While Major League Baseball twists itself in knots trying to figure out how to have a 60-game season, summer baseball continues unabated in Enid.
The 12-team Connie Mack South Plains regional tournament opens play Wednesday at David Allen Memorial Ballpark and includes both the Enid Majors and Enid Plainsmen. The winner earns a trip to the Connie Mack Classic in Joplin, Mo.
However, as baseball continues to be played here, that is not to say that Connie Mack hasn't been impacted by coronavirus. The winner of this week's tournament would normally have secured a spot for itself in the annual Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M., but this year's Series was canceled as the state of New Mexico remains essentially on lockdown in its response to coronavirus.
Not wanting to see the season played without a reward for teams at the end of the season, Shannon Enfield, AABC national vice president for the South Plains / Southeast Area, organized the Classic in Joplin as a reward and it has been well received from all indications.
Enfield also had to do a bit of scrambling to fill the field for this year's regional. He said six qualifiers were lost this year due to COVID-19 — two in Dallas / Fort Worth, one in Tyler, Texas, and one in Austin, Texas, in addition to losing qualifiers in Edmond and Norman. Despite those losses, it looks to be a very competitive field this year with six teams from Oklahoma, two from Texas and four from Missouri.
In addition to the Plainsmen and Majors, there will be other familiar teams, including the winner of last month's regional qualifier, MVP Seng, coached by former Plainsmen and Majors standout Tyson Seng. MVP Seng also won the highly competitive NTX Tournament in Melissa, Texas, and is considered the favorite. Other Oklahoma teams include last month's qualifier runner-up, OK Drillers, in addition to the Shockers Red out of Lawton, and Woodward is back as well.
Majors primed for tournament
The Majors were guaranteed a slot in the tournament as tournament hosts, but their play this season would have likely landed them here regardless.
The Majors are 13-3 this season and head coach Kris Webb has built the team with this week's tournament in mind. They are coming off a 3-1 performance in last weekend's Enid Festival. They will be competing in Pool C of this week's tournament, which has three four-team pools, including two Missouri teams (St. Louis Sting and Midwest Nationals 17) and the OK Drillers.
"As I said from the start, someone is going to be the first team from Oklahoma to win a regional and it may well be from Enid," said Webb on Tuesday. "This is by far the premier tournament of the summer for us. There's no cupcakes."
The Majors and Drillers know each other well.
The Drillers defeated the Majors in a 5-4 walk-off to claim first place in their pool in the regional qualifier. Less than week later the Majors exacted some revenge, defeating the Drillers 6-5 in a 13-inning walk-off win.
However, Webb is not familiar with the St. Louis Sting, but not playing on Wednesday has its benefits as Webb will use Wednesday to scout the Sting's game against the Drillers.
The Majors open play Thursday at 10 a.m. against the St. Louis Sting and battle the Drillers Thursday at 8 p.m. They wrap up pool play on Saturday at 10 a.m. against Midwest Nationals 17.
The Majors have added some additional talent, including pitcher Jace Kaminska, a Wichita State commit and will also welcome back to the lineup Bixby's Jaxson Crull, who Webb plans to bat lead-off.
"We can hit," Webb said, emphasizing it doesn't matter if it's aluminum or the wood bats that will be in use for this week's tournament. "I don't care what we have in our hands," he said. He is undecided on their opening game starter.
Webb said the Majors are one of the most explosive teams he has coached.
"I've coached summer baseball for about 15 years now and this is probably the most talented offensive roster we've had," he said.
Plainsmen playing with confidence
The Plainsmen, and the Drillers, both are in the South Plains regional as at-large teams due in part to the havoc caused by COVID-19, but it would be hard to argue the Plainsmen didn't earn their spot otherwise.
After winning three of four games at the Enid Festival, the Plainsmen enter this week's tournament with a 16-4 record. They have won 11 of their last 12 games, having their 10-game winning streak broken Sunday. Despite being a high school squad that has frequently come up against 18u or 19u squads this season, the Plainsmen have not been outclassed, more than holding their own.
It's those performances that have Plainsmen head coach Brad Gore feeling confident as the Plainsmen open the tournament Wednesday against Flat Bill 17, a team out of Texas, at 10 a.m. The Plainsmen will compete in Pool A along with Flat Bill 17, 417 Red (Mo.) and Woodward. They play 417 Red at 8 p.m. on Friday and Woodward at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
"I like the way our guys are playing," Gore said on Tuesday. "They're playing with a lot of confidence. We've really pitched well and played defense well all summer. The hitting is coming around more, we feel like we are getting our ducks in a row. Our whole team has been swinging the bat, but these wood bats change the game."
Gore said Blake Priest will be on the mound for the Plainsmen's opener on Wednesday against Flat Bill 17, a team that little is known about.
"I know they have to be a good club to be here," Gore said. "It's good to see someone new, someone different. We'll have to be ready to play. With this tournament, there is something on the line and everybody will be hooked up. We're probably the underdogs in this thing, but our kids are excited."
As noted, there will be three pools of four teams each. MVP Seng will be in Pool B along with Flat Bill 18 out of Texas, 417 Mets and Shockers Red.
• At the end of pool play, which concludes with the Plainsmen's 3 p.m. game Saturday against Woodward, the teams will be seeded 1 through 5 with quarterfinals games Saturday at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., and the semifinal games and championship game on Sunday.
• Pool standings will be determined by win/loss percentage, and if a tie remains, the tie will be broken in the following order: head-to-head, fewest runs allowed, most runs scored and if a tie still remains, a draw will determine the tie-breaker.
• There will be a 2-hour, 15-minute time limit for games, but games will be played until a winner is determined.
• The tournament will use the international tie-breaker (ITB) format that Major League Baseball is using this season. This format calls for the last batter in the previous inning to be placed at second base to start the new inning.
The Plainsmen already have some experience with the ITB.
"We used it with Weatherford (at the Enid Festival last week) and they beat us in the 8th inning," Gore said. "It sure makes you play a different way."
• Another rule that Major League Baseball has adapted will first be put to the test by teams this week in Enid. Relief pitchers must face at least three batters or complete an inning before they can be replaced.
• Daily admission for the games is $7.
• All games involving Enid teams will be broadcast on KCRC (1390 AM).
South Plains Regional
At David Allen Memorial Ballpark
10 a.m. — Enid Plainsmen vs. Flat Bill 17 (Texas)
12:30 p.m. — MVP Seng vs. Flat Bill 18 (Texas)
3 p.m. — 417 Red (Mo.) vs. Woodward
5:30 p.m. — OK Drillers vs. St. Louis Sting
8 p.m. — 417 Mets (Mo.) vs. Shockers Red
10 a.m. — St. Louis Sting vs. Enid Majors
12:30 p.m. — Flat Bill 18 vs. 417 Mets
3 p.m. — OK Drillers vs. Midwest Nationals 17
5:30 p.m. — Flat Bill 17 vs. 417 Red
8 p.m. — OK Drillers vs. Enid Majors
10 a.m. — St. Louis Sting vs. Midwest Nationals 17
12:30 p.m. — Shockers Red vs. Flat Bill 18
3 p.m. — MVP Seng vs. 417 Mets
5:30 p.m. — Woodward vs. Flat Bill 17
8 p.m. — Enid Plainsmen vs. 417 Red
10 a.m. — Enid Majors vs. Midwest Nationals 17
12:30 p.m. — Shockers Red vs. MVP Seng
3 p.m. — Woodward vs. Enid Plainsmen
5:30 p.m. — Game 1: No. 4 Seed vs. No. 5 Seed
8 p.m. — Game 2: No. 3 Seed vs. No. 6 Seed
10 a.m. — Game 3: G1 winner vs. No. 1 seed
12:30 p.m. — Game 4: G2 winner vs. No. 2 seed
3 p.m. — Championship: G3 winner vs. G4 winner