The heads shake, the eyes roll, the complaints start coming.
Want to get local baseball coaches animated in mere seconds? Bring up the state tournament.
The regular season ends this week, and soon 24 teams will be vying for the Division I championship.
It’s a new format this year, with the addition of eight teams to the field, first-round byes for the top eight seeds and single elimination in the first two rounds.
For the most part, the new format has been met with cautious optimism. It gets more teams into the postseason, and the top-eight seeds are rewarded for having a good year.
“I think it’s a real fair system,” Basha coach Jim Schilling said. “I don’t think you can do a double-elimination 24-team tournament. That’s too long and drawn out. If you really want to get to that double elimination, then win some games and earn it. I think it’s going to be exciting this year because there’s so much parity in Division I it’s unbelievable.”
It’s the parity, though, that has some coaches worried.
It’s no secret that East Valley programs have always excelled on the diamond, and this year is the same. However, they aren’t getting rewarded for strength of schedule because all they do is play one another.
“It’s frustrating because they’re just letting us beat up on each other out here,” Corona del Sol coach Dave Webb said. “I’m trying not to complain, but there are so many good teams, and somebody’s going to get left out.”
As it stood entering Monday’s action, Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor is the top seed in the power rankings based largely on a record inflated against non-East Valley competition. The team is 2-2 against East Valley opponents Brophy and Pinnacle and 12-0 against everyone else.
St. Mary’s and Trevor Browne are also in the top-16, while Horizon was 24th. Quality teams like Basha and Highland are currently outside the top 24 entirely. Desert Vista was 21st and had two games this week to make or break their postseason chances.
One East Valley coach who requested anonymity in exchange for his candor called it a socialist system which rewards inferior teams unjustly.
“It’s a feel-good system,” he said. “You’re trying to get everybody involved. If you keep going down this path, you’re going to drive these good kids into club baseball, and we’re going to be soccer. Mark my words. It’s going to happen if we keep going down this path. These kids are saying: ‘We play these unbelievably hard teams all year long, and when you (prepare for) the state tournament — the part you’ve been waiting for — we didn’t make it there? We missed it by a few points because we went 10-8 (against a tough schedule)?’ Kids are going to start thinking: ‘What am I getting out of this?’ And it’s all in the name of making it too equal. There has to be a middle ground.”
Mountain Pointe is the defending state champion and was No. 9 as of Monday with a 12-6 record, but were down at No. 30 only a week and a half ago. The Pride went 4-0 last week to leapfrog two dozen teams, and coach Brandon Buck said it’s imperative to keep winning games because of the volatility of the power points.
“Last I looked Hamilton (was) 22 or so and if that is the case then something is wrong,” Buck said. “Regardless of what the points are, we control our destiny. We are focused on controlling what we can control. If we can jump 22 spots then we can drop 22 spots if we get in a bad streak.”
Hamilton began the week No. 8, and, to be fair to the current system, other expected contenders like Mesquite, Pinnacle, Desert Mountain, Brophy and Chaparral are all in the top 10.
Most teams have two or three games left, and the tournament seeding picture will be clear once the brackets are finalized next week.
Hamilton coach Mike Woods is fine with the new postseason format if the participants are seeded accurately, but to him it’s a big “if.”
“The byes (for the top eight teams) are a big deal because in baseball you have one (ace) pitcher,” Woods said. “A bye is huge. Huge. Now you can save your No. 1 and face someone’s No. 2. The format itself, that’s fine if the tournament is seeded correctly, but I’m not sure it’s going to be seeded correctly.”
The East Valley coaches are frustrated because a majority feel like they have a power point solution, one the Arizona Intersholastic Association has used before.
“Calpreps,” Woods said.
Webb said Calpreps does a better job of rewarding teams for its strength of schedule.
“Every coach at our school loves the Calpreps system,” he said. “You can let us beat up on each other, but then you’re going to get the best teams in there.”
The AIA went away from using Calpreps a few years ago after evaluating the system.
While there is a push to bring it back, it won’t be happening this year.
A season ago, Mountain Pointe used a dynamic offense to enter the state tournament as the favorite, and bashed its way to the state championship. This year, there is no clear-cut No. 1, which should make for an exciting tournament.
The unfortunate reality, though, is that favorable matchups dictate deep playoff runs just as much as talent.
The new state tournament format may be a good idea, but that doesn’t mean much if teams aren’t seeded correctly.
“It might work out just fine,” Woods said. “I don’t know. It all depends on how well the power points system is going to work. I have no problem with the format the way it is, I just have a problem with the power points system.”
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