The R.I. American Legion Senior Division tournament will get under way this weekend at fields across the state, but the format of this summer’s tournament will be vastly different from the one used in past seasons.
Instead of 16 teams trying to claim back-to-back, best-of-three series to reach the “Final Four” of the tournament, the goal this season will be to earn berths in the “Final Eight” double-elimination format that begins on Tuesday night at McCarthy Stadium in West Warwick and Pierce Field in East Providence.
Four teams are already guaranteed spots in the double-elimination round, and one of them, Hurd Post 14 of Lincoln, hails from the area and owns the No. 1 seed, thanks to a brilliant 19-3 record that landed them the Northern Division title. Post 14 was also 19-3 and the top seed in last year’s tourney, but lost in the finals to fifth-seeded New England Frozen Lemonade.
R&R Construction of Portsmouth, which seized the Southern Division crown with a 16-6 mark, is the No. 2 seed. Gershkoff Auto Body/Auburn Post 20 of Cranston, which at 15-6-1, was second to R&R, is third, and Hurd Auto Body of Johnston, at 15-7, the second-place team out of the North, is fourth.
As for the fifth through eighth seeds, they will be determined this weekend, as eight teams -- the third- through sixth-place squads in each subdivision -- will battle it out in a best-of-three preliminary-round series.
The survivors of those series will be reseeded as the bottom four seeds (using regular-season points and tiebreakers) and begin the double-elimination round by facing one of the top four seeds next Tuesday at one of the neutral sites.
“I love it,” said Collette Vacations Post 79 manager Ray Ventura. “I think it’s so hard to play a best-of-three (series) three different times. I’ve done in it the Junior league and Senior league and it’s just tough.
“But I really like this new format, and you get to play at different fields after the first round, and that’s nice too. I’m looking forward to it, I really am.”
Ventura’s Post 79 squad, which enters the playoffs on a roll with five straight wins and a 14-7-1 mark that was good for third place in the North, will battle Bishop Hendricken’s Senerchia Post 74 club that went 9-13 and finished sixth in the South.
Collette will host the preliminary-round series opener tonight at 7 p.m. at Vets Park, and Senerchia will entertain Post 79 in Saturday’s Game 2 at 4:30 p.m. at Hendricken’s Ray Pepin Field. Should a third and deciding game is needed, it will take place on Sunday at 6 at Slater Park.
Another local entry vying for a “Final Eight” berth is Upper Deck Post 86 of Cumberland, which placed fifth in the North with a 10-12 mark. Upper Deck will play West Warwick Post Two (13-9), the fourth seed out of the South.
West Warwick will host Upper Deck in tonight’s 5 p.m. opener at McCarthy Stadium, while Post 86 will entertain its opponent tomorrow at Tucker Field at a time to be announced. A third game, if needed, will be back at McCarthy on Sunday at noon.
Local fans will also be keeping an eye on East Bay/Riverside Post 10, which in its first season as a co-op team, went 12-8-2 to finish in fourth place in the North. The East Providence/Barrington ballclub will be paired with Shoreline of North Kingstown (10-12), the South’s fifth seed.
Pierce Field will be the site of tonight’s 6:30 p.m. series opener, and the series will shift to Wickford’s Lischio Field on Saturday for a 3 p.m. game. If a third and deciding game is needed, it will be on Sunday at Pierce Field at a time to be determined.
The other preliminary-round series features the R.I. Reds/Post 29 squad from North Providence (7-15) against the New England Frozen Lemonade/Shields Post 43 (14-8) co-op team out of Warwick.
In Tuesday night double-elimination opener, Post 14 will begin its postseason by playing the eighth seed in the 8 p.m. game of a doubleheader at McCarthy Stadium. Hurd Auto Mall will take on the fifth seed in the 5 p.m. opener.
Meanwhile, at Pierce Field, Gershkoff/Auburn will face the sixth seed in a 4 p.m. affair, while R&R will encounter the seventh seed at 7 p.m.
The tournament will continue over the next three days, and on Saturday, July 30, the championship game will take place at noon at McCarthy Stadium. If an additional game is needed to decide the champion, it will be held after that game at 3:30 p.m.
“I think Lincoln and Gershkoff are going to be tough teams, and so is R&R,” said Ventura. “But with the wood bats, as you could see during the course of the season, anybody could beat anybody. R&R just lost to South Kingstown (2-19) like I did, and Woonsocket (5-16-1) the other night beat Gershkoff, so we’ll see what happens.”