Silent but furious.
According to longtime Maui News sportswriter Robert Collias, that’s the state of most Baldwin football fans — and island media — this week since learning that their team is the lowest seed — fourth — when the HHSAA Division I State Championships kick off Nov. 4. The Bears won the Maui Interscholastic League D-I title, but found themselves parked behind top seed Hilo, Campbell and ‘Iolani when the seedings were released on Monday.
Irked? Some fans were. Others were curious. Some are downright foaming at the mouth. Well, maybe not. But it’s definitely worth a closer look.
No. 1 seed Hilo
> Won its league with an unbeaten record
> Left a lasting imprint by playing Kahuku very tough a few years back
> Has some stellar athletes once again defensively
> Routed at home by Saint Louis in preseason
> BIIF has a history of difficulty in the D-I tourney, having never won a game
> BIIF also never won in the now-gone Neighbor Island Bowl
> Hilo barely got past Kealakehe, a middling D-I team, and D-II league champ Konawaena
No. 2 seed Campbell
> Upset then-No. 4-ranked Waianae late in the season
> One of the top defenses in the state
> A one-time state champion (in D-II)
> Lost early in the OIA playoffs
No. 3 seed ‘Iolani
> Dominated D-II competition for years in the state tourney
> Defeated a notable California team in preseason that featured one of the West Coast’s top QBs
> Competed well with Kamehameha, a Top 10 team
> Winless in ILH D-I play
No. 4 seed Baldwin
> Unbeaten in the MIL
> Routed at home by Kamehameha (and Edison, Calif.) in preseason
> Barely got past D-II Kamehameha-Maui and D-II Lahainaluna (twice)
> Nearly upset Kahuku roughly a decade ago at states, but in more recent seasons has struggled against the ILH and OIA’s top teams
League champions get to host* in this eight-team field. This is where the process gets interesting. Since the HHSAA by-laws require that same-league teams avoid opening-round matchups as best possible by the seeding committee, the process is as much about pairings as anything else.
(*The top D-I entrant from each league, I’m told, can host a game. Everyone else is supposed to play at a neutral site, say at a neighboring field.)
Example: Hilo is seeded first, but the probable eighth-best team, Waiakea, is also from the BIIF. That matchup is scratched. Leilehua and Moanalua lost in the OIA consolation semifinals, so Hilo wound up drawing Leilehua. (Leilehua and Moanalua — the latter forfeited its consolation game — did not meet during the regular season or playoffs.)
Waiakea was paired off with Campbell, the No. 2 seed. So there’s logic so far in this equation.
Moanalua paired off with No. 3 ‘Iolani and Mililani, which beat Leilehua in the OIA consolation semifinals, drew Baldwin.
There are all kinds of viewpoints on this first-ever “in-between” state-tourney bracket. It is, in essence, Division 1.5. Not quite Open Division and not D-II. And even with a nice, seemingly easy number — 8 — to work with, it will never be agreeable to all fans. Not with the BIIF’s history in D-I. Not with Baldwin’s lack of sustained success in recent years.
The HHSAA’s Chris Chun inferred in our post the other day that Hilo got the most votes as a No. 1 seed partly because it is a league champion. The other side of that is this: Baldwin is in a league that has only two D-I football programs, and technically, the HHSAA doesn’t recognize a league champion unless there is a minimum of three teams.
This is a case of splitting hairs, because if Baldwin had the best and deepest football team in the islands, the seeding would be different.
But this isn’t why Baldwin is the fourth seed (and upsetting fans on the Valley Isle). It’s about pairings, and often enough, the seeding committees probably look beyond the first round. Many a time, a tough opening-round opponent was simply a hugely difficult gate of entry, and the foes of the next round were actually less difficult.
That’s not necessarily the case here, but there’s this: If Baldwin fans feel so disturbed by the notion of being seeded lowest while the BIIF has the highest seed, all the Bears need to do is beat Mililani, and then travel to the Big Island and possibly face Hilo.
If anything, the biggest complaint is not so much about seeding, but about the Bears having to face an explosive Mililani offense. But MIL fans forget that Mililani is a young team, not as deep as last year — two key linebackers are their top running backs now — and that Coach Rod York often has to burn at least one time out in the first quarter of games to settle his Trojans down. He had to discipline 11 players last week just before game time. (They sat the first half.)
So, Baldwin fans may not complain so much about having to play Mililani, but three of the four pairings are not easy for seeded or unseeded teams. The exception is Campbell, which gets to host a Waiakea team that struggled for most of the season against D-I and D-II competition. In essence, Campbell is the true No. 1 seed despite what we see on paper, and is also the only team in the D-I tourney that is playing on its home field in the opening round. Waiakea (3-8) certainly has a chance; since losing its first four games (all to D-II teams), the Warriors won three of their next five games. They lost to Hilo 40-3 last week in the BIIF title game.
Waiakea has one of the largest enrollments in the BIIF, but in reality, would be a better fit in D-II when it comes to football. Six of its eight losses were to D-II programs. But the format, in pilot-program mode, is a work in progress, and the Warriors are ready to travel across the state to play on Campbell’s still-mint condition turf.
Even with disagreeable fans here and there, this is certain: Baldwin and MIL fans are talking about the D-I tourney, and the more they talk, the more furious they are, the more they’re going to care about what happens in War Memorial Stadium on Nov. 4. Opening-round games on Oahu, whether they’re state or OIA playoff games, are notoriously unattended. And quiet. On Maui, a crowd in excess of 2,000 is expected for Baldwin-Mililani. More likely, there will be 3,000, possibly 4,000.
Furious? Show up. That will say plenty.