Baseball: No clarity in the Central League title picture

Somehow, the word “chaos” doesn’t quite encapsulate just what is transpiring in the Central League at the moment.

Garnet Valley's Sean Ellison, left, and Penncrest's Matt Briner are key players in the battle for Central League supremacy. (Times Staff/ROBERT J. GURECKI)

Garnet Valley’s Sean Ellison, left, and Penncrest’s Matt Briner are key players in the battle for Central League supremacy. (Times Staff/ROBERT J. GURECKI)

With no more than five games left in the season, there is no clarity in the standings, with five – yes, five – team tied with three losses each.

Leading the way are Penncrest, Conestoga, Garnet Valley and Strath Haven, all of which sit at 9-3. A half-game back is Harriton at 8-3 with a game to make up. And Radnor and Marple Newtown, the latter of which recently ripped off seven straight league wins, aren’t out of the picture either at 8-4.

It’s plausible that as many as four or five teams could share the title in a race that remains massively unsettled. Garnet Valley coach Rudy Shiller called it the craziest situation he’s ever seen in his tenure, a sentiment echoed by the likes of Strath Haven coach Brian Fili.

So who, if anyone, has the edge in a league that has seen immense amounts of parity at the top but has been utterly predictable when the teams at the top play those at the bottom? Here’s what’s left for each of the major players:

Harriton: vs. Lower Merion, vs. Ridley, at Strath Haven, at Radnor, vs. Marple Newtown

Garnet Valley: vs. Ridley, vs. Upper Darby, at Conestoga, at Ridley

Strath Haven: vs. Harriton, at Springfield, vs. Radnor, at Lower Merion

Penncrest: at Conestoga, vs. Haverford, vs. Ridley, at Upper Darby

Conestoga: vs. Penncrest, at Ridley, vs. Garnet Valley, at Haverford

Radnor: vs. Strath Haven, vs. Marple Newtown, vs. Harriton, at Springfield

Marple Newtown: at Springfield, at Radnor, vs. Lower Merion, at Harriton

It’s tough to say if any of the team has what you’d call and “easy” run into the finish. Harriton has three tough meetings, plus they face a logjam of games late. Garnet Valley’s most challenging game remaining is Conestoga, but after games Friday and Saturday, the Jags are looking at six games in nine days. (Plus, it took a walk-off grand slam to beat Haverford Saturday.)

Conestoga is done no favors by having to still contend with Garnet Valley and Penncrest, though they get both games on home soil. Penncrest could be sitting pretty if they get by Conestoga. Radnor’s schedule is arduous, while Marple’s involves three road trips.

Further complicating matters is the District One picture. While everyone would like to hang a banner that says they enjoyed even a small piece of the Central League title, there are also massive seeding implications for District One, especially for the Class AAAA teams (excluding Marple Newtown and Harriton, who will likely garner two of the top four seeds in the AAA tournament).

The way District One divides into north and south, the competition for seeds in the south comes down to basically the Central League and the Ches-Mont (Del Val front-runners Interboro and Chichester are both AAA.) The leader in the Ches-Mont is Downingtown East at 10-3, and with the Ches-Mont teams required to play 19 league games in their 14-team league, that’s a lot of games to jam into the next week and change. As a result, the Central League teams could be playing for as many as three of those top four seeds in the tournament and the resultant byes.

The fact that is obvious by looking at the schedule is the role of spoiler that can be played this season, but it hasn’t in the vast majority of cases. Ridley, for instance, has five chances to impact the title race.

Consider this, though: If we split the Central League between the top seven teams listed above and the five at the bottom of the standings, the record between the groups is a staggering 35-1. The only loss in that group for the frontrunners (the game that has played a big role in fostering the logjam and could well decide the fate of the title) was Haverford’s 10-9 win over Harriton April 22.

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