Baseball will have a grind of a playoff schedule upcoming for those not among the top eight seeds, but softball — especially Division I — appears to be deeper than ever. Or, at least, deeper than the past five years.
Basha coach Scott Hoffmeyer sees five or six teams who could win it all among the biggest schools, and Desert Mountain coach Rick Sharp concurred, noting “good pitching will still win out.”
There’s plenty of that, but lots of hitting and defense will be required to make a run, and that might be what ultimately evens out these tournaments.
The recent list of perennial contenders remains: Red Mountain, Basha, Gilbert and Mountain Ridge will be high seeds once again.
But each has shown vulnerabilities this season, and the rest of the field has caught up. Entering Tuesday’s games, Horizon is No. 7, Mountain View is No. 8 and Desert Ridge is No. 9. With a little luck and a couple good matchups, all three of those could be in the semifinals.
So, too, could Xavier (No. 11), Centennial (No. 12), Desert Mountain (No. 13), Perry (No. 14) and Chaparral (No. 15).
This is shaping up to the postseason in which a top-8 seed and first-round bye is more paramount than ever because those schools only have to play one “elimination” round before double-elimination format takes over, and because of this unparalleled depth. In other words, good luck finding a team wanting to play any of those five schools in a first-round, “elimination” game on Saturday.
"There are 11-12 teams that I know are legitimate contenders to win the championship this year," McClintock coach Kerry Reader said. "I believe the main reason for this is the stud in the circle. Pitching again will be what wins the State Championship. There are usually 3-4 big time pitchers, but this year from top to bottom you have some big time talent in Bre Macha from Red Mountain, Val Kaff from Mountain View, Andy Wellins from Desert Mountain, Jillian Leslie from Perry and so on. What I think we are going to find out is which teams play sound defense and small-ball the best. You will be seeing a lot of 2-1, 3-2 games in the near future."
Go deeper, and whatever higher seed faces Corona del Sol (No. 17) or Desert Vista (No. 21) is going to be miffed, both of whom have ace pitchers in McKenna Isenberg and Danielle Block, respectively.
Yes, teams ranked in the teens and 20s have bonafide aces. It’s gotten so bizzare that even Pinnacle coach Ben Frank acknowledged that despite the Pioneers being outside the top 24 with the second-highest strength of schedule rating, the power rankings “might just make some sense” based on the teams’ approximate placement given the win-loss records and schedule.
“We beat Desert Ridge twice, they beat Red Mountain twice, and Red Mountain beat us twice,” Mountain View coach Joe Goodman said. “It has been very hard to predict.”
And no matter the format, who’s in or out, that’s what’s going to make both these sports’ state tournaments something special.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.