LIEUSAINT — It took five games plus an extra inning, but the Huskies are once again champions of France’s D1 baseball league, and again at the expense of the Sénart Templiers.
The 2021 crown makes it six in a row for the club from Rouen, which has dominated the league for going on two decades, with a ridiculous 16 league titles in the past 18 seasons.
But that doesn’t mean it was easy. At times this season, the Huskies looked uncharacteristically shaky. And on the final day of the league finals, they also had to overcome an out-of-this world pitching performance that eclipsed anything this particular reporter has even seen on a baseball diamond.
We talk about that (and more) in our breakdown of the series. Here goes:
It was CRAZY close
Playing at home the weekend before last, the Huskies drew first blood in the series, winning the opener 6-3 behind another solid outing by their not-so-secret weapon: pitcher Yoimer Camacho of Venezuela.
Sénart was quick, however, to punch back, scoring seven runs in just the first two innings of Game 2, also in Rouen. The Templiers went on to win, but it wasn’t a rout. Despite the early deficit, the Huskies fought back to make the contest surprisingly close. Final score: 9-7 Sénart.
Game 3 of the series, on Saturday night, went to Rouen, this time with lefty Esteban Prioul on the mound and Camacho coming on in relief. Between them, they limited the Templiers to just two runs and four hits, while on offense, the Huskies got a big boost from slugger Bastien ‘Balou’ Dagneau, who blasted a three-run triple in the third.
But in the next game, starting late Sunday morning, Sénart again turned the tables, this time thanks to a sterling pitching performance by Sam Belisle-Springer. The mustachioed Canadian threw the full nine innings, allowing just a single hit and one (unearned) run to win the game 3-1 and stave off elimination.
That set up a winner-takes-all Game 5. And as close as things had been leading up to it, Sunday afternoon’s series finale — which wasn’t decided until the 10th inning — was tighter still.
A pitching duel (with a twist)
The Huskies, saving their best arm for just this occasion, called on Camacho to start the game, and to the surprise of no one, the Venezuelan delivered, blanking the Templiers through five-and-a-third innings while striking out nine.
The Templiers, for their part, countered with an ace of their own, who limited Rouen to just a single run and struck out eight. It was a classic pitcher’s duel, in other words — just the kind of thing you’d expect from do-or-die final game.
Except, here’s the thing: Sénart’s starting pitcher was none other than Belisle-Springer, the same guy who’d just won game four that SAME morning. Wait, what?
The rules are the rules
That the Canadian was able to keep up with his Venezuelan counterpart despite having just pitched a complete game is wild. Then, in the bottom of the sixth inning, things got crazier still.
That’s when the home plate umpire decided to boot Camacho from the game. Why? French baseball is very strict about the number of times coaches can visit the mound to talk things over, and Rouen — guilty, apparently, of exceeding that quota — was suddenly being held accountable.
Needless to say, the Huskies were livid, and understandably so: No one wants a high-stakes game like that to be unduly impacted by the officials. And yet, at the same, this whole thing also felt a bit like… karma?
This is the same team, after all, that lobbied successfully to have Montpellier’s Ariel Soriano barred from the semifinals on a technicality, and then, in the lead-up to this weekend, tried to get Sénart slugger Brandt Holland and the aforementioned Belisle-Springer disqualified as well — because rules are rules!
Keino’s last stand
Camacho’s premature departure left Rouen’s manager, Keino Perez, with a big decision on his hands: Who to send on in relief. The answer, it soon became apparent, was… himself!
Perez, the league’s all time leader in pitching wins, opted earlier this year to accept a coaching job with the FFBS in Toulouse. And so, win or lose, this was to be his last game as manager and occasional player for the Huskies.
It was for that reason, presumably, that the D1 legend, with his team clinging to a narrow 1-0 lead, decided to take matters into his own hands. Cue the music. This was a Hollywood script being played out in real life.
Taking the mound after a long, mid-inning pause, Perez, 42, began firing away. He got out of the sixth without allowing a run, and blanked the Templiers again in the seventh. But in the bottom of the eighth, Sénart finally got on the board when Holland hit a double and came in to score on a single by José Andrés Paula.
With the game tied at 1-1 going into the bottom of the ninth, Perez faced two more batters before finally handing the ball over to Prioul, who kept Sénart scoreless to force extra innings.
That’s when Rouen’s offense came through for their departing coach. And in this case, the man of the hour was leftfielder Martin Vissac, who slashed a double down the line that scored two runs, more than enough, it turned out, to seal the deal for the Huskies.
The Templiers had one last chance in the bottom of the 10th to at least equalize. Prioul kept them hitless, however, and that, folks, was the ballgame. The Rouen players, needless to say, were ecstatic. Perez, overcome by emotion, was in tears.
The 10th-inning double was the fifth hit of the series for Vissac, who was named the finals MVP. But the case could also have been made for giving the honor — as unusual as they may sound — to a player from the losing side.
That player is Belisle-Springer who, as mentioned earlier, earned a complete-game victory in Sunday’s morning game and then started Game 5 as well. Not only that, but he nearly finished the contest as well.
“That’s everything I have,” he told teammates after striking out Rouen’s Gabriel Bracamonte to get the third out in the eighth inning.
Shane Priest came on to relieve the Canadian in the ninth, but by then Belisle-Springer had pitched a mind-boggling 17 straight innings. Even more bonkers is how well in pitched, allowing just two runs overall while striking out 15.
That a pitcher would go so many innings in one day isn’t something Le Baseblog wants to condone. And yet, it’s impossible not to admire the performance. As a sporting feat — and a testament to the player’s skill and endurance — Belisle-Springer accomplishment was nothing short of astounding.
So please, somebody buy that man a beer!