Friday, June 22, 2018

MIAA Baseball: Final Thoughts From The 2018 Super Eight

By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

Coming into the season, Zach Brown knew he had the team to make a run at a Super Eight berth. Franklin accomplished far more.

After a slow start, the Franklin offense caught fire down the stretch and a final record of 17-5 to go with non-league wins over Catholic Memorial and Walpole landed the Panthers their first Super Eight selection. 

In the tournament, the seventh-seeded Panthers played their best baseball of the season. Despite currently holding just one scholarship player in Fairfield commit Jake Noviello, Franklin knocked off the best that Massachusetts has to offer taking down No. 2 Wachusett and No. 3 St. John’s Prep before defeating four seed Central Catholic twice to take home the Super Eight crown.

“It’s really special when you get everyone to buy in,” said Franklin shortstop Alex Haba. “Whether that means you’re doing the charts, or the scorebook, or in charge of the pitcher’s bag, or playing in the infield everyone has to do their part. It’s really hard to find a team that is able to do that, but this year everyone bought in on doing what they’re supposed to, and it got us home.”

With the tournament now officially in the books, here are some closing thoughts and one gripe on this year’s Super Eight tournament.

It’s About Staying in the Winners Bracket Not Pitching Depth

For years, one of the main characteristics people have used to judge teams with regards to Super Eight worthiness is “pitching depth.” There is no question that based on the success of past Super Eight teams a dominant top two in the rotation is necessary. In order to win in the elite tournament, teams need a Noviello, Mike Vasil, Cam Schlittler, or Ian Seymour to turn to when their seasons are on the line.

Yet so far there has been almost no evidence that teams that win do so because of deep pitching staffs. Back in 2016, Scott Creedon fired three complete games in leading Braintree to the title. Last season, St. John’s Shrewsbury relied heavily on Seymour and Matt Stansky as the two threw more than 30 of the 36 innings the Pioneers played. Then this year Noviello and Bryan Woelfel threw 35.1 of 37 innings for Franklin.

The question does not seem to be pitching depth, but whether a team has enough overall talent to win early in the tournament. Those who stay in the winners bracket have the luxury of relying on their top two arms to lead them the rest of the way. Over the years, those who have fallen into the one-loss bracket have been forced to use up to six or seven arms to stay alive but no one has ever come out of the losers bracket to claim the title.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see whether the committee chooses to focus not so much on pitching-depth and more on a team's overall ability. 

The Tournament is Available to Those Who Want In

One of the main criticisms of the Super Eight has been that the tournament is only accessible for a handful of teams from a certain number of leagues. But with the selection of the Hockomock League this year, now teams from nine difference conferences have appeared in the Super Eight.

After missing out on the tournament last year, Brown followed the committee’s advice and bolstered Franklin's non-conference schedule. The end results showed for themselves. 

Similarly, Lexington realized they had a chance to make some statewide noise and went out and scheduled BC High and Catholic Memorial in the last two years as part of their non-league slate. The Minutemen's win over BC High undoubtedly was one the key metrics that got them into the field. 

The committee has repeatedly made it clear that non-league strength of schedule is a major sticking point when it comes time to compare teams for one of the final spots. Those who have followed that advice have by-and-large been rewarded. 

Changing of the Guard 

When the Super Eight was first being considered, Kirk Fredericks had the objective in mind of halting the Catholic Conference's dominance within the state tournament. Between 2006 and 2011, Catholic Conference schools won eight sectional titles and were finalists in three others. Additionally in 2009, St. John’s Shrewsbury appeared in the Div. 1 State Final only to lose to BC High.

That much has happened since the creation of the Super Eight as no Catholic Conference school has won a state tournament. Yet those same schools also not have had success in Super Eight play. St. John’s Prep has made the tournament all five years and appeared in the final in 2015, 2016, and 2017 only to come up short. BC High, meanwhile, has been to the semi-final three times but never played for the crown. Xaverian and Catholic Memorial have reached the tournament a combined four times.

Public schools have shown they have no trepidation when it comes to playing members of the Catholic Conference, St. John's Shrewsbury, or Central Catholic in the Super Eight. After all, four of the tournament’s first five champions are Braintree (twice), Newton North, and now Franklin. St. John’s Shrewsbury is the only catholic school thus far to take home the crown.

Braintree, Newton North, and Franklin are a combined 10-2 versus catholic schools during their title runs.

With the Bay State Conference a solidified baseball powerhouse and the Hockomock League clearly on the rise, it will be interesting to see in the years to come and as more games are played whether catholic schools ever begin to take over the tournament or whether the competition has truly leveled off.


Super Eight Championships

Public Schools: 4
Catholic Schools: 1


Catholic Schools vs. Public Schools: 22-19

BC High

Vs. Public schools: 8-1
Vs. Catholic Schools: 2-7

St. John’s Prep

Vs. Public Schools: 8-8
Vs. Catholic Schools: 6-2


Vs. Public Schools: 2-3
Vs. Catholic Schools: 2-3

Catholic Memorial

Vs. Public Schools: 0-2
Vs. Catholic Schools: 0-0

St. John's Shrewsbury

Vs. Public Schools: 3-2
Vs. Catholic Schools: 3-2

Central Catholic

Vs. Public Schools: 1-3
Vs. Catholic Schools: 3-1

And Finally, Release the Schedule and Find one Backup Site 

Early in the tournament, with graduations and proms taking place it can be tough to decipher when exactly each team is going to play their next round game. But following the first few rounds, and as the amount of teams winnows down, there is no reason that a clear-cut schedule cannot be released for the remainder of the tournament. 

For the last four seasons, the Super Eight has been hosted at one singular location, Campanelli Stadium in Brockton. As long as that one site is being used throughout the tournament it should be pretty clear early what days are going to be available for Super Eight games. The constant guessing-game amongst coaches about when their next tournament game may be leaves them stuck asking questions involving a kids availability to pitch, practice schedule, and just an overall inability to plan for a nine inning game without worry about whether a player’s physical health could be at risk.

Additionally, its time for a second site to become available for use. Whether its up North or in Central Mass. there needs to be a place to play in the event that two teams are set to square off that are not within any remote vicinity of Brockton. 

Last season, St. John's Prep played Central Catholic in a Quarter Final matchup. Despite being arguably the top matchup of the tournament there was almost nobody in attendance due to the fact that both schools are over 55 miles away from the park.

Then again this year, Wachsuett faced off against Lexington in a Super Eight Elimination game also in Brockton. The schools combine to be over 105 miles away from Campanelli Stadium. 

Brockton can still be the Super Eight's main "host site" but going forward there needs to be an alternate ballpark available when it can be beneficial for the two schools playing and fan attendance. 

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