LIEUSAINT — Of the four teams heading to the semi-finals in France’s D1 baseball league, one is now the clear favorite to win it all after taking down the previously unbeaten Montpellier Barracudas this weekend in Lieusaint, south of Paris.
We’re talking, of course, about the Sénart Templiers, who’d come into the two-game showdown with an impressive 13-1 record and yet trailed the Barracudas — winners of 16 straight — in the Pool B standings.
Both squads have deep pitching staffs, lineups that feature a mixture of foreign imports and some of the best home-grown French players, and steady defense. Thus, the question that had been pending all season was: How would French baseball’s two super squads fare against each other?
The answer, for the moment at least, is that the Templiers have the edge. That was the signal they sent loud and clear in their first head-to-head meeting of the season, on Saturday night, when Sénart’s explosive offense jumped all over Erly Casanova (5-1, 2.30 ERA), one of Montpellier’s three star pitchers.
Led by shortstop Alex Perdomo (.395), who went 3-for-3 in the game with four RBIs, the Templiers tagged the Cuban right-hander for nine hits and eight runs in six innings. Montpellier’s relievers — Mathis Nayral and Kenny Esposito — kept Sénart scoreless from there, but by then the damage was done.
The Templiers can also thank U.S. import Shane Priest (6-1, 1.79 ERA), who gave up three hits and a run in the opening frame but then found his groove, allowing just a single hit over the next six innings while striking out 14. Montpellier picked up a second run in the ninth inning, but would have needed much more than that to call it a comeback. Final score: 8-2 Templiers.
Determined to bounce back, the Barracudas kept things much closer when the teams met again on Sunday. Their ace, Kevin Canelón (7-0, 0.85 ERA) of Venezuela, was solid as usual, keeping the Templiers scoreless though five. But in the sixth, Sénart’s star lineup finally got to him. Perdomo led things off with a single, and then — unfazed apparently by a passing rain shower — slugger Brandt Holland (.333), a University of North Alabama product, launched a ball over the left-field fence to put the Templiers ahead 2-1.
Sénart scored again in the seventh, and held the lead going into the final frame. But the Barracudas, led by catcher Nolan Soliveres, who hit an RBI double and then scored on a single by Clement Lepichon, stormed back with an inspired rally.
Montpellier then took a two-run lead in the top of the 10th. But in the bottom of that inning, a timely hit by MVP candidate Andy Paz (.474) along with some highly questionable calls by the umpires gave the Templiers a 6-5 walkoff win.
The Barracudas are now 16-2 and trail Sénart (15-1) in the Pool B standings. But with two more head-to-head, regular-season games to played on Sept. 12 — and with both teams guaranteed to make the D1 semi-finals — the story of this budding rivalry is by no means over.
Should they win their respective playoff series, Sénart and Montpellier will meet again in October — in the finals! Needless to say, the top teams in Pool A — the Rouen Huskies and Savigy Lions — have a different narrative in mind.
The defending D1 champion Huskies (11-3) were off this weekend but still have two regular-season games, next Sunday, to hone their skills ahead of the semi-finals, which kick off on Sept. 26. They’ll face a formidable opponent, furthemore, in the red-hot Montigny Cougars (8-6), who will be playing for pride after being mathematically eliminated from the playoff picture despite beating Stade Toulousain on Sunday (1-0 and 24-3) to win their fifth and sixth games in a row.
Against the Toulouse Tigers, both of their starting pitchers — Yorfrank Lopez (16 strikouts) and Alexander Santana — were sensational. And in that second game, led by Gabriel Do Carmo (.381) and Dylan Mayeux (.296), who had four RBIs a piece, Montigny’s offense was out of this world.
Another team that can rack up points in a hurry is Savigny, and unlike the Cougars, the 10-6 Lions are going to the semi-finals — albeit just barely — after clinching second place in the pool with a pair of victories Sunday over the Paris UC.
Playing on the road, Savigny beat their Parisian hosts 11-3 and 11-1. Pitchers Evertz Orozco (4-3, 3.59 ERA) and Gedeon Coste (1-0, 2.60 ERA) got the job done on the mound. And on offense, the Lions benefited from some hot hitting by Venezuelan switch-hitter Alfredo Angarita (.465), who went 6-for-9 on the day with four RBIs, and the French national team slugger Jacques Boucheron (.377), who collected two hits in the first game and three in the second.
The weekend’s other two matchups featured teams, all of them in Pool B, that are headed to the league’s playdown phase, which also beings Sept. 26.
In La Rochelle, the hometown Boucaniers (8-10) made easy work of Nice Cavigal (5-15), downing the visitors 12-2 and 15-3. Shortstop Forrest Crawford had an impressive five hits on the day, upping his average to .360. Catcher Théo Lakmeche hit his first home run of the season. And in the afternoon game, the squad’s hottest hitter, Ramiro Milar (.375) of Argentina, went 3-for-5 with four RBIs. He’s now third in the league in hits, with 24, and tied for second in RBIs with 16.
Elsewhere, the Metz Cometz (7-13), playing their final two games of the regular season, took both games — 6-1 and 10-0 — in a double-header against the visiting Clermont-Ferrand Arvenes (5-15).
The biggest story there was another stand-out performance by U.S import Stephen Fleury, who pitched a complete game for the Cometz and notched 14 strikeouts to bring his season total to 99, tops in the league ahead of Shane Priest of the Templiers (82), Nice’s Naoki Teramura (75) and Kevin Canelón (67) of Montpellier.