GELLAINVILLE – The second day of the Challenge de France is always its most grueling, and this year was no exception. It’s the day the group of eight participants gets cut to four, and to narrow the field, three games are played in each of the two host sites.
As it turned out, the first team to punch their ticket to the tournament’s semi-finals were last year’s winners, the Montpellier Barracudas, who faced off early Friday afternoon in Gellainville, outside of Chartres, against the Sénart Templiers.
With ace Kevin Canelón as their starting pitcher, Montpellier had a clear advantage in this contest, and the lefty from Venezuela, as he’s done week after week, didn’t dissapoint. In seven innings of work, he allowed just two runs (both unearned) and four hits while striking out eight.
Facing him was José Andrés Paula, a two-way player recently returned from a season of university baseball in the United States.
Paula had some impressive moments on the mound as well, but little by little, the Barracudas lineup wore him down, collecting timely hits that allowed them to go up 4-2 in the fourth inning, and then extend the lead by three more in the seventh.
American recruit Steve Anderson had three RBIs in the game. Center fielder Paolo Brossier had two. And after a ninth inning save appearance by Japanese sensation Kenjiro Sugiura, Montpellier walked away with an easy 9-3 victory that sets them up for a semi-final showdown tomorrow against the Savigny Lions.
The Lions took a more circuitous path to the semi-finals. After winning their opening game Thursday over the Montigny Cougars, in Montigny-le-Bretonneux, they lost a nail-biter early Friday afternoon to the Rouen Huskies.
Tied 5-5 after the ninth inning, the two teams played on into the tenth. Savigny scored the go-ahead run in the top of the inning on an RBI single by Tom Dahan, who had three hits in the game. But the Huskies barked back in the bottom of the inning with two runs to win it 6-5.
That forced the Lions to play again that same evening, in an elimination game against Montigny, who barely survived earlier in the day against the Metz Cometz (they won 13-12, also in the tenth inning).
The Savigny-Montigny elimination game was high scoring affair – no surprise given how depleted both terms are with regards to pitching – but when it was all said and done, the Lions finished on top by a score of 15-5 thanks to big hits by Dahan, who went 2-for-3, Ivan Acuña, who had three hits and four RBIs, and Gédéon Coste, who also had three hits.
Tomorrow’s other semi-final matchup, surprise surprise, will feature the perennial D1 champion Rouen Huskies, who like Montpellier, are undefeated so far in the tournament, but as already mentioned, got that second win on Friday by the narrowest of margins.
Their opponents will be the arch rival Sénart Templiers, who despite the loss against Montpellier, managed to squeeze into the next round by beating the La Rochelle Boucaniers 10-0 in a late-afternoon contest.
Earlier in the day, the Boucaniers earned a come-from behind victory over the surprisingly plucky Toulouse Tigers, who were up 5-2 halfway through the eighth inning, thanks in large part to an inspired pitching performance by John Will García.
La Rochelle came back, however, with three runs of their own in the bottom of the inning before scoring the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
Against La Rochelle, the Templiers dominated despite the absence of their star catcher, American recruit Thomas Greely, who’d been tossed from their previous game for questioning the umpire about a controversial interference call. Felix Brown and Mohamed Baoui each had three hits in the game, and Mathis Meurant, who also pitched, had two.
Tomorrow’s two semi-final games will both take place in Gellainville, home of the French Cubs club, with Montpellier and Savigny taking the field first, at 11 a.m. Rouen and Sénart will play the afternoon game, starting at 4 p.m.
For all the results and statistics, click here.