Heading into the weekend, I think the verdict was still out on the decision to begin having a Central A divisional softball tournament. I had heard arguments for and against the idea. But after sitting through a lot of great Class A softball on Friday and Saturday in Havre, I don’t think the tournament could have played out any better.
Yes, watching the Havre High Blue Ponies take one of the top three spots, and punch their ticket to state after a 3-5 regular season conference record, would have been the icing on the cake, but all in all, the tournament was an all-around success in every sense.
And the idea of letting teams grow, and build through the regular season is the main reason for a divisional tournament.
“It was a good tournament,” Belgrade head coach Justin Taylor said. “I was for it from day one, and this year we played like we needed one. Had there not been a tournament, we would have made state as a three seed, barley. But this weekend gave us our kids a chance to go out there and play better than we had during the year.”
With such short prep schedules, one or two early losses in the regular season can sink a team. But a divisional tournament allows every team to be a potential state contender, especially in a division like the Central A, where the top four teams may be as evenly matched as they come. And the evidence is in the final results. Entering the weekend, the Lewistown Golden Eagles were the No. 1 seed, while the Belgrade Panthers were No. 2, and the Livingston Rangers were No. 3. But after two days, and eight games, the Panthers enter state as a No. 1 seed, while the Rangers also improved to a No. 2 seed, and the Eagles dropped all they way to the No. 3 seed.
It may seem like the Eagles drew the short straw in this scenario, but teams were truly forced to play their very best softball over the two days of action.
“I have been preaching to the choir all year,” Coach Taylor said. “I told the girls they are a good team, they just need to play like it, and they did. Early on, I would have picked our team as one of the top four in the state, but this year was a struggle. It was great that we put it all together now, and we are entering sate playing our best softball.
“Oh yes,” Taylor added. “It would have been a tough pill to swallow (if we did not make state). But I am still for it, because it gives everybody a reason to come play. It gave us what state is going to be like a week early, and getting the opportunity to come play was great for a team like Browning. At least they were here, and Havre being a four seed, it gave them something to fight for too.”
For the Ponies, the weekend meant new life, and an opportunity to prove they are team to be reckoned with.
Last season the Ponies and Rangers were tied for the No. 3 seed at the end of the regular season. And instead of letting their softball abilities determine which team went to state, and which team was left ending their season early, a simple coin flip was the final decision maker. Unfortunately, the Ponies were left on the outside looking in.
This season, that wasn’t even a possibility, as the Ponies at least got the opportunity to fight for their post season.
“I think this was the best idea,” Havre High senior Davee McLeod said. “Last year we had to rely on a coin flip, and it just wasn’t fair. Now this year, it showed that every team is competitive and equal, and the rankings don’t really matter. The tournament was the best idea for us.”
Hopefully the first annual Central A softball tournament, is just the beginning. Divisional tournaments could benefit conferences across the state, and after watching first hand, those divisions left without a tournament, should really consider the possibility of starting a new post season tradition.