GELLAINVILLE – The Challenge de France, D1 baseball’s showcase event, is officially underway, and for the league’s brightest stars, now is the time to shine.
The winner of the eight-team, four-day tournament will earn a place in next year’s Confederation Cup, one of Europe’s two inter-league club tournaments. But there are also bragging rights at stake, along with the promise of gaining valuable momentum for when the D1 regular season resumes, on the weekend of June 4/5.
Last year’s winners, the Montpellier Barracudas, are eager of course to repeat as champions, but standing in their way are five other teams with a legitimate shot at capturing the crown: the Rouen Huskies, the Montigny Cougars, the Savigny Lions, the Sénart Templiers, and the La Rochelle Boucaniers, who beat the Barracudas just this past Sunday.
As luck would have it, the Barracudas and Boucaniers faced each other again this afternoon, on the first day of the Challenge, at Terrain de Gellainville, just outside of Chartres. And as they’ve done all season long, trading wins back and forth, this time the pendulum swung back in Montpellier’s favor.
Against La Rochelle’s starting pitcher, Nicolas Antoine, the Barracudas were first to get on the board, with a pair of runs in the first inning on a 2-RBI single by American recruit Steve Anderson, who also had a ninth inning triple and walked twice.
The Barracudas added three more runs in the fourth to extend their lead to 5-1. But in the sixth inning, the Boucaniers bounced back with two runs of their own, prompting the Montpellier’s manager, Jean-Michel Mayeur, to replace starting pitcher Mathis Nayral (5.1 innings, 7 hits, 3 runs).
Montpellier kept adding points to their total, however, and eventually put the game out of reach. The top of the order was especially effective for the Barracudas, as Mathis Guiraud and Paolo Brossier had three hits a piece, and Fabian Kovacs, the number three hitter, had two hits.
A bright sport for La Rochelle was the performance by catcher Daniel Torres, who was red-hot at the plate, going 4-for-4 with 2 RBIs. In the end, though, the defending champions won the game by a final score of 8-3.
The next face the Sénart Templiers, who were also victorious on Thursday, albeit by a margin that was perhaps a bit narrower than might have been expected given the team they were facing, the Toulouse Tigers, and the pitcher they chose to use on this particular occasion, ace Shane Priest.
The American recruit didn’t disappoint. He struck out the first three batters he faced and ended up with 12 K in 7.1 innings of work. In the meantime, he limited Toulouse to just four hits and one run.
The Tigers came through with some solid pitching of their own, however, first by Mathias Lacombe, who limited to Templiers to just two runs in five innings, and then by Kenny Esposito, who didn’t give up a hit in three innings of relief but did allow a run to score (unearned).
Final score: 3-1 for Sénart.
While the Templiers and Tigers traded blows, play was also beginning in Montigny, the other host site for this year’s Challenge. First to take the field were the defending D1 champion Rouen Huskies and the Metz Cometz, who along with Toulouse is one of the weaker teams in the tournament.
The Huskies took full advantage of the mismatch to pummel the Cometz from the get-go, scoring one run in the first inning and then six more in the second. Two innings later, they added seven more runs en route to a mercy-rule victory (14-1) that was complete after the seventh inning.
Leading the charge for Rouen were Gabriel Harrison and Joris Bert, who had two hits each. Five other Huskies collected hits in the game, while on the pitching front, they benefitted from a solid performance by newcomer Will Moscato, a Franco-American player who pitches for Macalester College in Minnesota.
As a team, Metz only had three hits in the game, two by Victorien Roze.
Later in the afternoon, it was the home team, the Montigny Cougars, who took the field, in their case against the Savigny Lions.
Montigny has a better record than Savigny so far in the regular season, but the Lions shouldn’t be overlooked as contenders, and they proved it by grinding out runs in the third, fourth, fifth and eighth innings to score six in total and hang on for the victory.
Pierre-Emmanuel Planes, Axel Amoros, and his brother, Lilian Amoros, all had two hits each in the game. Kudos to their pitching staff as well. Gédéon Coste gave up just two runs (unearned) in 5.1 innings of work, and relievers Evertz Orozco and Alexis Paredes held Montigny to just one additional run while only allowing three hits between them.
Montigny will have a chance to bounce back tomorrow when they face the Metz Cometz, at 10 a.m. Savigny will play the Huskies later in the day (1:30 p.m.), and in Gellainville, home of the French Cubs, Sénart and Montpellier face off at 1:30 p.m.
For the full schedule, results and stats, click here.