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MIAA eyes new baseball tourney

FRANKLIN — Baseball is called America’s pastime, but at the high school level interest is deteriorating.

Whether it’s due to the increasing interest in lacrosse, or increased participation in other activities, such as spring and summer basketball leagues, the sport is losing its place.

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In an attempt to curtail the pattern, Lincoln-Sudbury baseball coach Kirk Fredericks designed a new postseason tournament for baseball, the Division 1A tournament, which is similar to the current Super 8 format the MIAA uses for hockey.

The MIAA Baseball Tournament Committee voted 10-4 in favor of the format Thursday, the first step in getting the tournament in place for the 2014 season. The Tournament Management Committee will vote on the proposal in March and the MIAA Board of Directors, if necessary, will review the proposal as well.

“It’s a good opportunity to give baseball a real shot in the arm and bring some energy and enthusiasm back to baseball,” said Catholic Memorial athletic director and MIAA Baseball Tournament Committee chairman Alex Campea. “Baseball is a great game, and this is a little something different and it should add some excitement.”

The Division 1A tournament will include the eight best teams in the state, regardless of division or section. The teams will be selected by an 11-person tournament seeding committee.

Like the Super 8, teams selected may only compete in the Division 1A tournament and will not be allowed to participate in their respective state tournaments.

The tournament will have two four-team, double-elimination brackets, and the two bracket champions will play a best-of-three final series. All games will be nine innings.

“Until you run something, you don’t know what you’re going to get,” Fredericks said. “As long as you have good people involved, as you go, you make adjustments and changes, so as long as you put trust in this committee, then things should work out.”

Not only is the proposed tournament format designed to rejuvenate the sport, but the committee also sought to bring parity to the state tournament.

Over the last 14 seasons, nine of the Division 1 state champions have come from the Catholic Conference, and a Catholic school has been in the championship game all but three times.

A similar trend appeared in hockey. From 1979-90, the Division 1 champion was a Catholic school. But since hockey adopted the 1A format in 1991, 14 of the 22 state champions have been public schools.

Catholic schools have such a stranglehold on baseball that at one point, according to Fredericks, talks surfaced about creating separate Catholic and public school tournaments.

But Fredericks, who regularly schedules his Lincoln-Sudbury team against Catholic schools, enjoys the competition and was opposed to separate tournaments.

He drew up the 1A format for baseball and presented it to the Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Association, which encouraged him to bring it to the MIAA.

“Each year, when the stars align and you have guys that aren’t hurt and you can match up against the Catholics, you can put all those teams in a tournament and give them a legitimate shot to beat them,” Fredericks said. “You’ll beat them once in a while, but the odds are against them and hopefully this will give everybody a chance for that once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

Alignment changes for the South section were also presented at the committee meeting. They included: Plymouth South, Wellesley, and King Philip moving up from Division 2 to Division 1; Norwood and Dartmouth moving down to Division 2; Medfield, Bishop Feehan, Westwood, Canton, and Middleboro moving up from Division 3 to Division 2; Randolph, Holliston, and Dennis-Yarmouth moving down from Division 2 to Division 3; Abington, Archbishop Williams, and Diman moving down from Division 3 to Division 4.

Another meeting on March 8 will finalize all North, South, West, and Central realignments.

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