Will April’s scrambles leave May softball in shambles?
Now beyond preseason and spring break tournaments and into the first go-round of computer-fueled power point games, scheduling is about to leave many high school softball teams, well, sore.
Aside from the actual competition itself at any given school — and that varies wildly because of geography trumping division-level for many East Valley schools — this first year of computer-generated schedules were done en masse. In many cases, it means schedules were programmed in and churned out for schools regardless of a school’s tournament schedule.
Once the computer schedules were determined, schools had to go back and re-arrange dates with other schools that conflicted with tournaments. Trying to coordinated availability for both schools within few available dates proved difficult for both schools to agree on a re-scheduling date.
The computer model couldn’t have been programmed to account for every game played by every school involved in every tournament, so it’s left a scheduling squeeze all over town during this final month of the regular season.
Beginning this week, nearly every EV school has one-, two- or even three-week stretches of three or four games per week.
“The schedule is pretty hectic but I guess it keeps the girls moving and motivated,” Gilbert coach Shaundra Gutierrez said.
It’s widespread: Mountain View, Gilbert, Red Mountain, Perry, Dobson, Desert Mountain, Mesa, Saguaro, Campo Verde, Poston Butte, Valley Christian and Horizon Honors all face a significant grind upcoming in pursuit of a state tournament spot.
That dozen is far from alone. It might be a good thing Queen Creek coach Katie Bundy gave her team five days off in mid-March. The Bulldogs just played five consecutive days during the Desert Mountain tournament, they have four power-point games in six days to close March, then 12 games in 25 days in April.
Bundy had to re-schedule three regular season games because they played in the Desert Mountain tournament.
“It’s pretty crazy, and horrible,” she said. “I know my girls are conditioned, but you worry about the pitchers.”
Not to be “outdone,” Saguaro has seven games in 11 days (April 10-20) and Valley Christian has 13 games in 28 days spanning late March to the end of the regular season on April 25. Red Mountain has three games in three days (April 3, 4, 5) followed by three games in four days (9, 10, 11, 13).
Highland has eight games in 12 days (April 9-20), including back-to-back against two of the best in Red Mountain and Gilbert, respectively.
Glenn Laboissiere’s team had to move four games around because of scheduling conflicts with other schools, along with Wednesday’s game vs. Red Mountain that was moved to Thursday night for TV broadcast purposes.
The Hawks also lost a key player to a season-ending knee injury during the Desert Mountain tournament (Queen Creek and Corona del Sol are among others dealing with significant injuries), and Laboissiere estimated his Hawks will have six practices for the month of April, and three of those will be next week when the Hawks only play twice.
“Wins are too valuable,” he said. “We have to win whenever we can when six of our 18 (power-point games) are Basha, Red Mountain and Gilbert, so we better at least (win) the other 12 when we can. It makes it awkward to play games and find plenty of needs to work on, and there’s very little time to practice.”
Pitchers and catchers could be affected most by the scheduling, depending on a coach’s philosophy and the team’s need for victories to secure a playoff berth.
But several coaches said the schedules will both make them push players a bit more when wins are on the line, and be a little quicker to pull key players and employ more substitutions to save their players’ physical and mental health.
“It is kind of strange how it is set up,” Mountain View coach Joe Goodman said. “It is, of course, especially hard on the pitchers.”
Backups and subs would be wise to be ready: They could be April’s MVPs.
“Mental toughness is huge,” Bundy said. “If they’re tired, they won’t say so, but it’s a rough month and we all are going to be desperate for wins.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.