For a manager whose team is the top seed entering the York-Adams American Legion baseball playoffs, Northeastern manager Ken Kopp is anything but at ease.
Had the season ended a week ago, he'd probably feel differently, but over the course of his team's final two games, things went south, giving him cause for concern leading up to the beginning of the playoffs on Thursday.
The Northeastern Legion team enters the double-elimination tournament as the No. 1 seed with a record of 12-3. However, until the final two games of the year, Northeastern was sitting pretty at 12-1 and was entrenched in first place, but wound up tied in points with Pleasureville (11-2-2), only to own the tiebreaker by winning the head-to-head meeting. The teams were declared regular season co-champions.
Now, Kopp is left searching for answers as the playoffs loom, trying to figure out any way possible to snap his team out of its current two-game skid and get the offense rolling again. Kopp also has to figure out how to manage a team that primarily went with two starting pitchers all summer, but now could potentially face playing four games over the course of five days.
"I really don't know what we'll do in the playoffs," Kopp said. "I know we have a lot of talent ... But, I don't know what we're going to get. I'm throwing one of my horses (Thursday) night and I guess we'll see what we'll get from there."
Kopp is right when he says he has a lot of talent. After winning the regular season and playoffs last year, and earning a spot in the Region 4 Tournament, pretty much his entire team returned this summer. While he's had to juggle the normal problems of high school kids going on vacation and holding part-time jobs, he's still managed to put a winning product on the field. Behind the arms of his son, Kenny, and Brady Dolan, who have both thrown no-hitters this summer, Northeastern only allowed 26 runs over the course of its first 13 games. However, in the last two games, his staff allowed 14 runs, including 11 in a loss to South Western.
Northeastern will open the playoffs at the Manchester Field vs. the No. 8 seed, New Oxford, which finished the year 8-6-1. Despite being the final team into the playoffs, New Oxford did knock off Northeastern in the regular season, a 7-4 victory back on June 17. That victory was also part of a stretch in which New Oxford closed the year by going 8-2-1 after opening the season with four straight losses.
Pleasureville bats red hot: Second-seeded Pleasureville will face South Western (9-6-0) in its first round game on Thursday at Central York High School and will do so with some scorching bats.
Over the last eight games in which Pleasureville's gone 8-0, it's scored 66 runs, more than eight per game. The combination of an offense that is peaking at the right time and a pitching staff that is allowing just two runs per game has been lethal. If there's anything that Bob Davis' team has, it's depth, which may prove key with the prospects of playing four games in five days.
"I think we have just as good a chance as anybody else," Davis said. "I think we have very strong pitching. Our No. 2-3-4-5 are very strong and we have some younger players down the lineup who are starting to hit the ball."
South Western and Pleasureville met on Tuesday in their final regular-season match-up, with Pleasureville claiming a 5-4 victory. Familiarity won't be an issue in this one.
Other match-ups: In the 3-vs.-6 showdown between No. 3 Red Lion (11-3-1) and No. 6 Hanover (9-5-1), Red Lion enters as arguably the hottest team in the league, going 8-1-1 over its final 10 games after opening the year 3-2. Meanwhile, Hanover has now qualified for the playoffs every year since 2010, one of the best streaks in the league. In their game earlier this season, Red Lion thumped Hanover, 14-2, back on June 15. The Red Lion-Hanover battle is set for Horn Field.
The 4-vs.-5 game will pit No. 4 Dallastown (10-4-1) against No. 5 Shiloh (10-5-0). Dallastown beat out Shiloh by one point to grab the No. 4 spot and has a lineup full of players from the high school team that won the York-Adams League title. Shiloh caught fire down the stretch in June, going 6-2 to make a move up the standings. Shiloh won the early-season meeting between the two sides, 8-6, in the second game of the season. The Dallastown-Shiloh game will be played at Nitchkey Field in Red Lion.
Only one bid: In past years, the Y-A American Legion would get two bids into the Region 4 Tournament, one for the regular-season champ and one for the playoff victor.
But this year only the winner of the playoffs will earn a bid into the Region 4 Tournament, a point of contention, especially for Kopp, whose team now must win the double-elimination tournament just to extend its season.
"By us winning the regular season, we get nothing other than being the No. 1 seed," Kopp said. "We don't get an automatic berth into Region 4 and I think that needs to be changed. ...We are the biggest Legion group, I think we went from 18 teams and now we're down to 16, but you got Legion groups who have six or eight teams and they get to take two, but we only get one. So, I think the boys are like, 'We battled the whole season and basically didn't get an automatic berth to Region 4.'"
The tournament will run from Thursday, July 7 through Monday, July 11. All games in Thursday's first round will start at 5;45 p.m.
The Region 4 Tournament starts Saturday, July 16, and runs through Wednesday, July 20.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org