Cauchemar ! France Dropped From Europe’s A Pool After Heartbreaking Loss To Greece

Les Bleus came close but couldn’t hold on agaist the Greeks (Credit: B. Witte)

After Wednesday’s narrow loss to Germany, Team France didn’t just want to win their next game in he 2021 European Baseball Championships. They needed to, and for the most vital of reasons: to avoid relegation and thus protect their elibility for the next time the tourament takes place.

The stakes where sky-high, in other words, for their Friday matchup against Greece. And led by their veterans, starting with pitcher Owen OzanichLes Blues came oh so close to getting the job done.

Getting his second start of the tournament, the 32-year-old Team France stalwart came through in a major way, blanking the Greeks through seven innings with eight strikeouts, no walks, and just three hits allowed. It was a vintage performance by the French-born Ozanich, who has been suiting up for the national team since 2011, when he graduated from the Universit of Vermont in his hometown of Burlington, VT.

Helping Ozanich out on the offensive side was shortstop Felix Brown, also 32, who collected three hits in the contest, including a leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth that led to the team’s first run of the game when the next batter, 28-year-old Andy Paz, smashed a bomb over the left-field fence.

Brown, who hails from Saint Martin, and Paz, a former Oakland Athletics prospect, both play for the Sénart Templiers, the top team so far in France’s D1 league, with a 17-1 record. Ozanich plays for the 16-2 Montpellier Barracudas. The rival teams will finish off the regular season later this month against each other, in a Sept. 26 double-header in Montpellier.

Up 2-0 after seven innings, Les Bleus turned to another Franco-American pitcher, Eric Moore, to protect the lead. The Texas-born righty gave up a leadoff double, followed shortly after by another single that gave Greece its first run and cut France’s lead to just a single run.

Team France manager Keino Perez then brought on pitcher Robyn Clara, who got the French through in the inning with no more damage done.

That brought France’s hitters back to the plate, and again, it was Andy Paz to the rescue. With one out and Savigny’s Léo Jiminian (who’d been hit by a pitch) on second, the Cuban-born catcher/first baseman slashed a single down the line that gave Les Bleus a much-needed insurance run.

Finally, in the top of ninth, the task of sealing the deal for Team France went to lefty Franklin De La Rosa of Stade Toulousain. Inheriting a runner on first and with no outs, the 28-year-old beat the first batter he faced but then gave up a devastating home run, by Germany’s Nick Halamandaris, that knotted the game at three a piece.

Mon dieu !

Taking the mound next for Les Bleus was José Andrés Paula, one of five Templiers on the national squad, who got his team out of the inning, setting the stage for a ridiculously dramatic bottom of the ninth.

First up was Louis Brainville, who flied out to right. Next came Daniel Patrice, who struck out looking. And then, with a swing and a miss, Martin Vissac was thrown out as well. On to extra innings!

Starting with runners on first and second, as dictated by European overtime rules, the Greeks began the top of the 10th with a bunt that loaded the bases. Paula retired the next batter, but a sacrifice fly then put Greece ahead by a run. They scored again on a single by Tom Roulis to take a 5-3 lead before France could finally stem the flow.

A devastating loss for Team France (Credit: FFBS)

Desperate to at least equalize, French catcher Nolan Soliveres laid down a bunt of his own to begin the bottom of the 10th. He was thrown out, but advanced the runners, bringing his Montpellier Barracudas teammate Paolo Brossier to the plate. Unfortunately, the speedy leadoff hitter hit an infield fly.

Down to their final out, Team France’s last chance of avoiding relegation was put squarely on the shoulders Jiminian, the first player in French baseball history to sign with a Division 1 univeristy program in the United States (East Tennessee State University). Down two strikes, and with everying on the line, the 22-year-old… delivered ( !!!) with a single that scored two to tie the game again (5-5).

In the top of the 11th, a controversial sacrifice-fly decision again put the Greeks ahead, this time by just a single run, as Paula continued to man the mound for Team France. But in the bottom of the inning, Les Bleus were quick to tie things up again, thanks to a leadoff walk by Paz that loaded the bases, followed by a sacrifice fly by Luis Delogu.

Sadly, France was unable to capitalize. Brainville, 19, struck out, and his Rouen Huskies teammate, 20-year-old Vissac, hit a pop up foul that ended the inning.

Could they? Would they be able to pull it out in the end?

Greece appeared to answer that question — and in emphatic fashion — by scoring six in top of the 12th off Paula and later Quentin Moulin, who came on in relief for the French.

Still, France did have one last chance before the proverbial fat lady sang. A leadoff walk by pinch hitter Jacques Boucheron followed by a passed ball with Brossier at the plate led to France’s seventh run. Brossier ended up striking out, however. And the next batter, Jiminian grounded out.

That brought Brown to the plate with two outs. Down in the count, with two strikes, the veteran, amazingly, came through yet again, with a double that scored two more.

Trying to keep the rally going, but with two outs and just one person on base, it was then up to Paz, once again, to keep Team France’s hopes alive. He walked, bringing Delogu to the plate. The Dominican-born slugger went deep into the count, but then hit an infielder grounder that finally brought the marathon match to an end.

Final score: Greece 12, France 9.    

With the loss, France moves to 1-4 in the tournament, their only victory coming against Russia this past Tuesday. Relegated now to the continent’s B Pool, they’ll have to compete in a play-in tournament in order to participate in the next European Baseball Championships.

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