Corona del Sol lost a baseball game on Thursday in a most peculiar way.
A simple toss from catcher to pitcher went awry, and once the ball dropped onto the grass behind the mound, Desert Mountain second baseman Corey Wheaton ran in from third base to score the game-winning run.
“Never could have dreamt that one out,” Corona baseball coach Dave Webb said.
Luckily for the Aztecs, it was the start of double-elimination play in the Division I state tournament, so they lived to play another game.
However, that type of ending illustrates the trouble of single-elimination in the first two rounds of the baseball and softball state tournaments.
Throughout the regular season, Desert Ridge, Sandra Day O’Connor, Hamilton, Brophy, Gilbert and St. Mary’s were some of the best baseball teams in Division I. In softball, perennial contenders Basha and Gilbert produced fine seasons once again.
By the end of the two-round single-elimination period, all had been eliminated from contention.
I don’t have a problem with the do-or-die format in football or basketball because talent has a better chance of winning out. But when fluke plays or a borderline call by an umpire can affect a season like what so often happens in baseball and softball, there needs to be more room for error.
The Red Mountain softball team has won three consecutive state titles and four since 2006. In 2010, the Mountain Lions lost in the first round before catching fire to win it all. They lost in the second round in 2006 but rebounded to win the title. Red Mountain showed in those years that they were the top team in 5A Division I, but wouldn’t have had the chance if the early single-elimination rules were in effect.
Sometimes in these two sports, a pitcher will get squeezed on balls and strikes or the offense will hit into a lot of hard outs. One game is too quick of a trigger to dispose a team which proved its mettle throughout the season.
Major League Baseball has the longest schedule in professional sports — 162 games — for good reason. The peak winning and losing percentages in the sport are much closer than in others, and it takes awhile for the standings to sort themselves out. Even then, the playoffs are riddled with upsets because anything can happen in a five- or seven-game series.
The high school season is played in a more limited time frame, but the talent gap is enough to figure out the top teams after a couple months.
However, with the way the power points system is configured, the seedings don’t necessarily reflect it, as some of the best teams get tough matchups early.
Hamilton baseball, for instance, was the highest seed playing in the first round but had to match up with Corona del Sol, which pulled out the 6-5 upset. Gilbert, meanwhile, had a cakewalk 12-3 win over San Luis. The matchups are a true crapshoot, which sometimes allows for teams to make nice runs through pure luck.
In the past, an unfortunate early matchup wasn’t a death sentence because a program could rally from an early loss. This year, though, we knew from the minute the brackets were released that either Desert Ridge or Mountain Pointe would not make the final eight because they faced off in the second round.
I understand the problems of a 24-team double-elimination format, and if the length or the travel is too much to bear logistically, maybe reducing the field back to 16 teams would be better.
In baseball and softball, the regular season results should be weighted more heavily because those outcomes have a better bearing than the flukiness of a two-week stretch of playoff games.
While we’re at it, add tournament games into the power rankings equation, because a larger sample size will better reflect a team’s worth.
The state tournaments in baseball and softball will always be exciting because of the sheer unpredictability of the sports.
It’s just too bad some of the best teams in the state aren’t involved anymore.