It's not like it was a surprise. When the Eastern AA Legion season was winding down, everyone knew a good team was going to be left out of the State AA tournament.
That didn't make it any easier to take for the Billings Scarlets, Billings Royals, Bozeman and Helena, knowing that one of their seasons was going to be cut short. Four teams from the East and four from the West qualify for the state tournament, and those previously mentioned teams were the top four in the Eastern AA. But Miles City, an Eastern AA team, was the host of this year's state tournament, and because of that Miles City received an automatic berth, meaning only three of the league's top four teams would qualify.
As it turned out, Helena was the team left out. The Senators were three outs away from a victory over the Scarlets, which would have produced a three-way tie for second place behind Bozeman. The Scarlets and Senators would have won tie-breakers, and the Royals would have been left out.
However, the Senators couldn't close the deal and the Scarlets scored five times in the ninth and pulled out an 8-7 victory. That put Helena a game behind the Scarlets and Royals and ended its season.
Some believe that shouldn't have happened.
"Helena didn't deserve what it got,'' said Scarlets coach Adam Hust, whose team went on to win the state championship.
Hust and others want to see something done so that the best teams make the tournament. The issue was particularly sensitive this year because host Miles City has had some rough seasons (it didn't win a league game this year).
However, the host-team concept has been in place for decades. The tournament rotates between the Eastern and Western Division at predetermined sites.
Next year's tourney is set for Medicine Hat. The Moose Monarchs are guaranteed a berth even if they don't finish among the top four teams in the West. It should be noted that Medicine Hat did finish fourth this year. However, two future hosts - Butte (2011) and Glacier (2012) - did not. Glacier, like Miles City, didn't win a league game, so there could be some squawking if the Twins don't improve over the next couple of years.
One solution would be to scrap the rotation system. I'm sure there are those who would like to see the tournament at Dehler Park every two or three years.
However, that isn't realistic. As nice as Dehler is, there are plenty of other good ballparks around the state and in Canada. Would Bozeman give up its spot in the rotation? Would Helena or Missoula or Lethbridge?
One possible remedy could be a play-in game. If the host team doesn't finish in the top four in its division, then it must play an elimination game. This year, for example, Helena would have played Miles City, with the winner advancing to the regular eight-team double-elimination bracket.
"I'm sure we'll have plenty of discussion,'' said George Hagele, Montana's Legion baseball chairman.
Haegele, however, wonders why the issue wasn't raised long before this season.
"This is the first time we've had a problem in 26 years, so I question how bad the situation is,'' Haegele said. "In 1982, Anaconda was the host, and they were in the West at that time. They were 1-23. I forget which team didn't make it, but we never heard a complaint. I was coaching then and we knew we had to get in the top three.
"I realize Helena had a fine team this year. The problem is they've known about it for two years. Everybody starts calling the last week.''
There is a precedent for a play-in game. In the 1960s, the Class B champion (now Class A) was allowed to challenge an A team (now AA) for a berth in the tournament. Later on, a best-of-three series was used.
Also, for a few years in the 1970s, the B champion got an automatic berth, which meant that an A team was left out. In 1974, when Billings officially split its program, the Scarlets won the B title and advanced to the state tournament.
Maybe someone will come up with another idea. Until then, the best advice is to finish in the top three and you won't have to worry about it.