You've got to take the bad with the good, or so the saying goes. And that's a perfect way to describe the problem with class expansion in the PIAA.

Back in 2005, the number of classifications in softball increased from three to four. It was a good idea, and it still is. But here's the downside: watered-down playoff brackets.

Not in District 4 Class AA. Nope, with 14 teams in the field -- including seven that have at least 16 wins this year -- Class AA is doing just fine. But only four teams made it in Classes AAA and A. Had Shikellamy not won its last game of the regular season, then top-seeded Milton (19-0) would have automatically made it to the championship game in AAA. If that had happened, the Black Panthers would have gone two weeks without swinging a bat in anger.

Again, I have no problem with the number of brackets. It gives more teams a chance to participate in states, and -- with the skill level continuing to improve in Pennsylvania -- there's enough talent in the state to warrant four classes.

It's just a shame that there aren't more teams to fill out the playoff brackets. To win a district title, you should have your mettle tested. You should have to get your uniform dirty. Ideally, you should have to win three or four games, so you're on a roll as you head into states. A four-team playoff bracket feels like one of those Saturday-morning tournaments that teams participate in during the regular season. And that's too bad, because a district tournament should be bigger than that.

NO CUPCAKES: Mifflinburg (16-4) is the defending champion and the sixth seed in the AA bracket. But the Wildcats have a very tough road to a second consecutive crown. First, they'll have to get past visiting Montoursville today in the first round (first pitch at 4:30). Montoursville is one of just three teams to have beaten Mifflinburg this year (Milton and State College are the others). If the 'Cats win today, they'll probably have to travel to Troy on Thursday in the quarterfinals. The Trojans (17-3) gave the Wildcats all they could handle in the semifinals last year before falling 1-0.

PREDICTIONS: If you're wondering why my softball column is in today's edition as opposed to Thursday's, it's because the playoffs start today in Class AA. Thus, I wanted to make my predictions before any games were played. (Actually, I would have been only too happy to see how things played out today before making my picks, but my editor had other ideas.) Since no local teams qualified for the Class A tournament, I'll just use my powers of prognostication on the other brackets.

Class AAA

Number of teams in district: 8

Teams in field: 4

Top seed: Milton

Lowest seed: Shikellamy

2007 champion: Milton

Who goes to states: Only the champion

Predicted winner: Milton

Runner-up: Jersey Shore

Dark horse: None

Game to look for: A Milton/Jersey Shore final would mark the third consecutive year that the two have met for the title.

Notable: Since the creation of a fourth classification prior to the 2005 season, Northumberland Country has won all three AAA championships: Shikellamy took the crown in '05, and Milton earned gold each of the last two years. ... Jersey Shore had been the runner-up three years in a row. ... Midd-West has made the playoffs in three of its four years of existence.

Class AA

Number of teams in district: 18

Teams in field: 14

Top seed: Loyalsock

Lowest seed: CMVT

2007 champion: Mifflinburg

Who goes to states: The two finalists

Predicted winner: Mifflinburg

Runner-up: Loyalsock

Dark horse: Montoursville

Game to look for: There could be any number of great games, but a battle between defending champ Mifflinburg and unbeaten Loyalsock in the final would be worth the price of admission.

Notable: Mifflinburg is looking for its fourth AA title in the last six years. The Wildcats were in AAA in '05 and '06. ... Montoursville and Mifflinburg are the only Susquehanna Valley League teams in this field, and one will eliminate the other today. ... Hughesville coach Tony Mignot has the Spartans in the playoffs for the first time since 2000.

n Sports reporter Todd Stanford covers high school softball for The Daily Item. E-mail comments to tstanford@dailyitem.com.

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