Local Class 5A region adopts three-game baseball series format
Region 5-5A baseball has earned a reputation for fierce rivalries and competitive teams.
The “Iron Region” has lived up to the moniker.
For two straight years, River Bluff, Lexington and Dutch Fork have reached the Class 5A Lower State playoffs.
Both times, the Gators came away with the Lower State title and finished state runner-up.
As if Region 5-5A was not formidable enough, realignment inserted last year’s Class 4A champion Chapin into the fray.
In addition, the coaches have further increased the importance of region play by adopting a new series format. For the first time, all five teams will face each other three straight times in a 12-game region schedule.
“The three-game series was voted on by the region coaches,” River Bluff head coach Mark Bonnette said.
“With a five-team region, the decision was made to play 12 region games with six non-region versus eight region games and 10 non-region. Coaches were concerned with having to schedule 10 non-region games.”
For Lexington head coach Brian Hucks, the three-game series is fitting for a region some coaches have compared to the “SEC West” in football in terms of having highly-ranked teams.
“In my opinion, baseball was meant to be played in a series format,” he said. “They do it in college. They do it in the big leagues and I think you find out who’s got the best team.
“There’s a lot of strategy with your pitchers and seeing hitters and making adjustments. So I feel like that over a three-game series, you’re going to find out who the best team is.”
Hucks also believes the new format provides a more effective way of deciding tie-breakers.
Bonnette acknowledged the nightly toll that games with a playoff atmosphere will have on the teams.
“The three-game series is difficult because of the quality teams within our region,” Bonnette said. “It will really test the depth of your pitching staff, and you are literally competing against teams that could make deep runs in the playoffs, night in, night out.”
White Knoll head coach Blake Roland also said getting effective starting pitching will be important in helping to preserve the bullpen.
The coaches expect a hard-fought battle throughout the season with the team that manages to win the majority of its series games coming out on top.
“You’re going to have to show up every night,” Hucks said. “You’re going to have to play 21 outs. I think 8-4 might win this region, so it’s going to be interesting how it shakes out.”
“You just can’t get swept,” Roland said. “That’s the main thing. You win one in a series, you can’t get swept in a series. But, you have to take two (games) at least each time you go out. That’s the goal. You’ve got to take two because, realistically, the top three teams make the playoffs. The fourth team will get the at-large. So, you have to have enough region wins. So we need to take two and at least three of these four series and just play good baseball. These are talented teams we’re playing (with) great arms. We’ve just got to work.”