The State AA softball tournament in Great Falls chopped off a day from its traditional three-day format and wrapped up on Friday in an experimental schedule change for 2014.
The MHSA shortened the length of the eight-team tournament to see if 15 games of softball could squeeze into two days without any trouble, said Mark Beckman, executive director of the Montana High Schools Association. ASA tournaments do it all the time, he pointed out.
But should Montana’s state tournaments?
“I think it’s asking quite a bit of the kids,” Missoula Big Sky coach Dennis Staves said after his Eagles wrapped up second place at this season’s state gathering.
Perhaps the strongest point of argument against a two-day, double-elimination tourney is how difficult it is for a team to come back through the consolation bracket to truly challenge for the title.
Should a team lose in the first round in the regulation three-day scheduling, it would need to win three games in each of the next two days to climb all the way back to earn the crown. In a setup like the AA saw this year, that team needed to win five times on the final day.
But it’s a card that can’t really be played, considering the Billings West Golden Bears did just that on Friday. Five straight wins that spanned just over 10 hours and the Bears proved it could be done.
“It was really tough and a lot of us were exhausted,” said West’s Kendyl Boltz, who scored the winning run in the bottom of the seventh to beat Big Sky for the championship. “But we hung in there and we did the best that we could. We pushed through and we were the ones who showed the most heart.”
“That Billings West, you’ve got to really take your hat off to those guys,” Staves added. “To play five games today and do what they’ve done…”
A two-day does have some potential benefits, financially to begin with. Travel costs and facility expenses would each go down by cutting off a full day. That has perks for both organizers and fans in attendance.
And then there’s the option to reschedule around weather. Give a tournament an extra day and games could be spread out to accommodate the playing conditions. That way they wouldn’t spill into Sunday or Monday, as outdoor state tournament’s have been known to do on occasion.
The AA bracket’s change this year is strictly exploratory, as proved by the concurrent State B-C tournament. The B-C event played out at the same Multi-Sports Complex in Great Falls, but extends to Saturday as per usual.
The State A tournament is also a three-day event this year, like always, though that bracket features 12 teams.