At least most softball coaches found one thing to agree upon.
Similar to baseball, softball, too, has undergone a state tournament format renovation. And, similar to baseball, the softball community is full of contrasting opinions and fence-sitting to see how it plays out beginning Saturday for the next two weeks.
The new brackets for Division I and II underwent the most reconstruction. Instead of a 16-team double-elimination tournament of years past, the reduction from six divisions to four in softball led to more schools per division, and the need to increase state tournament participants.
Now it’s a 24-team tournament with the first two rounds being single elimination. Once pared down to the final eight teams, the tournament becomes double elimination until the championship game.
The top eight seeds (based on power points) earn a first-round bye, which means those eight schools only have to win one game in single-elimination play before entering the double-elimination portion of the tournaments (No. 9 through 24 have to win twice to reach the double elimination rounds).
Division III and Division IV tournaments also feature 24 schools with the top eight (based on power points) earning a first-round bye, but remain single elimination throughout as has been the case for years.
The 24-team enhancement was the popular point of agreement, particularly because of the expanded fields and increased competition within each division, and because most feel the current scheduling system isn’t equitable in revealing who the best teams really are.
But even within the unanimous approval of maintaining a double-elimination tournament, the opinions begin to divide.
Pinnacle coach Ben Frank isn’t a big fan: “We fought for a long time to get a double elimination tournament because two good teams were meeting in the early rounds,” he said. “In this format we still have that possibility.”
“Doing that for the whole tournament would make it way too long,” said Desert Mountain coach Rick Sharp, a member of the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s softball competition committee which helped construct the new format.
To Sharp’s point, Frank disagreed.
Red Mountain coach Rich Hamilton does like most of the new format, but not the part where teams aren’t re-seeded after the first round before playing its second-round opponent. For example, the No. 1 overall seed will play Saturday’s winner between the No. 16 and 17 seeds on Tuesday, even if the No. 24 seed knocks off the No. 9 seed. The No. 8 seed will host the winner of No. 9 vs. 24.
“Why wouldn’t the No. 1 play the lowest seed left as a re-shuffle (after the first round) and everyone else align from there?” he said. “That makes more sense.”
Nearly everyone is on board with the first-round bye for the top eight seeds. Mountain View coach Joe Goodman called it “a nice little carrot to have a good season,” but in a small way he’s glad his team — which many believe is significantly better than the low seed it’s going to receive, if the Toros even get in — won’t have a bye, because he’s worried about his team not playing for a week.
Along with baseball (May 15), the Div. I and II softball championship games are scheduled for May 14 instead of the with boys volleyball and track and field championships on Saturday, May 12 (Div. III and Div. IV championship games are on May 12 at Rose Mofford Complex in Phoenix). The two big divisions are also scheduled to play its respective championship games at Arizona State’s Farrington Stadium.
That means teams which avoid the loser’s bracket side in the double elimination portion of the tournaments will have a few days between games. Even the loser’s bracket has a day or two between games if teams advance.
That’s a bigger deal in baseball than softball because of pitching rotations and softball teams pretty much throw their top pitcher every game in the tournament, but several coaches believe that little bit of rest in between could make a difference following a season of scrunched schedules.
To get that far, however, involves the same mantra during the regular season when schools struggled to understand its schedules and subsequent on power points:
“I think in the end you will know who the better teams are because they will advance to the double-elimination rounds of the tournament,” Chaparral coach Stefanie Ewing said. “The power points are great but in reality you have to win. If you don’t you will never see the playoffs regardless of who you play.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.