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For a change of pace, the R.I. high school baseball playoffs are neither rushed nor condensed.
The 16-team field in Division I and II takes center stage Saturday, with the first game of the double-elimination regional qualifying round. In years past, a loss on Day 1 placed players and coaches squarely behind the eight ball. Teams were forced to start their battle for survival in the losersâ€™ bracket the very next day, a predicament that wreaked havoc with pitching plans and left no opportunity for coaches to address any other issues.
â€śThere was no time to collect your thoughts or run a practice â€¦ you were right back in the fire again,â€ť says Ed Hunt, presently an assistant at Woonsocket High after spending eight seasons as the head coach at Lincoln High.
Planning for tomorrow seemed a moot point unless you took care of business today. The question was: who qualified as the freshest arm after enduring a three-games-in-four-days stretch? Faced with little choice but to adopt a piecemeal approach, the playoff chances for teams without a deep stable of arms could best be summed up by Edward R. Murrowâ€™s â€śGood Night, and Good Luck.â€ť
â€śUsually those teams in the losersâ€™ bracket suffer without any time between games,â€ť Hunt said.
Added Cumberland mentor Paul Murphy, â€śScheduling back-to-back-to-back games like we have seen the last couple of years, even if you were one of the better teams, your pitching staff was crowded and backed up.â€ť
So there has to be some comfort in knowing that dropping the opener of this seasonâ€™s postseason gauntlet doesnâ€™t come with a side of â€śwhat do we do know?â€ť like it did during the previous yearsâ€™ marches to McCoy Stadium, site of both best-of-three championship finals.
The 2013 playoff schedule allows for the luxury of much more forward thinking than before. Regardless of how Saturday plays out, Division I teams return to action on Monday. In Division II, the games resume on Tuesday.
Once Mondayâ€™s results in Division I are counted, the team that stands 2-0 will sit around and wait until Friday. For two of the three other teams in the four-team regional, they will meet on Thursday, which allows for the ace pitcher â€“ locals who fit the criteria for said title include Tolmanâ€™s Carlos Sanabria, Lincolnâ€™s Andrew Veiga, Cumberlandâ€™s Dylan Boisclair and St. Raphaelâ€™s Zach Mitsmenn â€“ to start again on normal rest.
In Division II, the next game after Tuesday is Friday for those teams in the losersâ€™ bracket, with the squad sitting pretty at 2-0 reaping the reward of a Saturday contest.
Having that built-in time between games has coaches across the state smiling, since it gives them a chance to map out a pitching strategy.
â€śI really believe itâ€™s the right way to do things,â€ť was the ringing endorsement Murphy made.
Securing a spot in the Final Four is obtained only through winning three games in the regional round. Naturally the ideal scenario is to win three straight and shift gears to the next challenge, but whatâ€™s the backup plan in case a sweep doesnâ€™t happen? Teams in each division could run into a not-so-enticing proposition of playing on back-to-back days or even three days in a row, depending on how things shake out.
While the mad dash is not ideal, at least it comes attached with a puncherâ€™s chance thanks to Interscholastic League opting to spread out the first three games of regional play.
â€śI wouldnâ€™t even begin to know how to prepare for that prospect until weâ€™re at that point,â€ť said Tolman head coach Theo Murray. â€śThe first three games are established as far as who you can go with, but itâ€™s going to be interesting to see how this first round shakes down.â€ť
The last possible date for the completion of the Division I regionals is a week from Saturday. In Division II, play has the potential of running through Sunday, June 9. The Final Four round in Division I begins June 13 while the Division II ball clubs commence play on June 14.
Again, note the wiggle room thatâ€™s in place. Granted, things could change based on weather and graduations, but for a change, the teams that arrive at McCoy Stadium for the finals beginning June 18 have an excellent shot to have their pitching staffs remain intact rather than in shambles.