This season in Class 5A, District 5, it's a three-team race.
By GREG AUMAN
Published March 9, 2004
Usually in baseball, four games are a long series.
For Land O'Lakes, Mitchell and River Ridge this spring, it is the entire district season.
A rare three-team district has made for cozy competition between the schools in volleyball, basketball and soccer - and now baseball and softball.
"I've got a 67 percent chance of advancing, so I shouldn't complain," said Land O'Lakes coach Calvin Baisley, who has the only returning playoff team of the three. "Those games are always the ones that count the most, but this makes the district games all the more important."
If two teams emerge from the three - as was the case in boys basketball last month - the tiebreaker, should the teams split and finish with matching 3-1 district marks, is the overall record, making all those nondistrict games important as well.
Baisley said the tiny nature of the district makes it a less compelling goal for teams, something they have to go for, but won't necessarily enjoy as much as they would in a larger, more normal-sized district.
"When you're in a six- or eight-team district, you feel like you've accomplished something if you win the district," Baisley said. "When it takes three wins to win it, that's something, but if all it takes is one win, that doesn't give you any sense of accomplishment."
Mitchell played River Ridge in the season-opening Tom Varn Invitational in Brooksville, and though the Mustangs won, that meeting won't count toward the district standings, except to set the tone for the two meetings ahead, including Tuesday's game at Mitchell.
"All three teams are pretty even," Mustangs coach Phil Bell said. "I expect us, Land O'Lakes and River Ridge to be neck and neck the whole way."
The Knights and Mustangs quickly have forged a solid rivalry, having met in the first round of last year's district tournament, which Mitchell won, only to lose in the district semifinals.
The beauty - and danger - of a three-team district is that one team can go winless all season, but make the playoffs with a single, well-timed win in the district semifinal.
"Everything boils down to those four games," Knights coach Jack Homko said.
"And if you're lucky enough to make it as the No.1 seed, you're already in the playoffs. It's going to be pretty competitive."