Who let the dogs out? That’s the question being posed right now by the 10 teams in France’s D1 baseball league not called the Rouen Huskies.
Winners of the past five league titles (and 14 of the last 15), Rouen has had a quite a reign in French baseball. And yet, for a while at least, it looked as if this might finally be the year the dynasty takes a dip. Six games into the campaign, the Huskies were 3-3 and trailing the Savigny Lions in Pool A, and around the league, there was a sense that the pack may have lost their championship bite.
Since then, however, something woke the sleeping dogs up, and after a pair of heart-stoppers on Sunday, Rouen suddenly has the pool’s top spot – and with it a berth in the semi-finals, against either Montpellier or Sénart – all wrapped up.
Not that this weekend’s wins came easily. The matchup came against their main rivals in the pool, the Lions, who were eager to shake off some unexpected losses of late and knew that if they could beat Rouen in both games Sunday, they’d move back into the pool’s #1 slot.
Savigny made a valiant effort to do just that. In the opener, pitcher Lilian Amoros threw a magnificent game, going toe-to-toe against Rouen’s Esteban Prioul (and later Yoimer Camacho) in what was a scoreless game through eight innings.
But in the ninth, with Mauricio Robles on to replace Amoros, the Huskies finally found an opening, and thanks to a clutch RBI single by American import Jacob Biller (.341), scored what would ultimately be the game winner.
The afternoon contest packed in plenty of drama as well. Down 1-5 going into the eight, the Lions refused to concede, scoring two in each of the next two innings to tie the game at the 11-the hour and force extra innings.
In the 10th, however, the Huskies made a statement of their own with an offensive eruption that sent Savigny packing once and for all. Late-season addition Gabriel Bracamonte (.429) of Venezuela got things going for the pack, knocking in the go-ahead run for his first hit of the day. The former New York Yankees prospect got another single later the same inning in what proved to be a seven-run barrage for Huskies.
Final score, 12-5.
The Cougars are cooking
With the two losses, the Lions (at 8-6) won’t be able to catch the hungry Huskies, but they can still make the playoffs – provided they hold on to second-place in the pool.
Savgingy’s best bet is to win their final two regular season games next weekend against Paris UC. But they’ll also be looking over their shoulders in the days to come and hoping that the suddenly red-hot Montigny Cougars cool off a bit.
Montigny, at 6-6, is still a long-shot to leapfrog the Lions, but there’s no denying the turnaround that replacement coach Jonathan Jaspe of Venezuela has helped inspire in this squad. The Cougars beat Savigny twice to begin the month, and on Sunday won two more games – and in convincing fashion (17-5, 9-1) – against Paris UC.
Montigny’s Alexandre Couton (.387) had a monster day at the plate, going 4-for-4 in the opener with four RBIs, and picking up another pair of hits in the afternoon game. Infielder Jean Scavo (.333) was on fire too, going a combined 4-for-8 on the day with five RBIs and five runs scored, and in the afternoon game, Dylan Mayeux (.326) also got into the action, going 3-for-5.
Montingy plays four more games in the regular season, including a pair against Rouen on Aug. 29.
Sixteen in a row!
Whichever team ends up with that coveted second playof spot will have their work cut out for them in the semi-finals, when they’ll take on either the Montpellier Barracudas or Sénart Templiers, the two Pool B leaders.
For now, the undefeated Barracudas have a slight edge in the standings after winning a pair Sunday against the La Rochelle Boucaniers.
Pitching was again the big story for Montpellier, which boasts the league’s top rotation with Kevin Canelón (7-0, 0.39 ERA), Owen Ozanich (4-0, 0.28 ERA) and Erly Casanova (5-0, 0.73 ERA).
Canelón started the opener, giving up two runs (his first of the season) but still picking up the win thanks to some timely hitting by guys like Patrick Cromwell and Ariel Soriano, who had three hits and three RBIs in the game between them.
Casanova took the mound in the afternoon game, blanking the Bouncaniers through five innings before being releived by Kenny Esposito and then Ozanich, who pitched the final three innings and picked up his second save of the year.
Cromwell and Soriano connected in that game too, each collecting a hit, as did the team’s speedy leadoff man, Paolo Brossier. Nolan Soliveres, Julien Monks, Pierre Doat, Mathis Nayral and Nicolas Khoury all had one hit a piece as well.
A masterpiece on the mound
The fact that at 16-0 the Barracudas have yet to clinch first place in the pool speaks to how well their main rivals, the Tempeliers, have also been playing this season.
Like Montpellier, Sénart boasts a deep pitching staff and a loaded lineup, and coming into the weekend, they too had a perfect record (12-0). But in their opener Sunday against the Metz Cometz, the heavily favored Templiers struggled to gain traction against an American import, Stephen Fleury, who also happens to be the league’s strikeout leader.
Before Sunday’s match the former Merrimack College hurler had yet to earn a win this season, but threw an inspired game against the Templiers, allowing just one run in eight innings and striking out 16 to bring his season total to 85, tops in the league (Nice’s Naoki Teramura is second with 72). Fellow Merrimack product Daniel Amidon pitched the ninth for the Metz to complete the upset.
Final score: Metz 2, Sénart 1.
The Templiers, as expected, bounced back in the afternoon game, collecting eight runs on 13 hits to beat the Cometz 8-2 and move to 13-1 on the season. They also know that despite the loss, they can still catch Montpellier in the standings, perhaps as early as next weekend, when the two teams go face-to-face starting Saturday night in Sénart.
Rumor has it that the teams will meet up again in Montpellier, on Sept. 12, to make up for a double-header that was rained out on July 4. In that case, both squads will be missing some of their key starters given that the French national team plays that same weekend in the European baseball championships in northern Italy.
Two more hits for Montas
The weekend’s fifth and final matchup took place in Clermont-Ferrand, where the hometeam, the Arvenes, won the opener but dropped the afternoon game to a Nice Cavigal squad that’s now won three of their last four.
The two teams now have identical 5-13 records and are tied with the Metz Cometz for last place in Pool B. But they also have two of the league’s hottest hitters. Nice’s Jonathan Montas (.437) had two hits on the day to bring his season total to a league leading 31. Second on the list is Clermont-Ferrand’s Jacob Benson (.333), who has 23, followed by Sénart’s Andy Paz (.468), with 22.
Nice wraps up the regular phase of the season next weekend in La Rochelle. Clermont-Ferrand and the Cometz will play their final games as well – against each other, in Metz.
For more information on D1 stats and scheduling, visit the FFBS website.