GELLAINVILLE – After two long days of intense competition, the players hampered by sore arms and tight hamstrings, it takes talent and toughness, of course, to make it through the semi-final round of the Challenge de France.
But it also takes heart, and on Saturday at the Terrain de Gellainville, outside of Chartres, the two teams that earned their tickets to tomorrow’s big finale showed plenty of that too.
In the day’s opening game, the Montpelier Barracudas came is as clear favorites to tame the Savigny Lions and earn a shot at repeating as Challenge champions. They’d won their two previous games easily, and their starting pitcher, ace Owen Ozanich, had yet to pitch a single inning in the tournament and was fresh and raring to go.
Savigny, in contrast, had a far more grueling path to the semi-final game, having had to play two games yesterday – both decided in extra innings – and three in total. It came as no surprise, therefore, that they fell behind early, giving up two runs in the first inning and one each in both the fourth and fifth innings to trail 1-4 going into the seventh.
Ozanich was excellent, giving up just four hits in 6.1 innings and striking out eight, and the Barracudas could see tomorrow’s championship within their reach. The Lions refused to back down, though, and when Montpellier changed pitchers, bringing on Ismail Pontiac and then Yoan Antonac in relief, their bats came alive.
Savigny scored two runs in the top of the seventh inning and then three more in the eighth to suddenly take the lead, 6-5, on a single by Gédéon Coste that scored slugger Jacques Boucheron, who had two hits in the game.
The Barracudas were stunned, but put themselves in a position to tie, nevertheless, when pinch hitter Mathis Nayral hit a one-out single in the bottom of the ninth and eventually made his way to third base.
That brought Paolo Brossier to the plate. The outfielder had two hits of his own in the game, but couldn’t connect this time, and that, as they say, was all she wrote for Montpellier’s title hopes.
The two teams competing in the other semi-final game, the arch rival Sénart Templiers and and Rouen Huskies, showed plenty of heart of their own.
Like the Lions, the Templiers had had to play three games to reach the semis. As a team they were running on fumes, in other words, and for a starting pitcher – given the toll the tournament had taken on the rest of their rotation – they turned to Thomas Greely, a slugger who normally plays catcher.
Pitching may not be his regular routine, but the American recruit gave it all he had regardless, and held the Huskies to just two runs in six gutsy innings of work.
Greely also helped his own cause by collecting two hits in the game and scoring Sénart’s first run, in the top of the seventh, to cut Rouen’s lead to 2-1. But that, it turned out, would be the only run for the Templiers.
Credit for that goes to Rouen’s starting pitcher, Yaferson López, who put together a masterful performance. The Venezuelan stayed on the mound the entire game, allowing just four hits and striking out 12, including two of the last three batters he faced. Talk about an exclamation point!
That’s talent, yes. But a tremendous amount of heart as well.
The final between Savigny and Rouen takes place tomorrow, starting at 2 p.m. in Gellainville, home of the French Cubs. À demain!
For the full schedule, results and stats, click here.