MONTPELLIER – The D1 season is underway, and after a first weekend of play, with some intriguing matchups already on the books, here’s what we can glean so far.
Turning the tables
It’s too early to tell, obviously, but with split results in two of the weekend’s encounters, it’s tempting to think that there could be a welcome leveling of the field this season between the league’s haves and have-nots.
That certainly seemed to be the case in Montpellier, where the Barracudas hosted the La Rochelle Boucaniers on Sunday.
Montpellier has dominated the Boucaniers in recent years, and did so again in their opener behind a solid outing from lefty Kevin Canelón. The Venezuelan ace pitched six innings, striking out six and allowing five hits to pick up his first win of the season and continue what has been a fantastic run since joining the D1 in 2019.
Canelón was 7-3 last season with a 1.75 ERA. In 2019, his first year in he league, the former Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets prospect finished with an 11-1 record and a phenomenal 0.49 ERA.
The Barracudas also benefited in that first game from a balanced attack. Newcomer Luis Delogu had two hits and four RBIs, and Fabian Kovacs, back from a injury that kept him sidelined in the second half of last season, was in a ridiculous groove, going 4-for-4 in the game and 7-for-8 overall on he day.
Together, the Montpellier hitters put 11 runs on the board to win the game easily (11-4).
As it turned out, though, they wouldn’t be celebrating for long. That’s because in the afternoon game, the Boucaniers – 0-4 last year against Montpellier – bounced back, thanks in part to their own Venezuelan ace, Wilce Nieves.
The former Chicago White Sox prospect was excellent, holding the Barracudas to just one run through 8.1 innings while striking out nine. Two-way player Franklin De La Rosa, who returned to the team after a several-year absence, picked up the save.
The team’s retooled lineup came through big as well. Forrest Crawford was phenomenal, going 4-for-5 in the game. Daniel Rosell, who played for the Clermont-Ferrand Arvernes last season, and catcher Théo Lakmeche had three hits a piece.
La Rochelle drew first blood in the contest, scoring two in the opening frame on Mathis Nayral. From there they never looked back, winning by a final score of 8-1.
Like cats and dogs
While the Barracudas and Boucaniers, both in Group B, battled in Montpellier, two of the early favorites in Group A teams exchanged blows in Rouen.
The Huskies have won six straight D1 titles and 14 of the past 15. But for the second year in a row, they dropped their season opener, this time at hands of the visiting Montigny Cougars, who finished the 2021 campaign on a tear, winning eight of their last 10 contests but coming just short of qualifying for the playoffs.
Picking up where they left off, the Cougars blanked the champs 6-0 behind a complete game from veteran pitcher Yorfrank López (seven strikeouts) of Venezuela.
Fellow Brazilian Gabriel Do Carmo also had two hits in the contest, as did Rafael Jimenez, a Dominican who moved to Europe as a teenager, and Dylan Mayeux, the team’s captain.
In the second game, however, the Huskies let it be known they’re not going to just roll over and play dead.
Pitchers Esteban Prioul (five innings) and Félix Carvallo (four innings) combined to hold Montigny to just one run, despite giving up eight hits between them (four of them to Tissera and Bellen-Fagnoni).
On the offensive end, Rouen benefitted from big games by Dylan Gleeson and Bastien Dagneau, who each collected three hits. Joris Bert, Hugo Blondel and Gabriel Harrison got in on the action as well, all of them collecting two hits a piece to give the Huskies an easy, 8-1 victory.
Undefeated, but not untouchable
The weekend’s third and final matchup – between the heavily favored Sénart Templiers, league finalists the past two seasons, and Nice Cavigal, just 5-15 in the regular season in 2021 – was more of a lopsided affair.
As expected, the Templiers, playing at home, won both games, and thus lead Group B so far with a perfect 2-0 record.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t exactly a perfect start for the home team, who actually fell behind in their opener, Saturday night, despite having last year’s wins leader, Shane Priest, on the mound.
Nice scored four runs on the American, none of them earned, and after six innings, Priest (9-4 last season, with a 2.70 ERA) was replaced by Emile Brelle. The French pitcher, making his D1 debut, ended up with the win, but thanks only to some late offense led by another newcomer to the team, American recruit Thomas Greely.
The former California State University Long Beach player hit a two-RBI triple in the seventh. Héctor Velasquez, a Venezuelan recruit, had three hits in the game, including two of Nice’s starting pitcher, Naoki Teramura of Japan, who struck out 11 in six innings.
Nice Cavigal failed, in the end, to pull off the upset, and lost in the weekend’s second game in a 0-10 blowout. But they did show that the Templiers, who had an incredible 18-2 record in the regular season last year, may be a bit more vulernable this time around.
What we don’t yet know, of course, is how the four D1 teams that didn’t play this past weekend will fare.
The Metz Cometz were supposed to host Paris UC, but those games had to be postponed for weather reasons. A quirk in the schedule means that the Comtez won’t be playing the next two weeks either. They’ll make their debut, finally, on May 1 – on the road against Montigny.
Fortunately, we won’t have to wait that long to see Paris UC and the Savigny Lions, who play each other next Sunday (April 17) in Paris. The Toulouse Tigers, the other team that was idle this week, also play that day, at home against the Templiers.
For the full D1 schedule, results and stats, click here (FFBS)