It’s been a good year for the 5A East Valley Region in baseball. It’s been a really good year in terms of scheduling. The five Mesa schools owned five of the top 10 spots in the 5A-I power rankings heading into this week.
While Red Mountain, Mountain View, Westwood, Mesa and Dobson have played varying schedules in terms of difficulty, the key to their success has been both winning and building a schedule of winnable games before the season ever started.
With every game counting (including tournaments) toward power points the past two years, many teams rushed to amass tough schedules believing that if they won half or a little more of those games that would be good enough to qualify for the state tournament.
But with tournaments not counting this year and the power-rankings system changed to the point where who you beat matters less than in the past, schools that figured out the system early are in better shape now.
“There was no way we were going to play each team in our region three times,” Mesa district athletic director Steve Hogen said. “The more nonregion games you have the better chance you have to score points.”
There are inequities in every system. The most glaring is having regions with different numbers of teams (five in the East Valley, Fiesta, Metro and Pima; four in the Central, Desert Valley, Gila Valley and Southern; and six in the Desert West and Northwest).
The East Valley Region opted to play eight region games (two games vs. each region foe while the Fiesta opted to play a triple round-robin). That allowed the East Valley to play 10 nonregion games (a wider sample) while the Fiesta teams played six.
Chandler Hamilton’s six nonregion foes are 42-23; Westwood’s 10 nonregion opponents are 40-70, but Westwood is ninth in the power ratings; Hamilton is 14th.
In retrospect, Gilbert district athletic director Mark Cisterna said he may have been remiss in not looking at the new system more carefully.
Knowing the Fiesta has been a strong region top to bottom for the better part of this decade made him think playing a lot of games in region was still a good thing.
“It’s not working out that way,” Cisterna said. “I’d hate to think we have a school or two that’s a pretty good team that may not get in. But the teams that deserve to be there still have to win more than they lose. At least that’s the way it should be.”
Of the East Valley Region schools, Westwood and Mesa are in better shape than expected. Westwood is 7-0-1 against the eight teams it has faced out of region so far; Mesa is 6-3 against the nine of 10 it has faced to date. They don’t have to apologize nor will they. They took the tack of trying to schedule a few winnable games while building a little confidence.
All the East Valley Region teams have a shot at finishing .500 in the 18 games they play that count. In the Fiesta, Gilbert Highland, Hamilton, Gilbert, Gilbert Mesquite and Chandler are doing a good job of beating each other up. The 12 games they play in region likely will lead to two or three fewer wins than they might have nabbed with four more nonregion games. The Central, Desert Valley, Southern and Gila regions play a triple round-robin schedule like the Fiesta, but since those regions have only four teams, that’s nine region games and nine nonregion games. Almost as good as the East Valley’s 10 nonregion games.
It’s a situation baseball coaches and athletic directors may want to look at the next time realignment comes along. An equal number of teams in each region and an equal number of nonleague games might level the playing field.
But then, the old system worked well for two years and had the bulk of coaches satisfied. The change from my view, has not been a good one. But the schools in 5A, by and large, wanted it this way, at least a majority of them. It’s tough for the minority to swallow.
THE LAST WORD
“We were waiting to get three outs. Then things got contagious. We tried to put out the fire, but we couldn’t.”
GILBERT MESQUITE BASEBALL COACH, ON HIS WILDCATS LOSING A 10-0 LEAD, A PERFECT GAME, A SHUTOUT AND ULTIMATELY THE GAME IN EIGHT INNINGS TO GILBERT HIGH, 19-17.
NEW FIESTA KING?
After knocking off Chandler Hamilton 4-3 on Tuesday, Gilbert Highland is firmly in control of the Fiesta Region baseball race at 6-2. The Hawks have beaten Hamilton twice and hold the region tiebreaker over the Huskies. Highland faces Hamilton, Mesquite and Gilbert (twice) in its remaining four region games. Highland is the only team in the Fiesta in the past five years that has not made an appearance in the 5A or 5A-I final four.
SOFTBALL TOP 5’s
Heading into play today the top five in the softball power rankings are: 5A-I – Basha, Xavier, St. Mary’s, Corona del Sol and Buena; 5A-II – Sunrise Mountain, Centennial, Deer Valley, Horizon, Sunnyside; 4A-I – Canyon del Oro, Sandra Day O’Connor, Cienega, Paradise Valley and Sunnyslope; 4A-II – Seton, Arcadia, Mingus, Flagstaff and Mohave.
Heading into play today the top five in the baseball power rankings are: 5A-I – Red Mountain, Mountain View, Brophy, Desert Mountain and Highland; 5A-II – Desert Ridge, Sunrise Mountain, Horizon, Deer Valley and Kofa; 4A-I – Sabino, Sandra Day O’Connor, Apollo, Millennium, Canyon del Oro; 4A-II – Notre Dame, Amphitheater, Arcadia, Coconino, Mingus.
ALL-TRIB WATCH: Scottsdale Desert Mountain’s Brad Douthit is hitting .441 and has a 5-2 record with a 1.64 earned-run average for the Wolves.