Hornets to play one-week season
As the Lehigh Valley looks to move further away from the slumber imposed by COVID-19, a week-long version of a high school baseball season could take place before summer comes to an end. Area coaches and athletic directors have put together a plan for a high school baseball tournament that would be played in early August. The tournament would have 32 teams from local schools placed into eight pools of four teams each, with teams guaranteed of playing at least three games.
Dan Villanti, an assistant director of alumni relations at DeSales University and the director of the Rising Stars travel baseball program, came up with the idea and enlisted the assistance of Liberty coach Andy Pitsilos and Notre Dame (Green Pond) coach Mike Bedics to help assemble teams from both the EPC and Colonial Leagues. The group was able to navigate through a myriad of issues including everything from PIAA rules to insurance for players to get the tournament on the schedule for August 3-9 at various sites across the Lehigh Valley.
The Lehigh Valley’s planned move to the green phase of Pennsylvania’s reopening plan, scheduled for this Friday, helps in the planning by easing restrictions on the number of people who can be in a group at one time. Under the green phase 250 people are allowed to assemble, which would give plenty of room for teams to practice and play games against each other.
“I’m ready to get going,” said Emmaus head coach Jeremy Haas. “I think it’s exciting that we can have at least a chance to get on a field and practice and just spend time together as a team. The hope is that you play well and can get more than just the three games that every team is promised.”
One key part of the tournament is that graduating seniors will be allowed to participate with their team. With the season being canceled in early April, seniors were deprived of their final season of high school ball. The tournament will give them an opportunity to gather for at least a few games before heading off to college.
“This will be great for the seniors,” said Haas. “So many of them really wanted to just get on a field with their friends again before they head off to school and this will be a chance to do that.”
For Emmaus, the tournament will be a chance to showcase a team that went to the District 11 Finals last season and then to the PIAA Tournament. This year’s team suffered some losses from graduation but has a number of returning players that made Emmaus one of the favorites not just in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, but in District 11 play as well.
The Hornets will be in a pool with three teams from the Colonial League (Northwestern, Salisbury and Saucon Valley) and would play each of those teams. The top two teams in each pool will advance to play in the Sweet 16, which would be a single-elimination round, as would the Elite 8, which would both be played on the same day. The semifinals and finals will be played on the final day of the tournament.
“It will be nice to see some teams other than the same ones that we face in the EPC,” Haas said. “We would have the first three games against teams we’re not that familiar with and then possibly see some teams that we are more familiar with through the rest of the week. I think it’s a great format.”
Two local teams – Dieruff and Northern Lehigh – opted out of playing in the tournament over concerns of not being able to have enough players to commit to the games. To get the field up to 32 teams, Pennridge, Quakertown and Upper Perkiomen were added to the field.
The tournament dates will offer an official run-up to the heat acclimation period for high school football, which begins on August 10. It’s likely that the PIAA will do everything possible to be sure that football teams have a full amount of time for the heat acclimation phase of practices, so it follows that they will allow baseball activities the week prior to that.
The tournament plans have come together well and with areas heading to the green phase of reopening, the final hurdles may be gone.
“Nothing is definite yet, but I really have high hopes that it’s going to come together and we can have time together on a baseball field,” said Haas. “It will be nice to see all of the guys together and get some time on a field. Hopefully nothing interferes with the plans and we can have this all take place.”