BILLINGS — When the final out was recorded last Saturday at 3 Legends Stadium in Butte, the Polson Pirates were crowned state champions and thus earned the distinction of being the state's first kings of the high school diamond.
The inaugural season of Montana High School Association-sanctioned baseball was historic. But it also came with its share of challenges, as most participating teams were located in the western half of the state and as inclement weather wreaked havoc on scheduling.
Evaluating it all after the fact, MHSA baseball liaison and associate director Scott Wilson said the season was a learning experience.
"I think it was definitely positive," Wilson told MTN Sports on Tuesday. "There are some things that we will do differently. I am going to ask the schools that participated, both the administrators and the coaches, to do a survey for me just to see what we can do to make it better.
"But I'd say overall it was a good, positive experience for everybody."
In total, 21 teams participated this season. They were broken into four divisions, though the majority of the programs were from west of the Divide.
The West division was made up of Frenchtown, Plains-Hot Springs, Polson and St. Ignatius; the Northwest consisted of Browning, Columbia Falls, Eureka, Troy and Whitefish; the Southwest comprised Dillon-Twin Bridges, Corvallis, East Helena, Florence-Carlton, Hamilton-Darby and Stevensville; and the East was made up of Belgrade, Butte, Butte Central, Columbus, Lone Peak and Sidney-Fairview.
The East division provided the biggest challenge in terms of scheduling, Wilson indicated, simply because of geography. Sidney and Butte, mind you, are 500 miles apart. Therein lies the hope for a wider range of participating schools next year, which Wilson said is a possibility.
"We have schools that have let us know that they are going to see if it's an option," he said. "I don't have a definite number at this point. I don't think that we will lose any of the schools that we had (this season). But that will be a part of the survey.
"Most of the schools did a good job. Some of them had really good sized rosters and great turnouts. And some were limited in the numbers that they had. If we can get a handful more schools next year we can keep working toward our ultimate goal, which would be to end up with three classifications just like we have in softball — with a AA division, a Class A division and a B-C division."
Wilson also alluded to the possibility of tweaks to pitch-count rules and adjustments to the state tournament, which this year featured a basketball-style bracket rather than a true double-elimination format.
Varsity pitchers weren't permitted to throw more than 110 pitches in a game or a day, and weren't allowed beyond 100 pitches over two consecutive days (though that criteria was loosened for the state tournament).
"There's a little bit of wiggle room when you look at pitch counts," Wilson said.
As for the state tourney, Wilson said "there have been some questions if we are going to look at a true double-elimination in the future, and that's certainly not out of the realm of the big picture." Wilson said that might mean extending the tournament over a four-day stretch.
Bad weather through much of the spring caused problems for all teams. And Wilson also said the first season of baseball wasn't immune to a shortage of umpires — which is a common theme affecting the MHSA across its sports menu.
"That's something we're aware of, and we will continue to try to make a push to get more officials, with baseball being one of those as well," he said.