The first attempt at a Fall State tournament did not quite go as planned. With most players having ended their seasons at least a month prior and the increasing likelihood of colder-than-normal temperatures as the event drew closer, few teams registered for any of the four separate tournaments scheduled for the first weekend of October. There was, however, a glimmer of hope in the form of a tournament featuring a fairly new format to North Dakota - one that would pit three teams head-to-head-to-head on the same field. Six teams from four cities participated in Tier 2 of the inaugural Men’s Fall 5x5x5 state tournament - a format that has started to take hold in Minnesota, Alaska, Washington, and elsewhere across the country. Based on the reaction from those who withstood the 45° temperature to get their first experience with this format, there is reason to be encouraged that we may see much more of this in future seasons.
WAIT....WHAT EXACTLY IS 5x5x5 SOFTBALL, ANYWAY?
In the 5-man tournament, teams were allowed rosters of anywhere from 5 to 8 players. They could bat any number of players, but everyone who batted had to also play defense. At the start of the game, one team would play the four outfield positions and pitcher, the second would play the four infield positions and catcher, and the third team would bat. Each inning, the teams would rotate from outfield to infield, infield to batting, and batting to outfield. Since there are 9 total outs each inning instead of the usual 6, games were scheduled for only 5 innings. In pool play, the team with the most runs would be awarded two wins; the team scoring the next most runs would get one win. While ties in pool play would results in wins being split between the teams, in the championship, it was “one-tie, all-tie”, meaning each team would advance to extra innings and still have a chance at the title even if one was well behind the other two after 5 innings (a scenario that played out in this year’s tourney).
All of this makes for a very busy set of games for most players. Many played both the outfield and infield. Therefore, they would be in the field for 6 outs each inning. That makes a 5 inning game feel like a 10 inning game. A similar effect was felt on offense. With a shorter batting order that turns over quickly, there were times a player would score a run and immediately go to the on deck circle or, sometimes, right back into the batter's box. Some of the players in the championship game batted over 30 times in 4 games. It definitely helped keep the guys warm on that chilly Sunday, but it was physically demanding since there were no breaks between games in this particular tournament.
INITIAL REACTIONS FROM PLAYERS & FANS PROVED TO BE ENCOURAGING
By the time the final game had been played, the responses both at the complex and online were overwhelmingly positive. Colby Hans Aasand - representing Sportsman’s Lounge, one of three Wahpeton teams that made the trek to Fargo that day - described it as “awesome” and an “all around great tournament”. Colby added, “We were already talking about next year.” Nick Alan of tournament runner-up Wahpeton Overthrown posted in a Facebook comment, “Really a fun tournament to play in! Would definitely come again.” Aaron Backer, whose 6-for-6 with 6 runs scored in the opening game for eventual state champion Jamestown KCs/Wildside Creations set the tone for the day, really enjoyed the challenges presented by the new format: “It's more action than standard slow pitch. You bat more often with a smaller lineup. Defense is interesting because you play a different position depending on where you are at in the inning. It was fun!”
Most comments shared a common thread coming out of that weekend - a lot of players were looking forward to doing it again, not just in a state tournament, but in invitationals as well. Williston - who hosted the first and only 5x5x5 invitational back in May - plans to bring it back twice in early 2019. Darin Kreuger, Williston’s league representative and Executive Director of the city’s Parks & Recreation District, has been a vocal advocate for the format since beginning the state’s only 5x5x5 league two seasons ago. “Our players love it,” says Darin, “It is a lot easier to get 5-8 players to commit to play vs 10-12.” While it allows some players to gain a little different perspective on defense when forced to play out of their comfort zone on the infield or in the outfield, Darin points out that a major selling point for most is getting more cuts. “I feel that the best reason to try it early in the season is for the AT BATS!” Lest we forget that this is still a game and we ultimately want everyone to have fun, Darin also stressed that 5x5x5 encourages camaraderie with those you are competing against by making you work with both of your opponents on defense each inning. “5x5x5 allows you to meet other players from teams. You will be playing defense together vs the other team. It’s an interesting dynamic as you need them to beat the other team, yet you are trying to beat them, too!”
Beyond Williston, there is talk in other cities of giving the format a try next summer as well. Furthermore, it would also be no surprise to see most, if not all of this year’s state tournament teams return the second time around (quite possibly at least a couple of weeks earlier).
So, is there a future for 5x5x5 in this state? Our belief is that the more people get to experience it, the more people will get hooked.