Posted: 2:10 pm Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Softball: Park Vista and Palm Beach Gardens jostle for district-playoff seeding 

By Jeff Greer

For the second Friday in a row, Palm Beach Gardens has a district rival coming to its backyard.

Top-ranked Park Vista (11-1) and No. 3 Palm Beach Gardens (14-2) will meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Gardens for a pivotal District 9-6A contest. There are serious playoff implications. District seeding is at stake.

If Park Vista beats Gardens, it will secure the top seed in the district tournament and would likely not face No. 2 Jupiter or Gardens until the district finals. That could set up another major showdown in the district semis between Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens, which are both ranked in the top three in the statewide 6A rankings. In other words, one of the two best teams in Florida will be eliminated before the regional playoffs. Only the teams that make the district-playoff finals make the regional tournament.

“To get out of the regionals and farther in the state playoffs, we know we’re gonna have to beat either Park Vista or Jupiter twice,” Palm Beach Gardens coach Randy Jackson said recently.

The way the regional playoffs work, if both teams from the same district win their opening-round game, they play each other again in the regional semifinals. Palm Beach Gardens beat Jupiter 2-0 in the regional semifinals last year, just a week after Jupiter beat Gardens 5-1 for the 9-6A championship.

Last year, another 9-6A contender, Palm Beach Central, was left out of the regionals. This year, Central and Park Vista, along with district wild cards Royal Palm Beach and Seminole Ridge, will contend with Jupiter and Gardens for those two regional spots. Whichever team avoids the side of the bracket with one of the other powerhouses has to feel pretty good about their chances to make the regionals, which brings us back to Friday night.

In a word, it’s huge.

“It’s how good you are in the end,” Park Vista coach Chuck Layman said. “You try to build toward that. It’s an important game to these girls, even though, as a coach, I try not to get too involved with it. In truth, it is. Through the years, Gardens has been the game we point to. There’s no taking away from how big the game is.”

Jackson said he was leaning toward starting junior Shelby Turnier, who got her sixth win by beating Florida Christian on Tuesday. Kaylie Wallace, Jackson’s other ace, pitched Wednesday night against Marist High from Illinois.

All bets are on Park Vista starting Laura Downs, who is 9-1 for the year and making a strong case for Player of the Year honors.