In one of the least dramatic first-round playoff series in recent memory Handley needed a total of seven innings to dispatch Greensboro by scores of 18-0 and 14-0 Monday. The first game went the required five innings, but the coaches agreed to end the second game after just two innings as Greensboro was clearly in over its head.
The Raiders issued 11 walks and hit six batters in the first game, then walked 10 more with five more hit batsmen in the second game. In the two games Handley scored 32 runs and needed just eight hits to do so.
Greensboro’s game two starting pitcher was cited for three balks in the first inning because he did not know how to properly come set during his stretch delivery. Handley’s half of the second inning of that same game ended when the Handley runners on base allowed themselves to get picked off.
The point of my writing these details is not to embarrass Greensboro. It was clear that Greensboro came to Roanoke to play ball, and they did that to the best of their abilities. There was absolutely no lack of hustle on the Raiders’ part. To a man, from start to finish, their players and coaches exhibited the type of effort and intensity befitting a postseason series. Leadoff man Melik Chavers punished the baseball, as he had a single and a double in three at-bats during the series.
So this is not an article of scorn or shame for those players or their coaches. They did absolutely nothing to dishonor themselves.
They just didn’t belong the playoffs.
And Handley head coach Tyler Hall agrees.
“The hardest part of a series like that is getting the kids to try to continue to build upon what we’ve been doing all year, and not have them be complacent and not have them goofing off,” Hall said. “It’s a constant battle to get them to understand that we’re not playing against Greensboro. We’re playing to get better so we can compete against Trinity and UMS-Wright and Mobile Christian and those guys, the guys that we’re going to have to play our best, almost perfect to win. To us it just didn’t do us any good to have to face that challenge in the first round with Greensboro.”
And it was a challenge. That type of mismatch is no fun for anyone. Not for the fans. Not for the coaches. Not for the players. And certainly not for a team that had to make a three-hour trip to make it all happen.
So how does a team like Greensboro get into the playoffs in the first place? It’s the product of the AHSAA’s structure of dividing its classifications into smaller areas that consist of three, four or five teams competing for two playoff spots, rather than using the region system in place for football in which as many as nine teams compete for four spots in the postseason.
In Greensboro’s case, through no fault of its own, it ended up in just a two-team area after Sumter Central did not field a team. So automatically both Greensboro and Dallas County were going to the postseason no matter how good they were. Meanwhile there are plenty of third-place teams from more competitive areas that are sitting at home right now, even though they are much more equipped talent-wise for playoff baseball.
The area system is in place for most major sports except for football, ostensibly because of the travel demands that may arise. With more teams you almost always will be including a larger geographic area, hence a couple of longer trips during the regular season each year. That’s fine for football because games are almost always on Friday nights, so a late-night bus ride doesn’t linger into a school day.
But for sports like baseball and basketball, games are played throughout the week. What if one of those longer trips falls on a Tuesday?
For Hall and many other coaches throughout the state the tradeoff is worth it if it can help avoid matchups like what took place Monday.
“Let’s go to region play,” he said. “Let’s have seven or eight teams in a region and let’s take the best four teams out of that region to go to the playoffs. Then you don’t have the Greensboros, the Green Counties, the teams that don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.”
He said another positive byproduct of that will be a more compelling regular season as well.
“Right now the way Alabama high school has it, 85 percent of your schedule doesn’t mean a hill of beans. It doesn’t mean nothing,” Hall said. “But if seven or eight teams are in your region, about half or even 60 percent of your schedule you’re playing meaningful series that you’ve got to win. Now you’re putting your kids in those pressure situations all year long, and they’re going to be a little bit better come playoff time.”
For now we’ll just have to live with the current system and the occasional stinker of a matchup that it produces, like the one that took place Monday. But hopefully the AHSAA will take notice of it and move toward a meaningful change.
“I think it’s something that baseball needs to get fixed over the next couple of years,” Hall said. “I have no clue if it will or not, but I’d like to see it go that way.”