Providence High baseball, Liberty League to remain in Division VI

LOS ALAMITOS — By a vote of 7-2, the Providence High baseball team will likely have more time to make history in Division VI of the CIF Southern Section.

That's because Providence's league, the Liberty League, had its appeal to be dropped from Division VI to Division VII denied at Wednesday morning's Playoff Groupings Appeal Hearings at the CIF Southern Section offices.

"To be honest, I don't think there's a good answer out there," Providence Athletic Director Andrew Bencze said. "When you're the bottom league of a division, of course you want to move out. But I have a lot of faith in the CIF. If they think we should compete at this level, then we'll compete."

The Liberty League was represented by its secretary, Pacifica Christian Athletic Director Kevin Kelsey, who spoke on behalf of the five-team configuration of Providence, Buckley, New Community Jewish, Pacifica Christian and Yeshiva and new entrant, Los Angeles Milken Community, which joins the league this fall.

Unlike most representatives at the hearings, Kelsey wasn't appealing a move, but a non-move since his league stood pat in Division VI.

In a somewhat unorthodox style, Kelsey didn't bring mounds of paperwork to make his case, instead supplying the nine-member appeal panel with a single-sided sheet of paper.

Kelsey was also perhaps the only person to use less than the allotted five-minute presentation time.

As for his presentation, Kelsey noted that reigning league champion Buckley and runner-up New Community Jewish were a combined 0-6 versus intradivisional postseason squads during the last two nonleague seasons, while New Community was 1-3 versus Division VII playoff teams.

Beyond the top two teams, the Liberty League finished 0-15 versus Division VI playoff teams in the nonleague season and was 3-7 versus Division VII postseason teams the last two years.

"I just went through our nonleague schedule, who Providence plays, who Buckley plays and we were 0-15, 0-15," Kelsey said. "And look at our record against Division VII schools. It wasn't like we were trying to go into Division VII and dominate and just win CIF championships.

"Our league is not about trying to win CIF championships, it's about trying to win one or two CIF games."

Kelsey's argument initially appeared bolstered by this postseason tournament, as Buckley fell at home to visiting Academy League third seed Sage Hill, 4-2, and New Community Jewish was two-hit in a 4-0 loss to Prep League No. 2 Flintridge Prep. Both losses came in the first round as only Providence advanced out of the first round with a 9-3 victory at Agape League champion Hesperia Christian.

Yet, CIF Southern Section Assistant Commissioner Glenn Martinez, who is in charge of baseball grouping, advised the panel that it could only use information from the previous season since baseball was updated on a year-to-year basis.

"The Liberty League has not had a whole lot of success," Martinez argued. "They did the year before have a couple of playoff wins, I think wild-card wins. Again, this is just based on last year's data.

"I think for where they are now, based on what they have in Division VI, I believe they're a good fit."

Kelsey countered with two points, the first being that Division VII had admitted much larger schools than any member of the Liberty League, including Firebaugh, a 1,900-student school that has won consecutive Division VII championships and is moving up to Division VI as a member of the Prep League.

Kelsey also stated that the Liberty League's baseball teams more closely resemble Division VII squads than those of Division VI because Liberty League members offer more spring sports, such as boys' tennis, boys' volleyball and track and field, which shrinks baseball rosters.

Those sports, argued Kelsey, aren't offered at most Division VII schools.

That particular point seemed to sway panel member Nancy Kelly, the Upland superintendent of schools, who wondered if there should be a new eighth division added for baseball.

"The argument [Kelsey] made that's compelling to me is that when you're talking about schools this small, I think it's very difficult to find divisional placement," Kelly said.

Kelly voted for the appeal along with Monrovia's Darvin Jackson. Unfortunately for the Liberty League, the duo was voted down, 7-2.

"The challenge is that you have leagues that have a legitimate cause to be in Division VII, but that division gets too big and Division VI gets tiny," Bencze said. "It's a tough job for CIF to sort out."

No decision has been made yet if the Liberty League will make one final appeal at the CIF Southern Section Council Meeting on June 10.

One person not particularly troubled by the news is Providence Coach Steve Knez, whose team won its first playoff game in at least 13 years this postseason.

"I'm totally satisfied with where we're at," Knez said. "I have aspirations of actually moving up a division. We have some talent in the program right now and talent on the way. I'd hate to take a step back."


Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.

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