Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
An attempt to revamp the state playoff baseball system for the larger classifications won't encounter resistance from Class 6A coaches in southern Oregon, although that four-man group differs on whether a change truly is necessary.
Lake Oswego baseball coach Jake Anders sent a survey to the state's baseball coaches in May, questioning whether they would be in favor of a different playoff system while also gauging their interest in a potential double-elimination playoff format.
While a majority of responders said they were in favor of altering the current playoff format because it doesn't showcase the best teams, the southern Oregon coaches said it's not clear how such a change could be made to avoid financial issues and lost classroom time.
"I would love to see it change to a double-elimination format," said Grants Pass coach Brian Diatte, "I just don't know how it would work out. There would have to be a lot of planning and obviously the schools' faculty and principals and administrators would have to get behind that."
"It sounds exciting," he added, "it's just at the high school level, maybe it's not doable."
In the collegiate-style system presented by Anders and Dallas coach Scot McDonald at a recent Oregon School Activities Association state championship committee meeting, the proposal involved a first round that included 16 best-of-three series and the surviving teams split into two eight-team, double-elimination tournaments at separate sites. The winner of each site would then play a one-game state championship.
Double-elimination play would likely run Wednesday through Saturday, with the potential of regionalized tournament sites like Hillsboro Ballpark for the north and Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer for the south.
"I think our playoff system can be better, for sure, and needs some tweaking and improving and I think they've got some good ideas on how to fix it," said Crater coach Jay Campbell, who would like to see Harry & David Field in Medford added to the list of potential tournament locations.
Anders' contention is that the current setup rewards mediocre teams, who can pitch their ace in play-in games and return rested for the first round of the state playoffs, while automatic qualifiers can wait to play as many as 12 days after their regular-season finales.
The OSAA changed this year's playoff structure to require teams to play every other day during the first three rounds but still allowed for four days of rest leading up to the final two rounds. The hope was to avoid the temptation of overusing ace pitchers — the OSAA mandates pitchers can't throw more than 12 innings in a three-day span — but coaches still find ways to push that envelope.
"Baseball's different than every other sport," said Campbell, whose team lost 2-1 in the quarterfinals to eventual state champion Sheldon on a walk-off home run. "You can get a good pitcher and make some lucky, unbelievable plays on defense and then get two bloopers of offense and you beat a good team. I bet if you look at all the sports, the most upsets are going to happen in baseball because it can be dominated by one player."
Of the local coaches, Campbell and Diatte each voted on the survey for a change, South Medford's Ray Smith said he would prefer no change at this time and North Medford's Brett Wolfe said he'd be OK with a double-elimination format so long as it didn't alter his team's ability to play a full 26-game regular-season schedule.
For Smith, keeping things status quo seems to be the best plan until a huge flaw is found in the current system, which uses power rankings to build a 32-team, single-elimination bracket.
"I know the power rankings system has its pros and cons," said Smith, whose team played for the 2010 state title, "but I really don't have a problem with where it's at."
"I still think the best team ended up winning (the title) and most of the best teams ended up getting where they needed to be," he added. "I think we've got to find a system that works and keep it in place for an extended period of time to see if it works, and we're only in the third year of that power rankings system."
Smith joined all the local coaches in pointing out how challenging it would be for teams from the southern Oregon demographic to be part of a best-of-three series or double-elimination tournament. The extra travel costs and expenses for the schools is amplified when you think of each team's parents and fans trying to attend those events.
There's also the issue of having students missing extended class time at such an important part of the year, with end-of-the-year finals and graduation planning high among the priorities.
"Can you imagine North or South being in a state championship series three nights in Salem and the prohibitive costs of travel, lodging and meals?" said Smith. "For Portland teams it's no big deal to jump in the car and be there in an hour. For us in the southern part of the state, I'm not sure it would be real beneficial."
And one legitimate question is whether a change is warranted in the first place. Three of the top four teams in the power rankings advanced to the Class 6A semifinals this past spring, and two of the top four made it that far during the previous two seasons. The only non-No. 1 seed to win it all came in 2012, but Oregon City still had to beat three No. 1 seeds to earn the title.
"I like the playoff structure the way it is because you've got to play well every day and anything can happen and that gives everyone an opportunity," said Wolfe.
Even though his team became the first overall No. 1 seed to not advance at least as far as the quarterfinals this past season — all five Southern Oregon Hybrid teams were ranked among the top 12 in the final power rankings — Wolfe has no qualms with letting the games play out as they have in the past.
"We got beat by a better team (Southridge)," he added. "What I've always said is the way the system is now, you have to play well and you have to play consistent, and the team that does that late in May gets to play another day."
Wolfe said he would be crazy not to vote for an extended playoff format, if only because that likely plays into his team's advantage. A staple of the Black Tornado program over the years has been its deep pitching — typically six- to eight-deep in a given year — and ability to thrive in a double-elimination system.
"Our program in itself is built to play tournaments because we develop so many pitchers," said Wolfe. "The way the format is now you can ride one guy so we could do better in a tournament format, but I'm comfortable with what we're doing now based on the fact that in the past there has been too much change and it gets cluttered."
"I don't favor (a change) because I think going out and competing and having to play every day is a challenge," he added. "I think it makes kids better and gives them the opportunity to experience failure as well as success. They have to understand that and give their best every day."
In the long run, Wolfe said, the current system promotes more growth for kids because their season can end so abruptly, which proves one of life's main lessons that there are no guarantees.
"It's all part of a system that's developed to help kids overall," said Wolfe. "I want to win and want to win a championship — I really do — but really the way sports were developed was not to become a champion, it was for kids to learn how to win and lose and become part of a team, and when that happens I think we're successful."
"If you're really trying to develop kids and make them better people," he added, "you've got to prepare them to take the good with the bad and try to stay even-keeled and make the best out of it. The lessons they learn from that, if you do it right, are lessons they take with them for their whole life and help them be successful."
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