ROUEN — For the fourth time in the past five seasons, France’s two perennial powerhouse clubs, the Rouen Huskies and Sénart Templiers, will face off in the finals of the D1 baseball league.
French baseball’s status quo has been preserved, in other words, though not without some last-minute of drama — both on and off the field.
The Savigny Lions, matched up against Sénart, and the Montpellier Barracudas, their backs against the wall against Rouen, came into this weekend’s crucial showdowns having yet to win a game. Neither, however, was willing to go quietly into the night.
Savigny, playing Saturday afternoon in what was just the second game of the series (due to a rainout the Sunday before), battled down to the wire in a contest that saw both starting pitchers — Shane Priest for Sénart and Gedeon Coste for Savigny — go the distance.
Coste in many ways out-dueled his American rival, giving up just three hits and striking out seven. But errors proved costly for the Lions, allowing the Templiers to score four runs, including three in the fifth, and ultimately eke out a 4-3 win.
Priest gave up eight hits — five of them to Savingy’s hot-hitting Venezuelan tandem of Alfredo Angarita and Ivan Acuña — but walked away with the W, his league leading ninth of the year.
Down 0-2 in the series and facing elimination, but with game 3 scheduled for that same night, the Lions had no choice but to lick their wounds and get on with business. This time around — under the lights of Templiers Stadium in Lieusaint, south of Paris— Savigny roared back, scoring steadily throughout the contest en route to a convincing 8-1 victory.
That set up a crucial game 4 on Sunday morning, and again Savigny stood tall against the heavily favored Templiers. Like in the opening contest of the series, the weekend before, the Lions actually led until late. In the eighth, though, Sénart managed to tie the score at 2-2, setting the stage for extra-innings.
Savigny scored a pair in the top of the 10th, putting themselves oh-so-close to forcing a fifth and final game. But in the bottom of the inning, the Templiers stormed back, scoring the decider on an RBI single by Mathis Meurant.
Who let the dogs out?
The win sends Sénart back to the D1 finals for the second time in as many seasons. Their hope is to exact revenge for their loss not only in the 2019 championships series, but in numerous other big-game meetings in the storied — but mosty lopsided — rivalry between the Templiers and Huskies.
On paper, Sénart certainly has a chance to turn the tables. They’ve got two solid import pitchers, Priest and Sam Belisle-Springer, and a deep, experienced lineup led by guys like Andy Paz, Felix Brown and Alex Perdomo.
That having been said, don’t sleep on the D1’s big dogs, winners of the past five championships and 14 of the past 15. The Huskies have a habit of coming through when it counts, and they proved that once again against the Montpellier Barracudas, winning the first two games of the semi-finals on the road, both by narrow margins, to move the series back to Rouen needing just a single victory to advance.
With their lights-out Venezuelan ace Yoimer Camacho on the mound, the pack hoped to get things over with immediately. But in game 3, on Saturday, the desperate Barracudas managed to finally get the better of Rouen.
Pitcher Erly Casanova of Cuba threw a gem, blanking the home team in eight innings of work. Owen Ozanich, a former Husky, completed the shutout with a ninth-inning save appearance. And on the offensive end, Montpellier catcher Nolan Soliveres delivered the difference-maker: a solo home run in the seventh.
With the series extended to a fourth game, the Barracudas kept up the pressure, drawing first blood on an aggressive running play by teenager Pierre Doat. Rouen tied things in the third, however, and in the eighth benefited from some aggressive base-running of their own as Louis Brainville scored all the way from first on a hit by Hugo Blondel.
His team up 2-1, Rouen pitcher Esteban Prioul completed the game to earn his fifth win of the season. Overall, he allowed five hits and struck out 10. Canelon, despite a solid effort of his own, took the loss as the Barracudas struggled once again to break out offensively.
Rouen’s successful petition to keep Montpellier’s top hitter, Ariel Soriano, out of the lineup on the technicality didn’t help matters. But even in the first two games of the series, when Soriano did play (and he played well), the group still struggled to score.
The next phase of the D1 season — a best-of-five finals series between the Templiers and Huskies — begins next Saturday (at 3 p.m.) in Rouen. Game 2 will take place the next day, starting at 11 a.m. The series resumes the following weekend in Sénart.
For more details on stats and scheduling, visit the FFBS website.