Madison head coach Tim Armstrong (above, 21) talks to the Niners in the dugout before Monday’s regular season finale at Post 9 Field. Armstrong thinks Post 9 has enough quality and depth in pitching to make a strong tourney run starting with tonight’s regional opener with Batesville. Pitchers like right-hander Clark Vaughn and lefty Nate Hunter (below) are just two arms on a pitching staff that also includes Kyle Baker, Channing Collins, Carson Compton, Josh Helton, Tanner Jones, Kyle Konkle, Ethan Leach, Conner Smith and returning ace Trevor Tutterow. (Courier file photos by Mark Campbell)
Madison head coach Tim Armstrong (above, 21) talks to the Niners in the dugout before Monday’s regular season finale at Post 9 Field. Armstrong thinks Post 9 has enough quality and depth in pitching to make a strong tourney run starting with tonight’s regional opener with Batesville. Pitchers like right-hander Clark Vaughn and lefty Nate Hunter (below) are just two arms on a pitching staff that also includes Kyle Baker, Channing Collins, Carson Compton, Josh Helton, Tanner Jones, Kyle Konkle, Ethan Leach, Conner Smith and returning ace Trevor Tutterow. (Courier file photos by Mark Campbell)
A change in the schedule and a dwindling number of teams has this year's American Legion Baseball Tournament looking decidedly different than in year's past.

Gone is the sectional round, replaced instead by eight regionals that feed into an eight-team state finals. Also gone is the idea of a weekend tournament in which as many as seven games are crammed into three short days.

Madison Post 9 plays host to this year's regional, which kicks off tonight at Shawe Memorial High School's Post 9 Field. The Niners will face Batesville Post 271 in the first game with Floyds Knobs Post 42 and Seymour Post 89 playing in game two. The winners advance to Friday while the losers will play the first elimination game on Thursday in the double-elimination tournament.

Madison head coach Tim Armstrong, who has been around Legion baseball for the past 25 years, said the different schedule will certainly have an impact on the way the tournament is managed.

"Especially when it comes to pitching because with so many games in three days you had to really figure out how you were going to use your pitchers," Armstrong said. "Now you have that day off and it makes winning that first game so important. It'll be different."

The primary reason for the tournament change was the dwindling number of Legion posts that support teams throughout the state. It wasn't that long ago that there were more than 100 Legion teams but that number has shrunk to less than 40 as travel teams and all-star teams have taken over in several communities.

The eight-team state finals, which will be held in Plymouth, kick off next Wednesday and Armstrong said the decision to start the regional so early was to give the winner a chance to head into the state finals as fresh as possible.

"Our goal is to get the tournament done by Saturday so that gives the winner plenty of time before the state finals," Armstrong said. "Really, starting on Wednesday was the only option."

Of course Armstrong hopes that winner will be his team earning the berth to the state finals. Once a regular in the finals with a 2000 state championship to its credit, Madison hasn't reached the final round of the tournament since 2010.

To advance Madison will have to beat three teams it has faced - and beaten - already this season. The Niners swept Batesville in two games and split with Seymour. Just last week Madison was victorious in its only meeting with Floyds Knobs.

Armstrong feels that having played all three can be a double-edged sword.

"We've seen everybody, we've beaten all three of them but come tournament time you never know what's going to happen," Armstrong said. "We've got to be on our 'A' game come Wednesday night because you don't want to be in the losers' bracket. Even though it's double-elimination, we don't want to be in the losers' bracket."

Madison comes into the tournament with an 11-7 record, a mark that could have been better had it had a chance to play more games. The team took a scheduled week off during the Regatta and then had three games this past weekend canceled.

On Monday the Niners played a warm-up game with Yeager Post 199 out of Harrison, Ohio, a team that had already won its regional and was just waiting for the Ohio State Finals to begin. Armstrong was happy to pick up the late game even though his Niners fell 9-5 in 12 innings.

"They're a quality program and have won the Ohio tournament a couple of times and we just talked about how we hope we meet in the Great Lakes Regional (in a couple of weeks)," Armstrong said. "But the important thing is that we got a game in and got a chance to get some work before Wednesday."

Armstrong sent five pitchers to the mound by design during the game with only Switzerland County's Kyle Konkle working more than two innings. But none of the pitchers threw more than 30 pitches and Armstrong announced that all arms will be ready for the tournament.

It will be pitching that will carry Madison if it is to win the title. The Niners are deep in pitching and have a good enough offense to stay in games. And even though the defense has been apt to make errors at times, Armstrong believes that his defense is still a strength.

"We don't have any overpowering pitchers but what we have is a lot of guys who are very solid and who are able to keep us in games," Armstrong said. "The offense is solid. But we gave up nine runs today and we can't do that and expect to win. What we need is for the defense to be more consistent. We had some errors tonight and we need to clean that up but I am confident that when Wednesday comes this team will be ready to play."

Should Madison win, the Niners will face the Seymour-Floyds Knobs winner on Friday at 5 p.m. A loss and the Niners will head to the losers' elimination game on Thursday. The championship game will be played on Saturday. If weather postpones a game the tournament will be shifted to Sunday.