LA ROCHELLE – France’s D1 baseball league, where one team – the Rouen Huskies – has won six straight titles and 14 of the past 15 – is nowhere close to achieving real parity.
More than halfway into the regular season, two teams have yet to win a game, and two others don’t appear to be in any real position to compete.
But there is some real intrigue – in both groups – among the league’s top squads, as evidenced by Sunday’s results in La Rochelle, where the Boucaniers hosted the Montpellier Barracudas, and in Montigny-le-Bretonneux, where the Cougars faced off with a red-hot Huskies team that was fresh off an absolute dismantling, the weekend before, against winless Paris UC.
In La Rochelle, the Barracudas – tied coming into the weekend with the Sénart Templiers for first place in Group B – showed up with a few surprises. Their leadoff hitter, Paolo Brossier, is back finally from the USA, where he just completed another season with Middle Georgia State University, as is Pontiac Ismail, a two-way player who attends Cochise College in Arizona.
An even bigger surprise was the return of power pitcher Yoan Antonac, who played for Montpellier as a teenager before being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies, and with his arrival, the already stacked Barracudas look more dangerous still.
That was certainly the impression in their opener against the Boucaniers, who are trying to keep pace in the pool and split, earlier in the season, with both the Barracudas and Templiers.
Starting pitcher Kevin Canelón delivered another impressive performance on the mound, allowing just four hits and two runs (unearned) in six innings to pick up his league-leading fifth win of the season.
The offense was clicking too. Brossier paid immediate dividends, collecting three hits in the game. Luís Delogu had three hits as well, as did Ariel Soriano, who blasted his first home run of the season and collected four RBIs but was injured, unfortunately, late in the game.
With 14 hits overall, the Barracudas cruised to a one-sided 12-2 victory. But as was the case when the two teams met on Opening Day in Montpellier, La Rochelle refused to go quietly in the night, and fought back in the afternoon game to earn a split.
In that game, the starting pitcher for the Boucaniers, Wilce Nieves of Venezuela, collected 11 strikeouts and allowed four runs in six and two-thirds innings of work. And on offense, La Rochelle attacked and attacked, scoring two runs off Owen Ozanich, two more on Pontiac, who came on in relief in the sixth inning, and two more off Montpellier’s closer, Kenjiro Sugiura, to eke out a 6-4 victory and improve their record to 5-3.
Two wins for the Templiers
With the loss, the Barracudas are now 7-3 and drop to second place in the pool behind the Templiers (8-2), who traveled to the Côte d’Azur over the weekend and, as expected, collected two easy wins over Nice Cavigal, who are now 0-10 on the season.
In the opener, ace Shane Priest threw seven scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and collecting nine strikeouts, while on offense, outfielder/pitcher José Paula led the charge with two of Sénart’s 10 hits. The Templiers won the game by a final score of 9-0.
Sénart’s batters continued to produce in the afternoon game as well, scoring 12 runs, albeit on just six hits, two by their leadoff hitter, Alex Perdomo. Paula, who pitched three innings in relief, ended up with the win after the Templiers pushed their lead to 11 runs and secured the victory (12-1) after seven innings due to the mercy rule.
Like cats and dogs
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the Huskies – winners of their last six games – took their talents to Montigny, where the Cougars, 6-2 coming into the weekend, have been stringing together a solid season of their own.
Montigny beat the Huskies in their first game of the season, and was eager to repeat the feat on Sunday. But in the opener, a classic pitching duel between Rouen’s Quentin Moulin and Robinson Maestre, the league’s strikeout leader, that chance slipped out of their hands in extra-innings.
Maestre was marvelous, allowing just three hits and striking out 10 in 10 innings of work. But in the 11th inning, against reliever Antoine Rault, the Huskies finally broke through, scoring two runs to eke out a narrow 2-1 victory.
Still, the Cougars had proven a point: that they really can go toe-to-toe with the perennial champions, and in the afternoon game, they showed that once again.
The Huskies had three runs on six hits, including two by Hugo Blondel. Montingy did them one better, however, collecting three hits of their own but scoring four runs, including the game-winner – off an RBI-single by Kilian Besoli – in the bottom of the ninth to earn the split.
Scoring in bunches
Rouen remains in the first place in Group A with a record of 8-2. But the Cougars, at 7-3, are right there behind them. In third place in the pool are the Savigny Lions (5-3), who had the weekend off. Behind them are two teams – the Metz Cometz and Paris UC – that have really struggled this year.
Neither had won a game coming into the weekend, but facing each other on Sunday – in a battle of the cellar dwellers – it was guaranteed that at least one would finally get in the victory column.
Those honors, it turned out, would go the Cometz, who not only won the opener, but did so in explosive fashion, scoring an impressive 17 runs on 24 hits, eight of them by the American import players Markus Melendez and Trevor Rogers (four hits a piece).
Metz won the afternoon game as well, though in this case by a far narrower margin. Melendez continued to shine, collecting three hits in the game. Clément Noblet had three hits as well, and overall, the team was able to score eight runs, one more than Paris UC, who had seven runs of 10 hits, including two by Douglas Rodríguez.
With the sweep, the Metz move to 2-6 on the season. Paris UC drops to 0-8, but will have a chance to get their revenge, perhaps, when the two teams meet again next weekend.