Area coaches embracing baseball playoff changes | Sports

Major changes were made recently by the TSSAA for the baseball playoff structure.

At the forefront of the new setup are a true region tournament and a best-of-three series for the sectional. Those things are sandwiched between the district and state tournaments, which remain unchanged.

University High head coach Josh Petty said he is fine with the changes — even though his team flourished with the previous format, holding the area’s longest stretch of state tournament appearances at four in a row.

“I like the new format because it benefits the team with a deeper pitching staff,” Petty said. “You hate to go through a 30-plus game season for it to come down to two pitchers.”

Basically a team will no longer be able to ride one arm to the state tournament, barring an unlikely set of multiple rainouts.

Dobyns-Bennett head coach Ryan Wagner said, “Coaches will have to strategize pitching a little more and decide who they want to start in which game in the region, since it is double elimination.”

Science Hill coach Ryan Edwards was also in support of the change.

“I really like the idea of ​​playing a series format to advance through the region and substate,” Edwards said. “It will put an emphasis on pitching depth for those two rounds, which is already an emphasis to win a district or state tournament.”

The new setup brings significant changes. First, the district champion will no longer automatically play host for the region semifinals. For Northeast Tennessee purposes, District 1 will play host one year, and District 2 the following year. This means added travel for area teams every other year, and it’s not minor distances. The setup could have the following travel issues:

1A — Hampton to Jellico

2A — Johnson County to Alcoa

3A — Tennessee High to Claiborne

4A — Dobyns-Bennett to Sevier County

The region will be a two-day, four-team, double-elimination tournament with district champions playing runners-up in the first round. Winners of those Friday games will play at noon on Saturday to determine the region champion. The first-round losers will play at 3 pm in an elimination game with the winner playing at 6 pm against the noon loser for the second spot in the sectional round.

The sectional will also be a two-day event, beginning with a doubleheader on a Thursday and concluding Friday, if necessary. But if periods of heavy rain set in for a given area over several days, completing the round could become very difficult.

The following travel situations could include extra days of hotel stays or wasted trips because of rain:

1A — Hampton to Oneida (179 miles)

2A — Johnson County to Marion County (289 miles)

3A — Tennessee High to Scott (169 miles)

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4A — Dobyns-Bennett to Campbell County (130 miles)

Use of pitchers will also be an issue in these tournaments, but any team that sweeps the sectional doubleheader will have the advantage of its entire staff being available for the first day of the state tournament with full four-days rest. Any pitcher who throws 106 or more pitches in the Friday game would not be eligible to pitch in Tuesday’s first round of the state.

Another pitch-count issue that will likely come into play for the sectional is the rule that allows a pitcher to throw 25 pitches one day and come back with 120 the next. That’s not the spirit of the rule. A pitcher who throws 120 pitches the first day can’t come back with 25 the next, so why should it be allowed the other way around? But with region titles and state tournament berths on the line it’s easy to imagine these limits will be tested by coaches.

The TSSAA should cap pitchers at a total of 120 pitches for the region tournament, and do the same for the sectional — unless there is a day of rain.

In preparation for the new postseason format, Wagner said he would like to see area leagues go to three-game series in a given week.

“But it’s hard to do that with five-team leagues because it causes scheduling issues,” he said.

FOOTBALL CHANGES

The TSSAA moved the football mercy rule from 35 points down to 30.

This seems like a common-sense decision for two reasons. First, numerous games were denied mercy-rule status because of one missed extra point. Teams would miss an extra point early, but perhaps didn’t want to go for a 2-point conversion to stay on track because of the blowout nature of the game. Or they would get to a 34-point lead and miss the extra point.

Second, it’s still a five-touchdown rule, but it takes extra points out of the equation. A team could score five straight touchdowns and miss every extra point and still have the necessary 30-point advantage.

The lower number may seem to decrease the chances for dramatic comebacks, but it is very minimal. Let’s say a team is down 30-0 at halftime. If the trailing team is going to come back from that deficit, it will almost surely need a quick second-half score. And if the trailing team scores quickly in the second half, the deficit is reduced to below 30 points and regular clock rules are reapplied.

Another good reason for the change is shorter second halves are helpful in terms of the likelihood there will be fewer injuries. The downside is less time for junior-varsity players to get a taste of varsity action.

In another football change, game cancellations will be handled as they were prior to the pandemic. If a school cancels a game, it is considered a “no contest” and schools are responsible for their contract agreements.

SHAWN WITTEN

In the history of Northeast Tennessee football, Elizabethton’s Shawn Witten ranks as one of the area’s best coaches.

He also has the distinction of being on a similar short list as a player. Not only was Witten a terrific quarterback, he was also arguably the area’s best-ever free safety.

Jamie Combs of the Johnson City Press recently unearthed a statistic that had been lost in the shuffle through the years. During the 1998 season, Witten intercepted 12 passes. It is the second-best mark in Northeast Tennessee history behind Robbie Turbyfill, who picked off 13 passes for Cloudland in 1996.

Turbyfill stands in a five-way tie for second place on the state’s all-time list. Witten is not currently listed, but will be at No. 7 when the records are updated with the new information.

Hendersonville’s Ron Jurek holds the state record with 14 picks in 1983.

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