Eight teams are ready to step on the field at Carson High School's Ron McNutt Field and play ball in the Northern 4A baseball tournament, but who they'll be is still up in the air.
Pending a judge's ruling by 9 a.m. today, the tournament is set to go with the eight teams announced Thursday by the NIAA.
The double elimination tournament begins with two games today and continues through Saturday. The four remaining teams return to Carson City next weekend to finish the tournament and determine the North's two qualifiers for the NIAA/U.S. Bank 4A State Tournament, which will be played May 19-20 in Las Vegas.
McQueen, the No. 4 seed, squares off against No. 5 Churchill County (Fallon) in the tournament's opening game at 4 p.m. today. Top-seeded Reno, the defending zone tournament champion, is scheduled to face Reed in the late game at 7 p.m.
Thursday, No. 3 Carson (17-10) takes on No. 6 Douglas (14-11) at 4 p.m. in a showdown between neighborhood rivals. The nightcap will feature No. 2 Galena (23-7) against No. 7 at Wooster.
The battle for those two Vegas invitations looks to be wide open. Maybe even downright wild, judging from last week's turn of events involving Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association's eligibility rules.
When the NIAA ruled that Galena would have to forfeit 11 games for using an ineligible player, the Grizzlies dropped out of the bracket. Then, after an appeal was filed by Galena's team, a three-person NIAA committee overturned the original decision and ruled instead that the Grizzlies would only have to forfeit two games. As a result, Galena was restored to the second-place finish it had earned during the regular season, though one big change in the bracket saw Sparks bumped out of the No. 8 spot by Reed.
Sparks filed an appeal in Washoe County court on Tuesday, and a decision is expected today.
Sound confusing? Don't feel alone. The one certainty is that some good games should be in store, according to Carson coach Ron McNutt and Galena's Dave Callaway.
"I think it's open. I know Reno has the best record right now and they have a pretty good pitching staff, but it's a new season, I think the team that goes out, throws strikes, can do a lot of the little things and take care of business, is going to be right there," said McNutt, whose Senators are 18-11 after splitting two games with one rainout last week in Honolulu.
"Reno is definitely the team to beat, but there's eight teams and any one of them can surprise," Callaway said.
"We're in a tough bracket. Wooster has beaten Reno and they've improved all along, so we're going to have a tough game. Carson City can beat anybody at any time; Douglas has improved and (Jared) Silveira is a good pitcher."
Carson faces the task of trying to beat Douglas for the third straight time this season. The Senators picked up a 14-4 season-opening win at home - although the game ultimately resulted in a double forfeit, the result of a bench-clearing brawl - and they rallied from an early 1-0 deficit to take the rematch in Minden, 11-4.
"We respect Douglas very much and now it's going to be how both teams play between the lines," McNutt said. "We definitely want to go after that first game.
Offense has been the theme of Northern 4A baseball all spring, and the Carson Country teams have been a big part of that.
Carson averaged 10.41 runs per game during the conference season, led by Brian Kleidosty with a .522 average and Joe Mercer's .507 with 15 doubles. Matt Leck hit .486 and led the team with 10 home runs and 38 RBIs in conference.
Douglas rebounded from a 2-6 start in conference to win 11 of their last 18 games and qualify for the playoffs. Douglas defeated Sparks twice and took single games from Churchill County and Wooster down the stretch to secure the No. 6 seed. Silveira threw for complete-game victories in all three of those games.
Douglas was switched from the No. 6 seed to No. 4 and then back to No. 6 during last week's zone bracket shuffling - but none of that really mattered to coach Fred Bendure.
"I don't think any of this is crucial for us. We're in the playoffs and once you're in the playoffs you have to play good, solid baseball to continue," Bendure said. "It's a new season. You have to play well. If you don't, you're going home."
McNutt didn't formally announce an opening-game starting pitcher, though he hinted senior Chris Padgett may get the nod. Silveira, a Sonoma State University-bound right-hander, is the tentative opening game starter on the mound.
Galena gained some momentum last week by defeating four straight opponents to win the 31st annual Dick Windemuth Easter Tournament in Modesto, Calif. The Grizzlies beat Downey (Modesto) in the semifinals 4-1 behind the pitching of Mark Folgner and then took five innings to take out host-Beyer in the finals, 13-3.
"We hit the ball well, our young pitchers threw well, and the thing that really excited me was the way we played defense. We only had one error in four games," Callaway said.
The Grizzlies, 25-5 on the field, have averaged 12.5 runs with a .332 team batting average and hit 79 home runs this season. Junior shortstop Joe Hooft is hitting .640 with 16 home runs, 45 RBIs and 14 stolen bases. Junior Bill Paganetti, limited to a DH role for most of this season because of a shoulder injury (he played first base in Modesto) is hitting .515 with 14 homers and 56 RBIs.
Callaway indicated that either sophomore Brandon Evans (5-2) or Jon Zuppan (4-1) would draw the opening night assignment against Wooster, a team that qualified for state last year.