Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: Parity makes for wild playoffs as little separates district champs from teams that barely qualified
On a Friday night late in the district season, the Plano baseball team took down Plano East, 7-2, to take sole possession of first place in District 8-5A. A day later, Colleyville Heritage continued its roll through District 6-5A with a 6-1 victory over Hurst L.D. Bell.
Fast forward three weeks to last Saturday’s playoff games and you’ll see why high school baseball is so difficult to predict.
Plano East knocked out Colleyville Heritage, the No. 1 team in SportsDay’s Class 5A area rankings, in a best-of-3 series. And in a one-game playoff, L.D. Bell beat Plano, 10-2.
Plano East lost three of its final four district games and L.D. Bell lost its final two regular-season games. But everything can change in the playoffs.
“This time of year, it’s a matter of getting hot, playing well and not making a ton of mistakes,” L.D. Bell coach Paul Gibson said. “That’s what we’ve done the last two weeks.”
That’s how you survive in brackets filled with so many evenly matched teams. There are always some playoff qualifiers that can’t compete, but in many cases, little separates a district champion from a third or fourth seed.
That’s why, after only two rounds of playoffs, more than half the district champions in Class 4A and 5A have been eliminated. No district winners have played each other yet, and already 34 of the 64 district champs are done for the year.
Fourteen second seeds are still in the 4A and 5A brackets, along with 13 third seeds, including L.D. Bell and Plano East. Seven teams that finished fourth in district have made it to the regional quarterfinals, including Red Oak. Each of those fourth seeds beat a district champion in the first round.
This is nothing new, of course. Just last year, Lake Dallas and Waxahachie each finished fourth in district and then advanced to the 4A regional semifinals. Burleson was the third seed from 7-4A, knocked off two district champs and lost in the regional final to eventual state champion Wichita Falls Rider.
Two years ago, Plano West tied for second in district and then booted three district champions on the way to the 5A semifinals. Frisco Wakeland, a fourth seed that year, advanced to the 4A semifinals. Wakeland needed to win a district tiebreaker just to get into the playoffs, but a month later, it clobbered Rockwall-Heath in a regional final. Rockwall-Heath had been No. 1 in the state rankings most of the year.
In another sport, it might be shocking. But in baseball, it’s almost expected.
A star pitcher can elevate a so-so team, especially in a one-game playoff. A weak single can score the winning run and a deep smash can be caught for the final out. There are bad hops, fielding errors and freak plays.
Now every team is dangerous. And every team, regardless of the potholes it hit earlier in the season, believes it can drive all the way to the state tournament.
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