The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 23, 2013

Jon Gerardi's high school softball column: State berths just aren't fair


Daily Item

---- — Like many folks, I got pretty excited when they released the District 4 softball playoff brackets.

It's always fun when they get released. It's like a mini, local version of "Selection Sunday" for March Madness.

There's no shortage of interesting and intriguing matchups throughout Class AA and AAA in District 4 either. The one that immediately leaped out to me was Lourdes at Southern Columbia on Friday in the Class AA semifinals.

But what I also found out -- or rather was confirmed from what I suspected I should say -- is that in both Class AA and AAA, only the district champion gets to advance to the PIAA state tournament, which isn't fair, and I'm sure many people agree.

The Valley always seems to have a plethora of talented teams and players when it comes to softball year in and year out, and this season is no exception either. Just look at the solid local teams in districts this year: Warrior Run, Lourdes, Southern Columbia, Mifflinburg, Milton, Danville, Shamokin.

In the top of the AA bracket, Warrior Run, Lourdes and Southern are all grouped together, meaning that regardless of who advances, only one of them has a chance to be in the final. But let's say, for argument's sake, one of those three loses to the likes of Central Columbia or Loyalsock in the final. That's it. End of the road; no chance to redeem themselves with a win in states.

"It is (a shame they only take winner). Central's a good ball club, Loyalsock's a good ball club, Warrior Run's a good ball club, we're in the mix there a little, we're a good ball club (too)," Southern Columbia coach Al Cihocki said. "Any given day we can play with anybody. They had a good year last year and most of that team's back, so they have experience playing tough games, so we'll see what happens. You never know."

The Class AAA bracket's just as rough considering there's a solid chance the area can receive an all-Valley semifinal (which would be Mifflinburg vs. Danville and Shamokin vs. Milton, if it works out).

Like their AA counterparts, another one of those talented teams will get left out on May 30 when they duke it out for the district title.

"I feel that is is unfair not only for the fact that one game does not determine the better team, but for the fact that it is not equal for other areas," Mifflinburg pitcher Alli Lloyd said. "Some districts take two, some take one, and some it changes from year to year. It should be the same number of teams going from each district. Great quality teams get left out of the state tournament every year."

Only Class A in District 4 takes the top two teams. It follows the same pattern as last years' qualifiers from our district.

Of the 12 districts within Pennsylvania this year, all but four take just the district champion in both Class AA and AAA.

Districts 3, 6, 7 and 12 in AA and 1, 3, 7, and 12 in AAA take multiple teams, and the reason boils down to simply the amount of schools per district. The larger the amount of schools, the more teams get to move on. For example, District 6 in AAA -- which represents the outlying Pittsburgh area, such as Johnstown -- takes not only the two finalists, but the third-place finisher as well.

Those districts mentioned all represent "larger markets" if you will.

District 1 represents the outskirts of Philadelphia, such as Abington and West Chester; District 3 represents the Reading, Bethlehem and Allentown areas; District 7 represents Pittsburgh; District 3 comprises of Lancaster and Harrisburg areas; District 12 represents Philadelphia.

As anyone can tell you though, quantity does not equal quality.

"It is, from experience, upsetting to know that other district runner up teams move on to the state tournament while others don't," Lloyd said, whose Wildcats lost in the AA final last year to Warrior Run and were denied a state berth. "I also feel that District 4 softball has some of the toughest teams in the state and it's sad to know that not even two of them could be moving on to make a state appearance, not to mention they could win games in the state appearance."

Just ask Warrior Run and Southern Columbia, who both made it all the way to the state championship games in their respective classes. The Defenders also mercy ruled District 2 champion Nanticoke, 14-1, and District 1 champion Christopher Dock, 14-4.

"It shows how the quality of softball is not equal throughout different areas," Lloyd said. "(Neshannock) also came from an area that took two or three to the state playoffs."

Neshannock, the third-place finisher from District 7, topped Warrior Run in the state final in extra innings.

If the PIAA was fair in determining state berths, there would be a set number of teams that advance from each district. But as my parents used to tell my two sisters and me growing up, life isn't always fair.

n Jon Gerardi covers high school softball for The Daily Item. Email comments to jgerardi@dailyitem.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JonGerardi.