Eagles deserved berth in state’s baseball playoffs

We are a bit into extra innings here, and we realize we will be preaching to the choir, but it’s still worth saying that the East Bladen varsity baseball team was dealt an unfair and curious ouster from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s Class 2-A playoffs.

The Eagles opened the 2018 season with a five straight losses, but regrouped and finished the season on an 11-5 run — including victories in their last eight games, all of which were Three Rivers Conference wins.

The NCHSAA apparently allows the online high-school sports site MaxPreps to decide much of how playoffs are set up, and the system is flawed at best and ignorant at worst.

In speaking with representatives with the NCHSAA, the common thread seems to be that MaxPreps doesn’t give the Three Rivers Conference very high marks. In fact, the conference is considered one of the weaker ones in the state. Here’s why that doesn’t make sense: The No. 1 East Region team and defending Class 2-A state champion is Whiteville, which resides in the Three Rivers Conference; and the No. 6 East Region team in Class 1-A is West Columbus, also a member of the Three Rivers Conference.

On the field, East Bladen split with West Columbus; gave Whiteville a couple of competitive games; split with a 17-7 Fairmont team that went to the playoffs; and split with a 15-10 Red Springs team that also went to the playoffs. Two of its non-conference losses were by three runs or less to Class 3-A and Class 4-A teams.

Nobody but Whiteville finished the regular season with an eight-game winning streak like East Bladen did (outscoring those final eight opponents by a 72-37 margin), but here’s the biggest fly in the MaxPrep ointment: 12 teams were given playoff berths in Class 2-A that had losing records — including 10-15 Richlands, 8-15 Hertford County and 9-14 East Montgomery. And not one of those teams had a winning conference record, while the Eagles finished 10-8 in the Three Rivers Conference.

Do we reward mediocrity now?

We are certainly not saying East Bladen would have gone deep in the playoffs or even won its first game. What we ARE saying is that the Eagles deserved the chance. Their improvement over the course of the season was off the charts; they were peaking at the right time and were primed for a playoff berth.

It didn’t come.

While we commiserate with coach Russell Priest, the school and community as a whole, we feel our largest degree of sadness for the players who put in the hard work and should have been rewarded for it.

The solution going forward is quite simple. First, take MaxPreps out of the equation. The NCHSAA should be able to select and seed its own playoff teams. Second, and this is paramount … those selected first for playoffs should have a winning record. Period. No exceptions. Reward winning, not losing.

Were there at least 32 teams in the Class 2-A East Region better than East Bladen? No way.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Winners are not afraid of losing, but losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.” (Robert T. Kiyosaki)