat since the French Summer League (FSL) kicked off a couple weeks ago amid a nation-wide canicule, but four teams in particular remain red-hot and have already separated themselves very much from the rest of the pack.
The mixed-level, mini season that was organized as a replacement of sorts for this year’s D1 (first-division) and D2 (second-division) campaigns is a welcome development for players and fans who are finally enjoying a taste of live-action baseball after the long coronavirus-induced hiatus. It’s fun too, and certainly something new and different.
But one thing the 11-team FSL is not is balanced, and after just two weekends of play, the leaders in the tournament’s four regional pools — Paris PUC, Stade Toulousain, Nice Cavigal and the La Rochelle Boucaniers — have already secured their places in a one-day playoff round that’ll take place Sept. 19 in Sénart, south of Paris. Two of those teams will play the following day for the FSL title.
How the four clubs will stack up against each other is difficult to predict at this point, in large part because the format of the FSL means that until then, they’ll only have competed against teams within their pool. One of the regional groupings has just two teams (Nice and the Meyzieu Cards). The others have three teams a piece.
What is clear is that in their respective pools, Paris PUC, Stade Toulousain, Nice Cavigal and La Rochelle — all of which had planned to participate in the D1 this year— are without a doubt the cream of the crop. All four teams went undefeated on the opening weekend of FSL action, on Aug. 8/9, and when play resumed this past weekend (Aug. 22/23), they continued to dominate.
Scoring in droves
Playing at home, the La Rochelle Boucaniers put on quite a show, pounding the Hawks of La Guerche de Bretagne 10-0 on Saturday before serving up another offensive onslaught on Sunday, with a 15-6 beatdown of the Breal-Sous-Montfort Black Panthers.
The only D1-level team in the pool, the Bouncaniers are now 4-0 and have outscored their opponents by a combined run total of 49-to-7. Led by player/manager Forrest Crawford, a Washington State native who is finally healthy after suffering an ACL injury last year, La Rochelle boasts a team batting average of .366.
Crawford himself is batting .600, with a homerun and 8 RBIs. Teammates Maxence Esteben and Jesse Baker are hitting .625 and .571 respectively, and Cyrian Pigoury has a cool .500 average with 8 RBIs of his own.
The Boucaniers have also had solid contributions from pitchers Pablo Ossandon and Nicolas Antoine. Neither has given up a run, and both have 8 strikeouts a piece — in seven and five innings of work respectively.
Shutting down the opposition
Further south, Stade Toulousain has been equally impressive — on both offense and defense. The club is also 4-0 now after hammering both the St-Aubin-De-Medoc Blue Jays (11-1) and Eysines Raiders (12-0) on Sunday.
Like La Rochelle, Stade Toulousain has taken advantage of its lower-level opponents (St-Aubin-De-Medoc and Eysines normally play in the D2) to score more than 40 runs overall. The team has been even more dominant on the pitching end, allowing just a single run in four games.
Pitcher Franklin de la Rosa, who played last season for Grosseto in Italy’s Serie A2 league, is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 14 strikeouts, and teammate Euri García has also impressed on the mound, giving up just one walk and zero runs in eight innings pitched.
On the offensive end, Toulouse boasts the competition’s best team average (.431) and, like La Rochelle, has four players batting .500 or better. Yosinel Rodriguez is tied for tops in the league with a ridiculous .667 average, and Lucas Collet, Luís Delogu and Sergio Mendoza are hitting .625, .583 and .500 respectively
It takes two to tango
In its pool, Nice Cavigal, a newcomer last year to the then 12-team D1, is paired with just one other team, the Meyzieu Cards. And rather than compete on three different weekends, the two clubs squeezed all of their encounters into just two weekends.
The final showdown between Meyzieu and Nice, on Sunday afternoon, went to the Cards, who won the game 10-6 thanks to a solid, complete-game performance by pitcher Alexan Karaghieuzian, who struck out five.
For Karaghieuzian and his teammates, however, the victory was too little too late after losing all five of the previous matchups against Nice. Led by Jonathan Montas (.533 with 7 RBIs), Nice Cavigal won all three games against Meyzieu on the FSL’s opening weekend, and beat them again on Saturday (6-3) and in Sunday’s opener (10-1).
In six games played, Nice outscored Meyzieu by a combined 42-to-21. They also boast a team ERA of 1.98, second in the FSL behind Toulouse. Besides lighting it up at the plate, Jonathan Montas has pitched well too, collecting an FSL best 22 strikeouts. Teammate Cyril Grimaldi is second on the list with 18.
A winning formula
The fourth and final pool is arguably the most interesting because, rather than having just one club that normally competes at the D1 level, there are two: Paris PUC and the Sénart Templiers.
Not only that, but the pool also features the FSL’s only multi-club team, Hauts-de-France, with players from the Dunkerque, Ronchin and Valenciennes organizations in the far north of the country.
The Hauts-de-France squad, led by Cyril Beaurepaire (.667 with 4 hits and 3 RBIs), has played surprisingly well, twice beating the Templiers — 16-5 on Aug. 9 and 18-8 this past Sunday — to post a 2-2 record overall.
But the team that’s really stolen the show in the pool is Paris PUC, which like La Rochelle and Toulouse, is now a perfect 4-0 after eking out a pair of tight wins over the weekend.
On Saturday the club beat Hauts-de-France 4-3. Paris PUC outfielders Ronny Materano and Oscar Saavedra collected 3 hits between them, and Mathias Lacombe pitched 4 innings of lights-out relief to seal the victory. The following day Paris PUC again won by just a single run, beating Sénart 5-4. Infielder Douglas Rodríguez went 2-for-3 in the contest and is batting a sizzling .545 overall, with 6 hits in three games.
It ain’t over until…
Before the four finalists compete for the FSL crown, they’ll have one last chance (not counting Nice) to hone their skills in group play.
On the weekend of Sept. 12/13, Pool 1 (Paris UC, Hauts-de-France and the Templiers) plays in Sénart, Pool 2 (La Rochelle, Breal-Sous-Montfort and La Guerche de Bretagne) travels to Breal-Sous-Montfort, near Rennes; and Pool 3 (St-Aubin-De-Medoc, Eysines and Stade Toulousain) plays in St-Aubin-De-Medoc, near Bordeaux.
For all of the league’s results and stats, visit the site of the Fédération Française de Baseball et Softball (FFBS).