Tomorrow begins what may be my favorite time of the year when it comes to local sports.
Upper Peninsula high school girls basketball teams begin state tournament play, with the boys getting into action the following Monday.
It's an exciting time.
The stakes are much higher than regular-season games, more than fighting for a conference title. It's win or it's the end of your season.
There's a lot of pressure, particularly on players and teams expected to go deep into tournament play.
Some of the top area players show once again why they're the cream of the crop, while others fail to live up to their billing.
There are always some players who rise to the occasion and play better than they have all season. Maybe it's because an opponent concentrates more defensively on their teammates and thus gives them more of an opportunity to shine.
There will be upsets. You can count on more than one team confounding the "experts" and winning a game or two no one thought would happen.
Tournament time brings out at least one Cinderella team that goes deeper into postseason play than anyone thought was possible. That's just one reason why tournament play is so much fun, so interesting, to follow.
You can bet coaches feel tournament pressure more than anyone. If you can't adequately prepare your team for the task ahead, your season will come to a crashing end.
Then you have to explain over and over again to parents and fans alike why your team failed to go deep into the tournament. That can't be fun.
Most veteran referees will say publicly that tournament games aren't any different than regular-season contests. But I'd be willing to bet deep down, they feel the urgency of each game and react accordingly.
They no doubt they have to have a thicker skin than usual when making calls. At least 50 percent of the fans at each game believe you've made the wrong decision or should have let the alleged infraction go.
Crowds at tournament games are larger and more vocal than during the regular season. Spectators aren't afraid to make their biases known, either.
Fans who normally behave at regular-season games can get so worked up in the postseason they lose all sense of decorum.
It's not called March Madness for nothing.