Photo: Cole Bartels is on the mound today.
The bunting and flags are still on the fences and poles of Brendan Grant Field in Belmont.
“Leave them up,” Belmont High School Baseball Head Coach Jim Brown told the facilities department a day after the end of the regular season this past weekend.
With a 14-6 record and a .700 percentage winning record, the long-time Marauders manager was certain this Belmont team had earned a first-round home game for the 2016 Division 2 North Sectional playoffs.
“Last year, that record was a five seed,” said Brown as he oversaw practice on Wednesday afternoon. (The first eight ranked teams are rewarded with a home game.) “It would be great to our fans who come out in big numbers to support us.”
Well, no one told Brown or Belmont that the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing board for all high school sports, could find a way to place the Marauders on the outside looking in.
With Marblehead, Melrose and Beverly also with 14-6 records and three spots left in the top eight, the MIAA used a combination of coin flips and numbers out of a hat that resulted in Belmont being relegated to the 9th seed, which is the third year in a row Belmont has found themselves in the inevitable position.
The ninth position is the cruelest seed as it finds a winning program forced to go on the road against an equally proficient team. And if victorious, the next game will be an away game against the number one seed, which this season is Danvers.
“Call it Belmont luck,” said Brown.
Unlike a growing majority of athletic conferences which are using data (such as using a team’s “power” ranking which gives greater weight to wins against stronger teams) and head-to-head competitions to determine rankings with teams of equal records, the MIAA continues to use coin-flips to pick team positions.
“They didn’t take in consideration that we beat Melrose (9-2) in the regular season,” said Brown. Melrose is the seven seed in the sectionals.
Not only is Belmont back in the ninth seed, they will be playing against a very familiar post-season opponent. Thursday’s opening round match will be against Beverley High School, marking the fifth time in the past seven years the Marauders and Panthers have clashed in the first round of the playoffs.
The last time they met in 2014 resulted in a four hour, 16 inning ultra-marathon (a regular game is seven innings) that the Marauders won 4-2. Belmont then met first seed Gloucester 17 hours later and lost 3-2.
And if there wasn’t enough adversity facing Belmont, the game will be played today, Thursday, June 2 at 1 p.m. at Beverly High School rather than Friday due to Beverly’s prom which is scheduled for tonight.
Brown said he and Beverly’s head coach, Dave Wilburn, are similar in each likes to put pressure on opposing defenses by playing “small” ball in the post season.
“There’s not a lot of runs coming from this game so every run will count big,” said Brown.
Belmont will face a Beverly offense sparked by their league co-MVP, sophomore third-base Spencer Brown (.438). Brown will counter with starting senior ace Cole Bartels who has struck out 75 batters this season with a 1.00 ERA .
“They’ll see a lot of Bartels,” said Brown.