Bullard, Clovis, Clovis East and Madera high schools have reached the final four of the Clovis Easter Classic, one of the Central Section's toughest softball tournaments.
But there's no guarantee any of those four teams will still be standing May 26, when the section's Division I semifinals are played.
"In my 14 years, I don't think there's ever been more parity," Clovis coach Mike Noel said. "There's just a lot of good teams who play hard."
Clovis faces Madera on Field 4 at the Buchanan Softball Complex and Bullard meets Clovis East on Field 3 at 3 p.m. today for a spot in the 7 p.m. final on Field 4.
But consider the teams that didn't reach the final four:
- Buchanan entered this tournament No. 1 in The Bee's rankings with a 12-1-1 record. But after going 2-0 on Saturday, the Bears lost to Hanford West and Bullard on Monday.
"There's a lot of parity out there," Buchanan coach Dean Gregory said. "It's going to come down to who's playing the best at the end."
- Clovis West opened the tournament with a 1-0 victory over defending Division I runner-up Madera and tied the Coyotes with a 2-1 record in pool C, but the Eagles lost out on a spot in the final four on a tiebreaker.
- Central came into the tournament 9-3 and went 2-1 in pool D.
- And three of the top programs from Bakersfield -- defending D-I champ Centennial, Stockdale and Liberty -- are not in the 18-team tournament field.
Clovis emerged from pool A 4-0. But it wasn't easy for the Cougars with three of their four games against D-II opponents decided by two runs or less, including a pool play-concluding 3-2 triumph over Frontier.
Alina Jauregui helped put Clovis in the final four when her two-run, fifth-inning double turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 advantage.
"The team that wins this [tournament] is playing well right now," Noel said. "But there are a lot of teams that can win it in the end. It will be an exciting playoffs."
And the reason so many teams appear to have a legitimate shot at the D-I title this season is the lack of a feared pitcher.
"A lot of teams across the Valley are pretty competitive, but there's not a real dominant pitcher," said Madera coach Judy Shaubach after her Coyotes battered two Bullard pitchers for 10 hits in a 9-5, five-inning victory. "There are a lot of good ones, but not a dominant one right now."
Bullard let a 3-1 lead against Madera slip away hours after rallying for a 5-3 win over Buchanan, furthering the case that the D-I race is wide open.
"I like it. I think that makes it more fun," Bullard coach Jaime Maxey said. "It's anyone's Valley to win."