That’s because there may not be a prohibitive favorite for this week’s eight-team regional tournament, which kicks off Thursday. Bishop Manogue is hosting the three-day event.
“A month ago, it seemed like there were four or five teams that had a legitimate shot, but now it kind of seems like every team in the playoffs has a shot,” Reed coach Jon Wunder said. “Any of the eight are capable of pulling an upset. No one is looking past that first game. I think all the coaches agree, this will be one of the most competitive tournaments in years.”
Spanish Springs coach Jeff Davidson had similar sentiments.
“I’ve always said, it’s anybody’s game once regionals start,” the Cougars’ coach said. “Any two of the eight teams could reach the championship. We’re approaching every game like it’s a single elimination tournament … I think it’s very equal. It doesn’t matter what seed you are. The parity is really evident this year. There will be a lot of tight, close games. It’s anybody’s tournament.”
Reed (26-4) takes the top seed into the tournament after finishing league play 19-1. The Raiders will open the tourney against No. 8 seed McQueen at 1 p.m. Spanish Springs (23-8, 15-5) earned the third seed and will meet sixth-seeded Galena at 6 p.m.
The other two first-round matchups feature Bishop Manogue (No. 2 seed ) against Douglas (No. 7 seed) and Damonte Ranch (No. 4 seed) against Carson (No. 5 seed).
“I think right now we’re playing as well as we have at any time during the year,” Davidson said. “We’re getting good pitching and playing solid defense. The hits are coming along. We just have to continue to play the way we have the last couple weeks and see what happens.”
The Cougars’ games against Galena could not have been much different. Spanish Springs won a close contest at Galena, 6-4, in mid-April and then crushed the Grizz, 15-2, in both school’s regular season finale last Friday.
“One game was very close,” Davidson said, alluding to the earlier affair. “Galena’s got a very good team and quite a few players that can hit the ball and hurt you at any point in the game. We have to pitch them carefully and then we must be aggressive at the plate on offense.”
When the Cougars have struggled this spring, like when they dropped three straight league games for the first time since 2004, poor defense has been the SSHS crew’s Achilles heel. Davidson didn’t mince words when he stressed that his team must not give opponents extra outs if it wants to make a deep playoff run.
“Defense is the key component to winning regionals,” the skipper said. “If you play solid defense and make the routine plays, limiting your mistakes, you’re going to be in the game. We will try to take advantage of our opportunities and then play solid defense behind out pitching. You hope that’s enough.”
A year ago, Spanish Springs was the tournament’s top seed after breezing through league play undefeated. However, all did not turn out so smooth. The Cougars lost in the second round and were eliminated on Day 2 of the tournament. Davidson knows how important it is to seize momentum and stay in the winners’ bracket.
“I can remember in past years where Reed got in the losers’ bracket early and came all the way back through, but it is important to stay in the winners’ bracket,” Davidson reiterated. “That way you’re not playing all those back-to-back games. It helps your pitching and it takes the pressure off your players.”
At Reed, the Raiders are excited to have the regional tournament’s top seed, but they also know the seeding, earned thanks to their regular season prowess, means little now in the postseason.
“It’s always nice to have some momentum but being the No. 1 seed does not mean much,” Wunder said. “We did earn that right and that’s great for about a week leading up to the playoffs, but once the tournament starts, we’re all 0-0.”
In their first-round tournament affair, the Raiders will meet McQueen, a team it beat by scores of 6-2 and 5-3 in Northern 4A League play.
“I expect solid pitching from McQueen,” Wunder said. “Their ace, Jordan Lane, keeps them in games, and not just against us, but everybody. I think we can expect another pitchers’ duel. Whichever team executes at the plate and minimizes its errors on defense is probably going to win the game.”
While defense has let down Spanish Springs at times, its been a rock for Reed. Pitching and defense keeps games close and those areas have certainly been cornerstones to Reed’s success. Reed may be the only team in the tournament that can interchange three pitchers without missing a beat. Wunder hopes the defense and pitching carry his team in the coming days.
“It’s been pitching and defense for us all year,” Wunder said. “We’ve had quite a few games where we didn’t commit an error. And I can count on one or two fingers the games where we’ve committed more than one error. Our bats can be hot and cold, but our pitching and defense have been consistent.”
After rolling to their 26-4 record and losing just one game in conference clashes, Wunder said his team’s sights are set high.
“We expect to win one game at a time in this tournament, but we’ve had a good season. We feel we’ve got the players and the chemistry to win a regional championship. Ultimately, we do want to get to state, but it will be a disappointment if we don’t come out on top.”