Rouen, Sénart Take Early Lead In D1 Semi-Finals

Bracamonte and the Huskies raced out to a 2-0 series lead (Credit: B. Witte)

MONTPELLIER — The first weekend of the D1 semi-finals is a wrap, and the big story so far is the play of the “underdog” Rouen Huskies.

Playing on the road against the Montpellier Barracudas, who began their season with a sizzling 16-0 record before losing three of their last four games, all to Sénart Templiers, the Huskies once again mustered up the post-season magic that has long been a hallmark of their dynasty as French baseball’s top team.

With a 12-4 record in the regular season, Rouen — winners of the past five D1 titles — looked vulnerable compared to past years.

They were winless in this year’s Champions Cup, an inter-league tournament featuring Europe’s top club teams, and in the recent Challenge de France, the Huskies got trounced in the final by Montpellier, the same team they’re now matched up with in the D1 playoffs.

Camacho dominated from start to finish (Credit: B. Witte)

On Saturday, however, Rouen flipped the script by unleashing their not-so-secret weapon: pitcher Yoimer Camacho.

The Venezuelan right-hander joined the team late this year, and was mostly used in relief. But he has plenty of experience as a starter, and in what was the team’s biggest game of the season so far, Camacho dominated the Barracudas, pitching a complete-game shutout, with 10 strikeouts and just four hits allowed.

Montpellier turned to their own ace, Kevin Canelón, to start the game. The lefty, also from Venezuela, was solid as well, allowing just a single run in six innings. And pitching in relief, Erly Casanova of Cuba kept things close, giving up just one hit and one run in three innings.

Soriano came through, but it wasn’t enough for Montpellier (Credit: B. Witte)

In the end, though, two runs — scored by Louis Brainville and Martin Vissac, both fresh off an appearance with the French national team — were all the Huskies needed as Montpellier’s lineup, despite a 2-for-4 day from Ariel Soriano, failed to get anything going down the stretch.

One win away

Needing a win Sunday to even the series, the Barracudas came out swinging, and despite falling behind early, managed to even the score at 2-2 with runs in the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings. Soriano went 1-for-3 on the day (with two intentional walks), and American imports Patrick Cromwell and Andy Cosgrove collected two hits a piece.

But in top of the seventh, a single by Jacob Biller, also from the United States, followed by a towering triple down the right-field line by Venezuelan import Gabriel Bracamonte and an RBI fielder’s choice by French veteran Maxime Lefevre, put the Huskies back ahead by two.

The Huskies have good reason to smile (Credit: B. Witte)

Montpellier continued to attack, picking up another run in the bottom of the seventh, and threatening to score again in the eighth when Pierre Doat hit a one-out triple. Rouen reliever Quentin Moulin struck out the next two batters, however, and kept the Barracudas scoreless in the ninth as well to pick up the win, his fourth of the season.

The best-of-five series now moves to Rouen, where the Huskies need just one victory to qualify yet again for the league finals. They’ll be hoping to get the job done Saturday, starting at 3 p.m., when they’ll likely give the starting nod once again to Camacho.

The Barracudas, for their part, still have hope of turning things around. The proverbial fat lady, in other words, hasn’t yet sung. That being said, winning three straight on the road will be a tall order indeed.

Close but no cigar

The weekend’s other semi-final matchup, between the top-seeded Templiers and the Savigny Lions, also got off to something of a surprise start.

Orozco and the Lions had a late-game lead (Credit: B. Witte)

On Saturday night, in the opening game of the series, Savigny’s starting pitcher, Evertz Orozco  of Nicaragua, went toe-to-toe with Sénart’s American ace Shane Priest. Orozco more than held his own. In seven innings of work he limited the Templiers to six hits and no runs scored, and left the game with his team leading 1-0, thanks to a couple of errors and an RBI single in the fifth by Yeixon Ruíz of the Dominican Republic.

In the eighth, however, Sénart took advantage of a series of costly errors by the Savigny defense to make life miserable for reliever Mauricio Robles, who gave up three hits but five runs.

That ended up being more than enough for the favored Templiers to seal the deal, as Sam Belisle-Springer, normally the team’s number two starter, came on for the final two innings and kept Savigny from making any last-minute comeback.

Final score: 5-1 Sénart.

Priest earned his league-best 8th win (Credit: B. Witte)

A rainout on Sunday means that the series picks up next weekend, again at Templier Studium in Lieusaint, south of Paris, starting Saturday (Oct. 9) at 3 p.m.

The Templiers, 18-2 in the regular season, have to feel pretty good about their chances moving forward, especially given that Priest (who moves to 8-1 on the season) and Belisle-Springer (5-0 with a team-best 1.05 ERA — and a seriously impressive mustache) will both be available, presumably, to pitch again next weekend.

For more information on scheduling and stats, visit the FFBS web page.

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