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New region baseball tournament format offers intriguing second chances

For teams such as Ricky Giles' Pasco squad, which has very good starters and a solid No. 3, this year's format is seen as an advantage.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

For teams such as Ricky Giles' Pasco squad, which has very good starters and a solid No. 3, this year's format is seen as an advantage.

Ricky Giles started his ace in last year's region final. Yanked him after a few batters. Brought in his No. 2. Then his No. 3 … and No. 4.

When the dust had settled, so too had the Pasco baseball season, in a heap of daring, desperate and ultimately ill-fated decisions.

But Giles had little choice but to frantically manage that game, to try to keep his team close in a game that never was.

The 16-1 loss wasn't pretty. The Pirates never had a chance.

This year, should history repeat itself, they'd get a second one.

For the first time, the region championship is a best-of-three series, a format that pleases Giles and his coaching brethren.

Today, teams will begin their quests for state with 20 quarterfinal games scheduled involving bay area teams. Winners move to Friday's semifinals then have a week to prepare for next week's region championship series.

The decision to expand the third round of the playoffs, passed unanimously in September 2006 as a two-year trial, was intended to reward teams with deep pitching staffs.

And it will.

But Giles and others like him are more intrigued by the second chance it provides.

"It will take more than one pitcher, one bad game now," he said.

Which is the way it should be.

Coaches are excited about the possibilities: a best-of-three series. A Friday doubleheader. A potential all-or-nothing Saturday afternoon game.

Managerial skills and a team's grit and sturdiness on full display.

"It's like the unknown," Land O'Lakes coach Calvin Baisley said. "I'm excited about it. I think we're going to see a lot of twists and turns."

For teams such as Pasco and Land O'Lakes, which have two very good starters and a solid No. 3, this year's format is seen as an advantage.

For others that in the past rode the strong arm of one top starter in the region quarterfinal and final (with a relief appearance in between), not so much.

This shouldn't be softball, where No. 2 pitchers have become extinct and completely unnecessary, allowing teams with one great player to dominate.

Listen closely and you can hear the clock hitting 12 on overachieving playoff Cinderellas.

"The idea, though, is to have the best teams at the end," Baisley said.

Not that unexpected playoff surprises lacking depth won't stand a chance. A side effect of the new format means teams now have a week to prepare (Read: rest).

In the past, the region semifinals and final were just a few days apart. But the Florida High School Athletic Association had to push the final back three days so players didn't miss two days of school (Tuesday and Wednesday of next week), turning that gap into a full week.

Regardless, the longer the series, the better the team that emerges, coaches say.

"The most well-rounded teams will go to state," said Gaither coach Frank Permuy, who favors the new format even though it probably won't help his pitching-thin team this year.

"There's no one-punch knockouts this year."

The region series is not, however, perfect.

If the weather turns bad, makeup series will be nearly impossible to reschedule.

In many cases, teams will have to book hotel rooms they might not even need if there's a doubleheader sweep Friday.

And how many series will be decided by each team's No. 3 or 4 pitcher? Quite a few probably.

Which is why the FHSAA is calling this an experiment.

Hopefully, it's one that works.

John C. Cotey can be reached at (813) 909-4612 or johncotey@gmail.com.

New region baseball tournament format offers intriguing second chances 04/28/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 3:27pm]
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