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Saying adios to the UCBAC title games, hello to the playoffs [commentary]

BY DEWEY FOX, dfox@theaegis.com

12:32 PM EDT, May 8, 2014

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So, minus some fireworks that came in the form of a couple big home runs, the last UCBAC championship games I will ever cover, unless the UCBAC rewrites its rules, were not all that exciting. North Harford beat Havre de Grace in the baseball title contest, 16-2, while Havre de Grace blanked Bo Manor, 10-0, in the softball final. Both contests were called off early because of the 10-run rule. Perhaps this was just the athletic gods telling the UCBAC's governing body that it had made the right choice, and that a series of mismatched exhibition games right before the playoffs just wasn't worth it.

As I've written in this column before, I largely agree with the decision to do away with the conference title games. As with Wednesday's baseball and softball contests, the championship matchups I covered in the past usually followed the same script: Chesapeake Division team beats up on Susquehanna Division team, with a slight chance of some early-game drama thrown in. There were definitely some outliers, like this year's Joppatowne-Bel Air boys basketball final, and another boys basketball game from a few years back in which North Harford, the Susquehanna Division team, came back to beat Havre de Grace, but those were not enough to justify keeping things going.

As for the aforementioned fireworks from Wednesday's title games, the loudest occurred during the baseball matchup. North Harford's Brian Shaffer hit what was probably the longest home run I've ever seen in seven seasons of covering high school baseball. I say that without an ounce of hyperbole. He jumped on a first-pitch fastball in the top of the third, and the ball cleared the scoreboard in left center field at Harford Community College's stadium. The closest distance sign to where the ball left read 370, so you can do the math on that one. It was a bomb.

Long-distance home runs aside, the games, as I said, followed the normal title-game script. As usual, it was not the conference championships that contained the drama, but the division races that led up to those games. Baseball's Chesapeake (upper) Division fight was not what I'd expected or predicted at the beginning of the season. Every season I've covered UCBAC baseball, it's been a three-way dogfight between North Harford, C. Milton Wright and Bel Air for that division's top spot, with one of those three teams taking the title each year. This season, however, presented a different scenario, as it was Rising Sun that pulled to the front, setting up one of the more memorable finishes I've witnessed. Rising Sun lost twice the entire regular season, and both times it was the Hawks that did it, coming from behind in the seventh to win both the contests by one run. The race wasn't settled until Tuesday, 24 hours before the UCBAC title game, when North Harford beat Rising Sun, 6-5.

The Chesapeake Division softball race was tighter, if just slightly less dramatic. Havre de Grace pulled off that rare feat of winning the upper-division title one year after being promoted from the Susquehanna Division. At the end of the season, just two games separated the top four teams, with Havre de Grace (9-3) beating out CMW (8-4), North Harford (7-5) and Bel Air (7-5). That's the kind of division finish I like to see. Well done, ladies.

Now, we've got the MPSSAA regional tournaments to think about, and that's what every team in the conference, whether they were in the running for a division title or not, had been waiting for since the season started. I'm not going to make any predictions just yet, as I don't want to jinx anyone, but look out for Havre de Grace softball in the 1A competition. The Warriors have the juice to go a long way.