There is something very odd about the Class 3A baseball playoffs this year. In a nutshell, the IHSAA got it backwards.
The Marion Indians had a vastly superior season than Solon this year, yet the Indians have to play the Spartans on Solon's field Monday night in the district finals.
Likewise, the Benton Community Bobcats have to face Vinton-Shellsburg on Vinton's field even though the sixth-ranked Bobcats are the No. 1 seed in the district and the Vikings have a losing record.
"It kind of bothers me, because I think both of us are kind of up against it a little bit, having to go to Solon and having to go to Vinton," Marion Coach Steve Fish said Saturday. "Baseball is one of those games where every little advantage helps, and I think you need to reward the teams that have had better regular-season records. But who am I to say that?"
The IHSAA seeded teams in Class 3A this year for the first time, which Fish feels was a step in the right direction. Benton Community was seeded No. 1 and Marion was seeded No. 2 in their eight-team substate, and if they both win Monday night they'll meet Wednesday in the finals of the substate tournament.
However, the IHSAA does not reward the higher seeds in Class 3A with home games. The sites are pre-determined and this year Vinton-Shellsburg and Solon were selected.
That stands in marked contrast to Class 4A, where the higher seeds always host games. Kennedy and Linn-Mar drew No. 1 seeds in Class 4A and will play all their substate games at home as they try to reach the state tournament.
Kennedy and Linn-Mar did very well during the regular season and were rewarded. Benton Community and Marion did very well and got nothing in return.
"If you have the two best records in the area, why aren't we hosting and rewarding those teams?," Fish asked. "It just doesn't make any sense to me."
Marion swept a doubleheader from Solon this year and finished nine games ahead of the Spartans in the Wamac Conference standings. The Indians are 28-12
overall and 21-9 in the Wamac, whereas Solon is 16-24 overall and 12-18 in the league.
Nonetheless, they'll play at Solon. "I think we're at a disadvantage," Fish said. "We beat them twice, they're at home and we're the higher seed."
Benton Community won three straight games from Vinton-Shellsburg this season and finished a whopping 12 games ahead of the Vikings in the Wamac Conference standings. The Bobcats are 33-7 overall and 24-6 in the league, whereas Vinton-Shellsburg is 18-23 overall and 12-18 in the conference.
Marion submitted a bid to host the district and substate tournaments this year, but was not selected. The Indians served as an emergency host last year after a severe storm damaged the field at Vinton-Shellsburg, and Fish believes Vinton was chosen this year to help make amends.
Marion reached the semifinals of the state tournament last year after hosting playoff games on their home field. That may not have been a great advantage, but it certainly did not hurt.
The Class 4A and 3A playoffs began Friday night. When the 4A games were finished, the higher seeded teams were rewarded with home games in the next round. When the 3A games were finished, the lower seeded teams in our area were rewarded.
Solon has an outstanding ballpark, with lush grass and all the amenities you'd want at a high school field. That's not the problem.
"If I could pick a place to play, I like playing over there. It's a nice facility," Fish said. "But we'd kind of like to have a reward and play on your own field."
If there's one consolation for Marion in all this, the Indians will not have to face Benton Community on Benton's field Wednesday night if they meet in the substate finals with a state berth resting on the outcome. If they both win Monday night, they'll meet in the substate finals Wednesday night on a neutral field at Vinton.
If the IHSAA used seedings to determine the location of Class 3A playoff games, it would have been No. 2 Marion at No. 1 Benton Community in the substate finals.
In addition to Marion having to play at Solon Monday night, there's a 50-50 chance the Spartans will be the home team on the scoreboard and bat last. The home team is determined by a coin flip, rather than rewarding the higher seed.
On top of that, Solon has gotten better the last few weeks after a slow start and upset Kennedy two weeks ago. "Goodness gracious, they're getting a lot better," Fish remarked.
Fish plans to bring his concerns about the Class 3A playoffs to the proper authorities after the season, but doesn't want it to sound like sour grapes. "I think we need to look at how things are done," he said.
He applauds the IHSAA for seeding the 3A playoffs this year, calling it a step in the right direction. Without the seedings, No. 2 Marion and No. 1 Benton Community could have met in the first round on Friday.
Fish has won 536 games during his prep baseball career, placing him in the top-50 in state history. All he wants is a level playing field and a fair system.
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