NICE – France’s high-stakes presidential runoff wasn’t the only event that unfolded Sunday with a hefty dose of drama and uncertainty.
There were plenty of unanswered questions in D1 baseball as well, starting with the weather, which threatened to put a damper on the action in all four of the cities scheduled to host games on the French league’s third weekend of play.
In Toulouse, where the Tigers (0-2) were supposed to host the La Rochelle Bouacaniers (3-1), inclement weather nixed the big Group B showdown. But elsewhere, including on the unseasonably cool Côte d’Azur, play did, in the end, proceed.
That was good news for the Montpellier Barracudas, whose drowsy players and coaches – plus a tag-along baseball blogger – hit the road at the ass-crack of dawn (pardon our French) with serious concern that they might be making the long aller-retour to Nice for naught.
But by the time the Montpellier squad arrived, the rain that had doused the area overnight and continued to fall into the morning hours had finally stopped, and thanks to some last-minute landscaping by Nice Cavigal star Jonathan Montas and his teammates, their normally dusty field was damp still but in decent enough shape for the two teams to Play Ball!
Losers in their last contest, Montpellier (1-1) was eager to flex its muscles against a Nice team that had yet to win a single match this year. Instead, the Barracudas found found themselves stuggling against the current, especially in the opening game, as their brawny lineup failed once again to really break out.
Montpellier’s Venezuelan ace, Kevin Canelón, did his part, striking out 12 in 6.2 innings and limiting Nice Cavigal to just one run and five hits. But on offense, unable to get anything going against pitcher Naoki Teramura (six innings, seven strikeouts), the Barracudas looked befuddled, and going into the seventh, found themselves down in the contest 0-1.
The turning point came only after Nice brought on Noah Enrione Thorrand to replace Teramura. The releiver walked two Montpellier hitters, setting up a showdown with Dominican slugger Luís Delogu, who sent a pitch soaring over the right-field fence. The three-run HR was his first of the season.
Nice fought back with a run of its own in the bottom half of the seventh, when Gauthier Rouleau singled off pitcher Owen Ozanich to bring in Jonathan Montas, who had doubled earlier in the inning. Rouleau and Montas both had two hits in the game, as did Nice’s player-manager Hasley Medina of Cuba.
In the eighth and ninth, however, Ozanich settled into a groove, and the Montpellier offense added two more runs to win the game by a final score of 5-2.
The Barracudas, as expected, won the afternoon game as well – by a score of 9-1. But even then the team didn’t look all that sharp.
Mathis Nayral, celebrating his 18th birthday, had a nice outing, striking out five and allowing just one run in six innings. And yet, Nice kept things uncomfortably close for Montpellier, which led by just a single run going into the eighth.
From there, though, the offense finally got clicking, scoring two in the eighth and five more in the ninth to seal the deal. Ariel Soriano had three hits in the game, and Montpellier’s French contingent of Mathis Guiraud, Pierre Doat and Nicolas Khoury all had two hits a piece.
Interestingly, the match also marked the D1 debut of Kenjiro Sugiura, a Japanese recruit who comes from the same town, it turns out, as Teramura. The two-way player pitched two sizzling innings to get the save for Montpellier. Expect to hear his name more often in the weeks to come.
With the sweep, the Barracudas move to 3-1, putting them in a tie with La Rochelle for second place in Group B, behind the 4-0 Sénart Templiers. Nice Cavigal, at 0-6, is in last place.
An early test
Things are close atop Group A as well following double-headers at Stade Pershing, in Paris, and in Rouen, home of the defending D1 champion Huskies.
Like the Barracudas, the Huskies hadn’t played since the opening weekend of the season (on April 10) and were 1-1 coming into the day. But rather than face a winless opponent, Rouen had the tall task Sunday of playing the Savigny Lions, who had crushed Paris UC the week before, scoring a combined 25 runs in the two games.
This was a huge, early-season test for both teams, but in this particular instance, things swung very much in favor of the Huskies, who managed, in the opener, to score early and often on Savigny’s starting pitcher, Gédéon Coste.
Rouen tagged the French hurler for seven hits but also drew eight walks, and were able to capitalize by scoring eight runs. One of the biggest hits of the game came from Venezuelan recruit Javier Hernández, a former Toronto Blue Jays prospect, who made his D1 debut Sunday and hit a double in the sixth that scored two runs.
Rouen’s starting pitcher, Esteban Prioul, had a solid game as well, allowing just three hits (and three runs) in six innings while striking out seven. Felix Carvallo picked up the save, his second of the year, allowing just one hit in three innings.
The Huskies got big contributions from their import players in the second game as well. Hernández had two hits in the contest, and pitcher Yaferson López struck out eight in 6.2 innings while limiting Savigny’s loaded lineup to just two runs.
Maxime Lefevre also shined for Rouen, collecting three hits. Teammates Dylan Gleeson, Bastien Dagneau, Joris Bert and Gabriel Harrison all had two hits a piece.
With the sweep, the Huskies move to 3-1, putting them one game ahead of the Lions (2-2) in the Group A standings.
Rouen and Savigny were the group’s two semifinalists in 2021, and both, obviously, are hoping to repeat the feat this year. But to do so they’ll again have to edge out Montigny, and the Cougars – who split a pair with the Huskies the opening weekend – aren’t keen to let that happen.
To keep pace with Rouen, Montingy needed a sweep of its own this weekend, and that’s exactly what the Cougars got against Paris UC, who drop to 0-4 and are now in sole posession of last place in Group A.
In the opening game, Montigny pitcher Robinson Maestre, a new recruit from Venezuela, held the host team to just one run through eight innings. He allowed six hits and struck out nine.
The offense, in the meantime, tagged Paris UC for eight runs on 11 hits, two of them by Argentine recruit Agustín Tissera, who is one of the league leaders with eights hits on the season. Gabriel Do Carmo, Rafael Jimenez and Dylan Mayeux each had two hits in the game as well.
The Cougars poured on the runs in the afternoon game as well, scoring 11 on nine hits and sending Paris UC starter Harvey García back to the dugout after just four innings. García, who briefly made it the MLB earlier in his career, struck out six but gave up four runs on five hits.
The Cougars play again next Sunday against the Metz Cometz, who have yet to take the field this season but will have a busy schedule moving forward. The Cometz play the Huskies the week after that (May 8), at home, before traveling to Savingny to play the Lions on May 15.
For the full D1 schedule, results and stats, click here (FFBS)