Six brackets. Eleven days to play the games. And a whole lot of uncertainty.
It’s not just the change in state classifications that have shaken things up heading into the District 2 tournaments, which begin Friday and run through the May 28-29 championships at PNC Field. The margin between teams looks to be especially small this season, with both the Wyoming Valley Conference and Lackawanna League clustered up with similar records.
The WVC in particular has seen parity in its top two divisions — Crestwood won Division 1 at 8-5 with the other four squads all tied at 7-6. Division 2 needed a playoff to settle a champ with the top four teams all within one game of each other.
At the district level, all seven teams in the Class 5A bracket are .500 or above. In Class 4A, there’s only a 1.5-game difference between top-seeded Valley View and No. 6 Wyoming Area.
“It’s never this even,” long-time Coughlin coach Moe Rodzinak said. “Never this even. There’s always usually a team that’s really strong. This year, anybody can beat anybody on a given day.
“There was no overpowering team. That’s why the playoffs will be interesting.”
The lone WVC team in the five-team field is No. 4 Hazleton Area (7-6, .255 AVG, 1.63 ERA), which enters this District 2-4 subregional on a three-game winning streak.
For the sixth time in the last eight seasons, the Cougars will face Scranton in the postseason, hosting the Knights in Monday’s quarterfinal. A win there would send them to play No. 1 West Scranton, the Lackawanna Division 1 champion, in Thursday’s semifinals.
No. 2 Crestwood (8-5, .274, 2.33) earned a division title. The reward? A Saturday opener against defending district champion in North Pocono, which reached the state semifinals last season in the old Class 3A.
It’s a different landscape for No. 3 Wyoming Valley West (7-6, .235, 2.11) this season, as the Spartans go from being a smaller 4A school in the old format to a relatively larger 5A school in the new one. They open Friday at home against Abington Heights.
It will be interesting to see how both Valley West and No. 5 Pittston Area (7-6, .239, 1.94) respond after getting back on the field following their forfeits at the end of the regular season. The veteran Patriots play Saturday at No. 4 Coughlin (7-6, .255, 2.31), with the Crusaders having won both league matchups by scores of 6-5 and 3-1. The winner will hit the road to face top-seeded Wallenpaupack in the semifinals.
Friday will feature a pair of WVC quarterfinal matchups with teams facing off for the third time this spring.
The first is No. 2 Dallas (7-6, .274, 3.34), which won its last five league games before rallying to win a playoff to capture the WVC Division 2 title. Up first is No. 7 Nanticoke (3-10, .188, 4.18), which split the season series with the Mountaineers and will be looking to record another postseason upset.
The other has No. 3 Tunkhannock (7-6, .282, 3.30) hosting No. 6 Wyoming Area (6-7, .258, 3.46). The two teams met in Tunkhannock just a week ago with the Tigers winning 8-4 to sweep the season series.
Also heading on the road will be No. 5 Berwick (6-7, .230, 2.57) for a game against Scranton Prep at Connell Park. If the Bulldogs pull that one out, they’d most likely take on No. 1 Valley View in the semis.
As this is the largest bracket at 12 teams, both district finalists will qualify for the state tournament.
Top-seeded Lakeland is the only District 2 team to enter the playoffs with an unbeaten conference record. The Chiefs earned a first-round bye along with No. 2 Meyers (11-3, .257, 2.07), No. 3 Holy Redeemer (10-4, .326, 1.89) and No. 4 Mid Valley.
In a coincidence, all of the Lackawanna teams are on the top half of the bracket with all of the WVC squads on the bottom. That sets up a pair of Friday rubber matches in the opening round.
No. 6 Lake-Lehman (9-5, .250, 3.97) hosts No. 11 Wyoming Seminary (6-8, .260, 3.99) with an early start of 1 p.m. The road team won both meetings during the season — Lehman by a 4-1 score in April and Seminary 7-5 earlier this month. The winner takes on Redeemer in the quarters.
In a rematch from last’s year’s first round, No. 7 Hanover Area (9-5, .271, 1.98) welcomes No. 10 GAR (6-8, .273, 4.23). The squads just finished two games against each other last week. The Grenadiers won a 10-inning affair that had been suspended due to darkness back in April before the Hawkeyes rebounded immediately with a win of their own. Up next for the winner will be Meyers.
The only WVC squad left in Class 2A happens to be the school that won the tournament a year ago. It’s a different team this season for No. 6 Northwest (3-11, .197, 5.27), but it’s also a very different bracket.
Most of the teams from the 2016 2A field are now in 3A. And the Rangers’ quarterfinal opponent on Monday, Old Forge, moved up from Class A.
With only three District 2 teams in class, they join up with District 11 to form a subregional. Because of that, MMI Prep was the only WVC squad not guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, as District 11 does not have open tournaments.
The six-team field is comprised of four District 11 teams, the top District 2 squad and one wildcard from a pool of nine schools. Forest City clinched the D2 berth and the Preppers wrapped up the wildcard by winning three of their final four games.
District 11 has a 4 p.m. Sunday deadline to finalize the matchups, but it appears MMI will play Monday’s quarterfinal against Lincoln Leadership Academy of Allentown.
Because berths in the subregional are determined by District 11’s full-season power ratings formula, the Preppers’ strength of schedule lifted them into the tournament above fellow D2 squad Susquehanna.
Despite that edge, MMI would miss out on a potential District 2 final at PNC Field. If neither Forest City nor MMI reaches the subregional final, a D2 title game would pit Forest City against Susquehanna because the Sabers (2-10) had a higher conference win percentage than the Preppers (2-12).
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse