Breaking down the Division I baseball tournament
The baseball brackets have been finalized, and here are Saturday’s first-round matchups (all games at 11 a.m. at higher seed):
No. 24 Corona del Sol at No. 9 Hamilton (winner plays at No. 8 St. Mary’s); No. 17 Cienega at No. 16 Horizon (winner plays at No. 1 Desert Mountain); No. 21 San Luis at No. 12 Gilbert (winner plays at No. 5 Tolleson); No. 20 Cibola at No. 13 Mesquite (winner plays at No. 4 Pinnacle); No. 19 Marana Mountain View at No. 14 Mountain Pointe (winner plays at No. 3 Desert Ridge); No. 22 Desert Vista at No. 11 Brophy (winner plays at No. 6 Sandra Day O’Connor); No. 23 Basha at No. 10 Chaparral (winner plays at No. 7 Millennium); No. 18 Buena at No. 15 Sunnyside (winner plays at No. 2 Tucson).
Best draw: Gilbert – The Tigers fell to the No. 12 seed with two losses in their last four games, but avoided low-seeded threats like Basha and Desert Vista. Gilbert should be able to handle San Luis and then gets a winnable game against Tolleson, a team that went 24-4 in the regular season and recently beat Sandra Day O’Connor, but lost 12-0 to Chaparral in its only contest against an East Valley opponent. That would set up a possible quarterfinal matchup against Pinnacle, a talented team but not one of the assumed favorites like Desert Mountain or Desert Ridge.
Toughest draw: Hamilton – The Huskies lost three of their last nine games to fall from the top-8, and their draw was not as fortuitous. Hamilton beat first-round foe Corona del Sol 11-6 during the regular season and will be favored to win this one, but it’s not the easiest draw. The second round could be a lot of trouble, as 24-3 St. Mary’s awaits. The Knights haven’t played a tough schedule, but their shiny record and one-run losses to Brophy and Desert Mountain would suggest they are legitimate. If Hamilton gets through the single-elimination portion unscathed, a likely meeting with No. 1 seed Desert Mountain in the quarterfinals would be another tough test.
Breakdown: With the way the bracket shook out, a few of the better teams in the tournament are guaranteed not to make the quarterfinals. One each of Hamilton-St. Mary’s, Horizon-Desert Mountain, Desert Ridge-Mountain Pointe, and Brophy-Sandra Day O’Connor will be eliminated by the end of the first two rounds. On the flip side, one each of Tucson-Buena-Sunnyside and Basha-Chaparral-Millennium will make the quarterfinals, and I’m not sure any of those teams are among the best eight teams in Division I. The top teams were dispersed enough to where the contenders all have viable paths to the double-elimination portion, but it’s not perfect.
Quarterfinals prediction: No. 1 Desert Mountain; No. 2 Tucson; No. 3 Desert Ridge; No. 4 Pinnacle; No. 6 Sandra Day O’Connor; No. 9 Hamilton; No. 12 Gilbert; No. 23 Basha.