This is Year 2 of the new 24-team playoff field in baseball, and it went off without a hitch in Division I last season.
More teams made the tournament, and the best squads generally made it into the double-elimination format. Win-win.
But this postseason, it could be trouble.
Heading into the final two days of the regular season, St. Mary’s, Hamilton, Brophy, Gilbert, Mesquite and Mountain Pointe are a few of the strong teams who are outside the top-8 — the dividing line for first-round byes.
If they remain there, all of them would have to win a pair of single-elimination games to reach the state quarterfinals, the spot where the double-elimination begins.
The first round may not be too tough, but the second round gets iffy.
The top-8 teams can scout the first-round game, then throw their ace with a rested bullpen as backup. The format heavily favors the teams with the bye, and with the power point formula rewarding Yuma, Tucson and West Valley teams for playing each other instead of the stronger East Valley contingent, it could lead to an early exit for some of the better East Valley programs.
Hamilton, for instance, was the Tribune’s preseason No. 1 team and is still believed to be a legitimate title contender. However, a pair of recent losses to Mesquite has dropped the Huskies to No. 10 overall, a perilous spot to be in.
St. Mary’s has a 15-2 power points record, but losing a pair of one-run games to powerhouses Brophy and Desert Mountain has pushed the Knights down to No. 9, just outside reach of a bye.
With a couple days to go, there could be some movement to allow a couple teams into the top-8. However, several East Valley teams will certainly face the unenviable task of winning a pair of games to advance to the quarterfinals.
Then again, coaches like Mountain Pointe’s Brandon Buck are just happy to be qualified at this juncture. Despite the draw, all of these teams can control their own destiny.
“It’s tough for anybody that’s not in the top eight, but everybody’s faced with the same deal,” Buck said. “Whoever we play, we play. Looking at the power points 17,000 times a day is very tempting, but it’s not going to do anything. All I know is, if we win games, we’re (fine). Control what you can control.”