May 24—There are so many factors that go into deciding the winner of a baseball game.
Clutch hits, key strikeouts, spectacular catches, getting the bunt down, lengthy at-bats, errors, walks, coaches’ decisions, mental errors, baserunning blunders, pitch counts, umpires’ calls … the list is lengthy.
In the playoffs, those factors are magnified. There is no margin for error — mental or physical — as it’s one and done, winner moves on, loser goes home, where one tiny thing could make a gigantic difference.
That unknown is what makes the high school baseball playoffs so exciting, and so tough to predict. You can write down all the facts and figures and say this team should win on paper, but as many old-time coaches will tell you, games aren’t won on paper, they’re won between the lines.
The 2021 playoffs have that extra element — the lack of a postseason in 2020. How will the young players handle the playoff atmosphere? How will they handle themselves when things go bad or when the spotlight is on them to produce? What kind of motivation will teams have to succeed since they didn’t play last year?
When analyzing this year’s District 11 playoffs, I went out to the shed and pulled out the old Crystal Baseball. The fictional prognosticator was pretty dirty, having not been used in two years, but I was able to shine it up and have it shed some light on this year’s brackets.
Let’s take a look:
Tri-Valley has appeared in every Class A title game since 2010 and has won 10 district crowns since the classification was created in 1999.
The top-seeded Dawgs (14-5) enter this four-team bracket as the only squad with a winning record and are heavy favorites to extend that title-game streak since they play field-filler Notre Dame-East Stroudsburg (3-14) in Thursday’s semifinals.
Which team Tri-Valley plays in the final may be the biggest question mark in this bracket. No. 3 Marian (7-9) defeated No. 2 Nativity (8-12) by a 6-2 score in their Schuylkill League Division II-III crossover May 6, but didn’t face Hilltoppers’ ace Jake Kuperavage. The Colts enter the semifinals having won four straight, while Nativity has lost five of its last six.
Kuperavage could be the single-most important player in this bracket. With three days in between rounds, he could conceivably pitch twice, barring rain. If he tosses two gems, Nativity could capture gold.
In the end, Tri-Valley just has too much for either Nativity or Marian. The Crystal Baseball says the Dawgs win for a fourth straight time.
Championship: Tri-Valley over Nativity
Schuylkill Haven has won the last two Class AA crowns and the top-seeded Hurricanes (19-3) enter the district playoffs on a nine-game winning streak that includes capturing their first Schuylkill League title since 1985.
With Mason Ulsh and Jake Houtz on the hill and Haven’s offense clicking the way it has in May (10.6 runs, 11.3 hits per game), Haven is the favorite here. But can it beat Williams Valley a third time?
The Vikings (17-3) are looking for a District 11 trifecta, having won titles in football and basketball this school year. They’ve won five straight since losing to Haven on April 30, but need to have one of their pitchers step up and become an ace if they want to win it all.
The intrigue in this bracket: Can No. 3 Minersville (10-10) or No. 4 Shenandoah Valley (10-10) pull off a semifinal upset? Williams Valley beat Minersville 16-1 and 17-8 in their two Schuylkill League games, but didn’t face Miners’ ace Hayden Paukstis either time.
Shenandoah Valley was hammered 12-2 by Haven in their Division II-III crossover, but crafty left-hander Kaleb Maksimik could cause troubles for the Hurricanes’ attack.
The Crystal Baseball really struggled with this pick, but didn’t have enough gall to pick an upset. Don’t be surprised, though, if one happens.
Championship: Schuylkill Haven over Williams Valley
Panther Valley is the only Schuylkill League school in this six-team bracket, as the No. 2-seeded Panthers (16-5) get a bye into the semifinals. Their opponent will be either Palisades or MaST Community Charter, and either one could cause Panther Valley fits.
In the Colonial League playoffs, Palisades (13-8) pounded Saucon Valley 12-1 and battled top-seeded Notre Dame-Green Pond tough before falling 9-8 in the semis. MaST Charter (11-8) reached the state playoffs in 2015 and ’16, falling to Schuylkill Haven and North Schuylkill, respectively, in one-run games.
Not an easy draw for PV.
Notre Dame is the prohibitive favorite here and the Crystal Baseball’s pick.
Championship: Notre Dame-GP over Palisades
Darkhorse: MaST Charter
The toughest bracket in the entire district playoffs features three Schuylkill League teams — No. 4 Blue Mountain (15-5), No. 6 North Schuylkill (13-8) and No. 7 Jim Thorpe (12-8).
The Eagles drop down from Class 5A, where they won the title in 2018 and ’19. They open with ACC on Tuesday, then would face top-seeded and Colonial League champion Northwestern Lehigh (18-4) in the semis. North Schuylkill treks to No. 3 Saucon Valley (15-4), while Jim Thorpe visits Bethlehem Catholic (13-8).
The draw doesn’t help Blue Mountain and North Schuylkill, which must also rebound from tough losses to Schuylkill Haven in the Schuylkill League playoffs. Can James Lordi pitch Jim Thorpe to an upset of Bethlehem Catholic? The Crystal Baseball likes that option.
Northwestern Lehigh, coached by Blue Mountain grad Durran Porrino, is the pick here. But like the NCAA Tournament in basketball, if there’s going to be a bracket full of upsets, it could be here.
Championship: Northwestern Lehigh over Saucon Valley
Darkhorse: Blue Mountain
I haven’t had the chance to see Pottsville’s John Holobetz pitch this season, so I’m excited about covering today’s matchup between the No. 4 Crimson Tide (9-10) and No. 5 Bangor (9-11).
Pottsville has a chance to be the District 11 Cinderella, as there is not a dominant team in the five-team Class 5A field. If the Tide can hit and manufacture runs, something they have struggled to do against quality competition, they could win the whole thing.
The Crystal Baseball likes the Tide’s chances to get there, but end up with silver instead of gold.
Championship: Southern Lehigh over Pottsville
Darkhorse: Pocono Mountain East
The Crystal Baseball doesn’t know much about Class 6A since there aren’t any Schuylkill League teams in this field, and usually just picks Parkland. That seemed to work out when the Trojans made the Class 4A and then 6A finals six straight years, winning three.
This year, however, state-ranked Bethlehem Liberty (18-2) enters districts a little angry after a semifinal loss to Pleasant Valley (14-5) in the EPC playoffs. The Crystal Baseball says the Hurricanes upend Parkland (18-5) in the semifinals, then knock off top-seeded Emmaus (18-5) in the final.
Don’t overlook No. 5 Easton (14-7), which handed Liberty its only regular-season defeat and closed the regular season with seven straight wins before falling to Pleasant Valley in the EPC playoffs.
Championship: Liberty over Emmaus
Darkhorses: Parkland, Easton
Contact the writer: Lboyer@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6026; @pubsportsboss on Twitter