The new format for the Zone 2 tournament immediately puts coaches between a rock and a hard place, and things only get tighter the longer their team plays.

During the offseason, the zone adopted a single-elimination quarterfinal round — which kicks off the tournament Tuesday — with the balance of the bracket to follow being double-elimination.

Teams — particularly higher seeds — can’t take anything for granted in the first round.

“You could be going against a team with one really good pitcher in that single elimination game and they could shut you right down,” Gardiner coach Dan Burdin said. “It does make it interesting.”

That, along with the fact that the regular season champion no longer gets a free pass to the state tournament, means more teams will go into the first round with a win-or-bust mentality knowing that they could be putting themselves into a more precarious position for the rest of the tournament if they move on.

“The first game, it’s got to be all hands on deck,” Franklin County coach Kyle Gunzinger said. “If you don’t win the first game, you’re done anyway. You’ve got to piece together the double-elimination.”

Gardiner, Franklin County and Augusta all hope to have a chance to figure out how they’ll do that with a win on Tuesday.

Zone 1 wrapped up its regular season on Monday and begins its tournament Wednesday. The top six teams in the regular season advance for what will be a single-elimination tournament throughout.

Messalonskee Post 51 went into Monday night’s finale having already clinched one of the top two seeds and a bye to the semifinals on Thursday. The RTD 39ers, of Madison, meanwhile, were fighting for a playoff spot with a game Monday and a make-up game on Tuesday. The zone tournament begins Wednesday at Husson University.

“It’s quite a race,” Zone 1 commissioner David Paul said before Monday night’s games. “We’ve got a couple of different scenarios for tournament matchups and a couple of different scenarios in the event of ties.”

Zone 2 will play its quarterfinals games at the higher seed, then move the rest of the tournament to the CARA complex in Augusta beginning at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, when games will be played simultaneously on Morton and McGuire fields. The tournament will continue through Thursday and Friday and, if necessary, Saturday.

The top two teams in each zone advance to the state tournament, which is July 29 through Aug. 2 in South Portland.

Bessey Motors (15-3), of South Paris, clinched the top seed in Zone 2. It will host No. 8 Highland Green (6-12), of Topsham, in the quarterfinals at 4 p.m.. Brunswick finished with one more win than Highland Green, but lost its playoff eligibility due to too many forfeits.

Franklin County (13-5), of Farmington, is the No. 2 seed and hosts No. 7 Tri-Town (10-8), of Poland, at 7 p.m. at Hippach Field. The two teams split a doubleheader in the opening weekend of the season, with Franklin winning 6-1 and losing 1-0. Gunzinger doesn’t put much stock into that earlier matchup, though. “They scooped up some of the kids from Andy Valley (which disbanded early in the season), so it’s a different team than what we saw in the opening weekend,” he said.

No. 4 Gardiner will host No. 5 Augusta in another quarterfinal matchup at 4 p.m. at Oak Hill High School in Wales. Both teams finished 12-6 but Gardiner earned the home date when it swept the Elks in a July 12 doubleheader.

The other quarterfinal features a Twin Cities matchup with No. 3 Pastime Club (13-5), of Lewiston, hosting No. 6 Rogers Post (12-6), of Auburn, at 4 p.m.

The new format adds even more intrigue to what many coaches thought would be a very competitive tournament regardless.

“I think anybody can beat anybody,” Augusta Elks coach Tim Rodrigue said. “When my team’s up and everyone is there, we can beat anybody, and I think you can say the same about everybody else.”

Zone 1 could be a very competitive tournament, as well, which Paul attributed to the arrival of Post 51, RTD Madison and Midcoast, of Rockland, after the old Zone 2 contracted.

“The addition of those three teams has been fantastic for us,” he said. “We’ve got six teams with 10 wins or more right now. That’s never happened. And if Madison wins its last two, they would be a seventh team.”

Paul said RTD Madison would need to win Monday against Trenton and Tuesday’s game with Penquis to keep its season alive. It will be the No. 6 seed if it wins both games. Furthermore, it would move up a spot if Motor City lost to Post 51 on Monday as RTD Madison would finish in a three-way tie at 10-8 with Trenton and Motor City.

That’s when things would get complicated. Paul said the first tiebreaker under zone rules is a nine-inning play-in game. That can’t be done with three teams, Paul said. The second tiebreaker is head-to-head results, but all three teams split.

The third tiebreaker is Mealy points, a system similar to the Heal points used by Maine high school sports that assesses a value to each team based on which teams it beat. If it comes to that, RTD Madison would finish fifth and Motor City and Trenton would play at noon on Wednesday to determine the No. 6 seed, Paul said.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33


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