Ben Vespi pitched won the first game of the regional playoffs for American Heritage, and he’ll try to do the same in the regional finals against Benjamin on Tuesday. Jupiter’s Jake Garland will do the same against Palm Beach Central.
The Florida High School Athletic Association’s baseball playoff schedule has teams play only one game per week in the postseason, which allows teams to rest between games but also permits them to ride their top starting pitcher all the way to Fort Myers for the state tournament.
“You’re almost playing a different sport,” Palm Beach Central coach Tony Gullo said, “because you only have one (pitcher).”
During the regular season, most teams play multiple games per week. Teams need multiple solid pitchers to have good seasons. But when the regional playoffs begin, long breaks between games becomes the new normal, and teams’ aces have enough time to rest between each game.
With the current schedule, large school teams have seven days between the first and second round of the playoffs. Small schools have six. Large schools then have another week between the second and third rounds. Teams then have between seven and nine days off before states.
Once teams gets to Fort Myers, they face playing back-to-back days in the semifinals and finals.
“You kind of have to give the guys a little bit more time off, just because we played Tuesday, and then you’re talking about you’ve got a whole week for practices,” Jupiter coach Andy Mook said. “But we’re like, how many times can you go through bunt defense?
“It becomes a little overkill. Kids start losing a little interest.”
Even coaches who take advantage of the playoff format are not fans of the current set up.
“It doesn’t tell you who the best team is,” American Heritage coach Carm Mazza said. “For me, I’m happy. Let’s get into my second, third and fourth guy.”
Gullo’s team doesn’t have a clearly defined ace. He relies more on depth, which works during a long regular season but can put his team at a disadvantage when constantly facing opposing aces.
“A guy that throws 95 can be off a little and still be very effective,” Gullo said. “Our guys have to be on to be very effective.”
The amount of time between games has changed in the past few years. Before the 2015 season, teams had less than a week between games, with only three off days separating the second and third rounds.
“We were hearing from our membership schools that there were a lot of concerns in terms of rain and not having enough makeup days available,” FHSAA spokesman Kyle Niblett told the Orlando Sentinel last year. “When you have two games in one week and then one gets delayed, all of a sudden you’re looking at a Thursday or Friday and a quick turnaround. Then you’re talking about the arms of pitchers and missing a lot of class.”
The long schedules also get in the way of end-of-year activities. Both Jupiter and Palm Beach Central’s graduation ceremonies are on May 21. The next day, one of those teams will play in the regional final.
“You’re getting caught up in time and asking these seniors, who are graduating — and that should be one of their main focuses going on — you’re asking them to make decisions and go ahead and play in the state tournament after they graduate,” Gullo said. “That’s an issue, as well.
“If I were in charge, I would go back to the old system.”