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Little League District 54 gets rid of two-and-BBQ

New pool play format guarantees teams at least three all-star tournament games
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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In an effort to enhance the all-star experience for the players in its 12 leagues, Little League’s District 54 is changing the structure of its tournament beginning this season. With a district that includes leagues with close to 800 baseball players and others with fewer than 200 young athletes, the dreaded day that always came with the draw of first round tourney opponents was less stressful this year. In the past, the district has followed a format that is used widely in this part of the country, double-elimination, but this year the league presidents agreed to make the move to pool play, the format of choice at the national tournament. “It (pool play) is actually pretty common back east,” said Chris Gaither, the assistant district administrator. “As it was, if you draw a powerhouse in the first round, the kids get discouraged. This gives them a guarantee of at least three games.” “Although I think the previous tournament formats worked fine, the main benefit I see in pool play is that all else being equal, pool play adds an additional game for the kids to play,” said Mark Holloway, the president of El Dorado Hills South Little League. “All of the kids have worked hard to get to where they are so giving them an opportunity to play another game is good enough for me to support the pool play format.” One sticky point in the early discussions regarded the brackets that follow the initial rounds. Teams are initially divided into four or five-team pools and then the top two teams from each pool move on to a final elimination tournament. When the district initially approved the new structure, that final tourney was set up as a single-elimination, which was met with skepticism by some of the leagues. “I’m okay with pool play because everyone gets the three games,” said Greg Zanolli, the major all-star manager for Maidu Little League. “I have a problem with going single-elimination after that.” According to Gaither, as he was drawing up the schedule he found that there was enough time to slot more games, and thus the decision was made to make the final brackets double elimination. “I like the decision as long as the top two seeds in each pool go to a double-elimination bracket like we are doing,” said Woodcreek Little League president Nick Rotteveel. In the major, nine and 10-year-old, and junior divisions, the district will field 12 teams, divided into three four-team pools. The 10 and 11-year-old tourney has only 10 teams participating, so they will work in two five-team groupings, and the senior division will play double-elimination with its five total teams. “The other critical decision District 54 made this year which I applaud is the incorporation of the blind draw to determine who plays whom,” Holloway said. “I much prefer the randomness of slotting teams into the brackets versus the district creating the brackets based upon specific criteria as they did last year.” The pools were done by blind draw and you will see some interesting groupings when they are released,” said Kevin Anderson of Roseville West. The participants also enjoy the fact that pool play provides more certainty in scheduling, as each team knows the days and times of its first few tourney games. “It takes at least some of the scheduling variability out of it,” Anderson said. “Under the pool play format, families will at least have some visibility to when they are playing the first couple of weeks. Many sacrifice trips and other activities for the tournament, and they will at least be able to plan somewhat during the pool phase.” Pool play begins Saturday at multiple sites and continues through the Fourth of July. After that, placement in the next phase will be done by random draw. For those in the 12-team brackets, that means two teams will draw a first round bye in the six-team double-elimination finals. “Those positions are not pre-determined,” Gaither said. “Once the pool play is over, the surviving managers will get together and have the chance to draw their own slot.” Initial analysis of the brackets indicates that they are fairly well balanced overall, and while there are still some issues they would like to see resolved, local leagues are happy to move forward. “I would like to see more sites hosting pool play so that the length of the tournament could be shortened and spread the workload to more leagues,” Rotteveel said, “but pool play is going in the right direction to make that happen.” Final reviews will begin to come in on Saturday when this year’s Little League all-stars hit the diamond. FYI: Little League District 54 all-star play gets underway with pool play on Saturday at multiple sites. The 9/10-year olds will play at Mann Park in Folsom; the 10/11-year olds are at Feist Park in Granite Bay; the major all-stars play at McFarland Park in Folsom; juniors are at Union Mine High School; and the double-elimination senior tourney is at El Dorado High School.