Teams on the bubble clinch district berth

Mother Nature keeps causing high school sports havoc.

And now it has created a first and only-time ruling that impacts next week’s District 4 baseball and softball playoffs like never before. Depending on one’s perspective, Mother Nature has produced some big wins or some big losses in this case.

Baseball chairman Sean McCann and softball chairman Curt Chilson announced that any team that has not been mathematically eliminated based on the remaining games on their schedule as of Wednesday will qualify for the playoffs. That means teams which had losing records but that had shots at making the playoffs are in regardless of whether they play their remaining regular-season games.

The decision was made due to the rain that has soaked the area the past two days and that is expected to wash out Friday and Saturday playing chances. Those playoff-bubble teams, as well as ones who already qualified, will still be seeded based on where their records are following Saturday’s games. For example, a team that is 7-9 could finish 7-11 and be playoff-bound, but drop from where it is today standings-wise.

Before we look at how this impacts all eight District 4 baseball and softball, a few thoughts about the decision. It is all about perspective when it comes to the playoff qualifiers. Those who already qualified probably do not like the decision. It adds more teams to the tournaments and, in some cases, prevents previously qualified squads from receiving byes. That takes on added importance in baseball where pitching is at such a premium, especially with pitch-count rules.

If one is a playoff-bubble team, it obviously applauds the decision. It now does not have weather potentially dictating its season’s outcome. It also does not have to worry about potentially trying to play through bad conditions just because it needs a win or wins to reach the postseason.

Ultimately, I think the chairmen made the right decision. As a neutral observer I had mixed emotions upon reading the news. My initial thought was that it is not fair to teams that already qualified. But the more I thought about things, it would be even more unfair to keep those playoff-bubble teams out simply because weather would not let them play. This has been a horrible spring for weather and there has not been one rain-free week. Teams constantly have had to adjust their schedules and had no choice but to schedule several games for the regular-season’s final week.

It would be a shame if those teams fighting for playoff berths were eliminated, not by opponents, but by weather. I also believe several of those teams that had yet to clinch before the ruling would have done so anyway. Really, there is no right answer or wrong answer and cases can be made either way. Hands were tied here and I think McCann and Chilson made the right call, doing what is best for the district as a whole.

The following is a look at how the baseball and softball fields now break down.

Baseball

Class AAAA

Only four teams had qualified prior to Wednesday, but this field will now included eight teams, meaning each one will have a first-round game. Selinsgrove (9-8), Lewisburg (9-9), Milton (8-10) and Shikellamy (7-9) are now playoff-bound and will be seeded in some order 4-8. Jersey Shore (12-5), Mifflinburg (11-5) and Athens (11-6) are battling for the top seed. Milton is playoff-bound for the first time since 2013 and has won four straight games.

Class AAA

This is the only baseball or softball field not impacted by the decision. All six qualifiers already had clinched playoff spots. Montoursville (13-2) and Loyalsock (13-3) would earn first-round byes if the seedings hold. Central Columbia (12-6), Mount Carmel (12-6), Danville (10-5) and Towanda (11-7) are fighting for positioning in what likely will be one of the state’s deepest and best district tournaments.

Class AA

The decision takes what was a four-team field to seven. Northeast Bradford (9-9), Bloomsburg (8-8) and Muncy (8-9) are now in and likely will be seeded anywhere from No. 5-7. Wellsboro (14-2), Troy (12-7), South Williamsport (10-6) and Southern Columbia (11-7) previously clinched. Defending champion Wellsboro will be the top seed and receive a bye into the semifinals. Troy, South and Southern are fighting for the No. 2 seed. This is the only District 4 baseball field that takes its top two finishers to states.

Class A

St. John Neumann (7-7) is the only team impacted by the decision, making this a six-team field. The Knights likely would have qualified had weather cooperated and are playoff-bound for just the third time in the program’s 42-year history. Mid-Penn champion Millville (14-3) likely will be the top seed with defending champion Sayre (11-4) and Montgomery (11-5) fighting for No. 2. Cowanesque Valley (9-6), Canton (10-9) and Neumann will round out seeds Nos. 4-6.

Softball

Class AAAA

Athens (8-7), Milton (7-7) and Shikellamy (7-9) all are in now, making this a six-team field. Milton and Athens appear on a collision course to play in the quarterfinals. The Black Panthers have won four straight against playoff teams and Jillian East has thrown three shutouts in those games. Jersey Shore (14-2) looks like it will be the top seed and receive a first-round bye. Danville (11-4) and Shamokin (10-5) are fighting to see who earns the other bye. Shikellamy is the defending champion.

Class AAA

An already stacked field adds two more teams, making this a 10-team tournament. Bloomsburg (8-9) and Hughesville (7-9) are both in now. The Spartans have won three of their last four games and are playoff-bound for the first time since 2011. Bloomsburg and Hughesville will be the No. 9 and 10 seeds, depending on their finish.

This is a tight race in which a lot could change if games are played the next three days. Lewisburg (13-3) is the current top seed based on tie-breaker over Warrior Run (13-3). It then goes Loyalsock (12-4), North Penn-Liberty (11-4), Mifflinburg (11-6), CMVT (11-6), Wellsboro (11-7) and Towanda 11-7.The top two tournament finishers advance to states.

Class AA

Instead of immediately going to a rematch of last year’s Wyalusing-South Williamsport championship, Troy (8-9) has qualified and shaken up the race. The Trojans have some excellent wins and likely will play South (11-4) in the opening round. This will be a three-team field and defending champion Wyalusing (13-3) likely will receive a bye into the championship.

Class A

Montgomery (8-6), Galeton (7-6) and Bucktail (8-9) all are qualified now. Montgomery likely would have advanced anyway as would Galeton. Bucktail has won four straight and had to win one of its last two originally to advance. The Bucks are playoff-bound for a second straight year after having never made the playoffs before last season when they reached the semifinals.

This will be a six-team field with Mid-Penn champion Sullivan County (15-3) being the top seed in its first playoff appearance since 2003. The Griffins will play their first game in the semifinals after earning a first-round bye. Defending champion Northeast Bradford (11-6) and Cowanesque Valley (10-6) are fighting for the No. 2 seed which is a big deal since that spot carries a bye into the semifinals.

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.

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