Written by SportsDayDFW.com
High school baseball underdogs can benefit from one-game playoff
CARROLLTON - It was 5:30 p.m. Sunday, and the sun was sliding back toward the horizon line. Off Interstate 635, in a parking lot at a Wendy's in Garland, two coaches met to settle a dispute. Carrollton Newman Smith's J.T. Blair and Rockwall-Heath's Greg Harvey, friends on the baseball diamond, were at odds over the format and the location of their teams' matchup in the regional quarterfinal round of the Class 4A baseball tournament.
Harvey preferred a three-game series. Blair wanted a one-game playoff. And neither coach would budge.
"It was a little bit tense," Harvey said.
So, Harvey, following protocol, pulled out a quarter and flipped it twice to resolve their disagreements. Blair called heads each time. And in each instance, after the final rotation, Harvey stared at George Washington's portrait. He had lost.
Infuriated, Harvey climbed back in his vehicle, peeled out of the parking lot and chucked the coin out his window. Ecstatic about the outcome, Blair snapped off a text message to his team, delivering the good news: Seven innings would decide Newman Smith's matchup with Rockwall-Heath, a team that is 36-0, ranked first in at least one national poll and had defeated the Trojans twice this season. Even better, Blair wrote, Newman Smith (22-10) would play in its home ballpark, Kelly Field today at 7:30 p.m.
"Anything can happen in one game," Blair said. "A bad hop, a bad pitch, a bad call can change the momentum."
"And that's why it is a distinct advantage for the lesser team," Harvey asserted.
No one contends that point, not even Blair. The results offer proof. In the bi-district round, Jesuit, champion in the ultra-competitive District 8-5A, barely squeaked by fourth-seeded Cedar Hill, 4-3, in nine innings when the two teams faced off in a one-game playoff. The next week, Plano West, which went 5-5 down the stretch, ousted Flower Mound, a team that has lost only five regular-season games, in a single-elimination showdown.
Because of these outcomes - and many before them - the UIL's rule regarding playoff format, which has had several incarnations, is a subject of controversy. The most substantial gripe is that coaches can manipulate the system to serve their teams' needs before a ball is pitched or a batter steps to the plate. At one point, it was mandatory to play a single-elimination game if the two teams involved couldn't agree to a three-game series. But that sparked an outcry. Back in 1994, 181 members of the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association were polled, and 173 of them preferred a series.
Mark Cousins, the UIL's policy director, indicated there is no perfect system and the UIL is willing to listen to ideas. "Proposals can be made annually," Cousins said.
But it wasn't until 1998 that a change was made. Only then was the rule modified to allow for a coin flip to determine the format.
"And we have to abide by it," Harvey said.
Harvey knows that a larger sample size derived from playing more games offers a truer value of a team. The Hawks are undefeated, and by now the chances of defeating them twice in three games are slim. They have one of the most capable pitching staffs in the area and a powerful group of hitters, two of whom had a batting average greater than .500 in the regular season. They are constructed to win a series and "go as many games as they please," Newman Smith outfielder Al Lasker said.
But in one seven-inning window, the odds are greater for their opponent to prevail. A dominant pitching performance, a collective slump that affects the entire lineup or one mistake in the field could scuttle their season.
"Baseball's a crazy game," said Aldo Quiroga, Newman Smith's senior outfielder. "And a lot of pressure is on them."
On Sunday, Harvey tossed and turned in his bed, wondering how his team would react to the outcomes of the coin flips. But after observing the Hawks the next day, he was mollified.
"They are ready to go," he said.
So is Newman Smith, which seemed relaxed three days before its meeting with Rockwall-Heath. With a chorus of hip-hop beats and the ping of the bat providing the soundtrack, the Trojans exuded confidence at a recent practice.
"Honestly," Quiroga said, "we don't have anything to lose."
And with the results of the coin flips, Quiroga added, they have already won.
Click here to debate the one-game vs. three-game series topic with other fans on HS GameTime.