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Published: Thursday, 4/27/2006

Sidelines: Does baseball tourney need to be changed?

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Arbinger Arbinger
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The Start baseball program, long considered one of the state s best, has won four district titles and two regional crowns since 1998.

But the number of City League titles since that time?

Zero.

The Spartans, who did win the CL crown in 1998, have not accomplished that feat since.

Surprised? The team s coach, Rich Arbinger, certainly is not.

The City League tournament usually is the same week as the regional tournament, so as a coach you have to make a decision, Arbinger said. Since your pitchers can only pitch so many innings, who do you use for your regional games? And who do you use for your City League games?

Arbinger, naturally, chooses to send his top pitchers out for tournament contests. That means his City League playoff games usually don t feature the team s aces.

It s just hard for a quality team s No. 4 pitcher to beat a quality team s No. 1 pitcher, Arbinger said.

Hardman Hardman
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Don t misunderstand he isn t making excuses. Truth is, Arbinger is simply explaining some of the facts of life for high school baseball coaches.

• Fact No. 1: The state s baseball tournament, which starts this weekend with sectionals, begins so early in the season that it can conflict with the meat of a team s season.

Teams that lose this weekend still can play games until June 10 but why would they?

We re the only sport [in the state of Ohio] that plays its tournament before the regular season ends, Ottawa Hills coach Chris Hardman said. Imagine what that s like for a team who loses this weekend. It has to play the month of May with its dream [of winning a state title] already squelched.

While teams who lost in the tournament can lose some motivation, there are hardships for teams who continue to advance in the tournament. The best example is in the City League, where league playoffs are often held in the same week as tournament games.

Since no pitcher is allowed to throw more than 10 innings in a three-day span, even the best team s pitching depth can be taxed.

Even so, Arbinger said there is at least one positive with playing in the City League and tournaments at the same time something his team has done five times in the last eight years.

It keeps your kids sharp, because you re always playing games that matter, he said. It can be hard to find good games when other teams have shut it down for the season.

• Fact No. 2: The limited number of games available produces a one-and-done format to crown league and state champions.

Could you imagine Major League Baseball playing only one game to determine a World Series champ? Or what if the teams in the American League Central played each other only once to produce a division winner?

While that sounds silly, it s the method baseball teams around Ohio use to determine league and state champions.

In the Northwest Ohio Athletic League, for example, each of the nine schools plays its eight league foes once, with those eight meetings determining the league champ.

A team can have only one solid pitcher that can carry them to a title, Delta coach Jay LaFevre said. With our games on Monday and Thursday, you could use the same kid a lot.

As a result, LaFevre would like to see the NWOAL change.

If we would do that, I think the best team would win [the league] most of the time, he said. When you only get one shot, maybe the best team doesn t win. I think a double round-robin would reward you for being the best baseball team in the long haul.

• Fact No. 3: Because of the first two facts, the best teams don t always win league and state tournament titles.

Delta shared the NWOAL title with Archbold and Bryan last season, and LaFevre said he was proud of his team s effort against the odds.

I think we kind of snuck in there last year, he said. On the right day we had the right things happen against the right teams. Were we [one of] the best teams? If we played a bunch of league games, I think we could give the best answer to that question.

At the tournament level, Hardman would propose a system where the games at each level sectional, district and regional are compressed to within a few days of one another. That would allow the tournament to begin later in the season, preferably in mid-May.

In a perfect world, Hardman would like to see the eventual state champ crowned in a double-elimination format similar to the one used in college, but he would be satisfied if the tournament schedule were compressed and pushed back to mid-May.

I think we would get a better champion if we used a better format, he said. Right now a team with only one or two good pitchers really has a good shot to win. And I know we won a state title [in 1986] by using one pitcher [Andy Lott] to win eight games.

Arbinger also has been on both sides of that situation.

In 2000, Cleveland St. Ignatius was far superior to our team, Arbinger admitted. But on that day things went right for us and we were the state champs. In 1993 we had a great team that went 27-1 we had one bad day and Cincinnati Moeller beat us [and won a] state title.

Hardman, who coaches football and basketball as well as baseball at Ottawa Hills, said the nature of high school baseball is opposite that of almost every other high school sport.

I ve always told people, There rarely is an upset in football, and occasionally you will see an upset in basketball. But in baseball there s no such thing as an upset, Hardman said. In baseball, on any given day any team can beat any other.

Contact John Wagner at:jwagner@theblade.comor 419-724-6481.



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