One day later, and State College baseball coach Troy Allen still isn’t sure what to tell his team.
The Little Lions won on the field Wednesday in a 3-2 thriller against Erie McDowell for a spot in the first round of the PIAA Class 6A baseball tournament. But due to a controversial pitch-count infraction, they drove home from Slippery Rocky as the losers.
Their season is now over. There is no appeals process, according to Allen.
“I’m gutted for these kids,” Allen said in a telephone interview Thursday night. “They knew they had the goods to go the whole way and, for them not to be able to do it because of an issue like that, that’s tough to swallow.”
At the heart of the matter is a rule relatively new to the PIAA that centers on pitching limits for high school student-athletes. In any given game, a player cannot throw more than 100 pitches. If said pitcher reaches the limit in the middle of an at-bat, he’s allowed to finish with the batter before exiting the game.
After an impressive outing from State College starter David Shoemaker, that’s exactly the rule that Allen and the Little Lions thought they were following. According to their count, after the first out in the final inning, Shoemaker was at 97 pitches. They planned to have him face one more batter, then bring in a closer. Shoemaker got the second out — but that’s when McDowell protested.
Erie McDowell’s starting count against that second batter was at 101 pitches, not 97. And because the Trojans were the home team, it’s their count that the PIAA considers official.
After a five- to-seven-minute meeting with the coaches, tournament director and a call to the PIAA, it was ruled that State College had to forfeit for going over the pitch count. But, the PIAA told them, the game still had to be finished.
“As a coach, there’s not really anything you can say to them that’s going to make sense for them, that’s going to ease the pain — particularly how it ended,” Allen said. “They forced us to finish the game; we won it legit. The fact they had to forfeit is one thing but then to humiliate the kids and finish the game? That was overkill.”
Kevin Karstetter came on in relief and got the final out for State College. But it didn’t matter.
The team slowly walked to the bus and began the quietest bus ride of the season, a two-and-a-half-hour drive back to State College.
McDowell coach Mike Hayes agreed it was an unfortunate finish — and he agreed with Allen that he’d like to see an official scorekeeper in future playoff games.
Hayes also said it was happenstance he discovered the pitch count when he did. He said he walked over to his scorekeeper once Allen was about to bring in his closer. He joked how the State College kid must have thrown 200 pitches, and his scorekeeper replied that it was 106 pitches — which Hayes knew meant it had to be an illegal 101 against the second batter.
Hayes approached the umpires immediately to let them know.
“Our scorekeeper really didn’t even know the rule, so I went to an umpire and said, ‘We have a problem,’” Hayes told the Centre Daily Times on Thursday. “The pitcher was at 101 when he threw to the second batter and the umpire says, ‘Well, we need to get the tournament director.’ So that’s how it all went down.”
For State College’s part, it said it confirmed pitch counts with McDowell at the end of the fifth inning. And both the Little Lions’ scorekeeper and the Little Lions’ dugout kept separate counts — that matched up — from the fifth frame on because the team wanted to make sure it didn’t go over the pitch count.
It’s not known whose pitch count was actually correct. But, again, that technically doesn’t matter. McDowell is the home team, so its stats and numbers are considered official.
Hayes said there was no malicious intent on his part, and he knows it’s not as if Allen was trying to eke out an extra pitch or two from his starter. Other teams might warn opponents about the impending pitch count out of sportsmanship, but Hayes said his scorekeeper was unaware of the rule.
As for State College fans who might wonder why the coach had to bring up the disparity at all, Hayes replied: “Well, I’d have to say that the rules are put in place for a reason and as long as the rules are here, let’s follow them. And that’s all I got to say about that.”
With the win by forfeit, Erie McDowell (13-8) will now advance to play North Allegheny at 4 p.m. Monday in the first round of states. The Little Lions (10-11) will be following from home.
“It’s a tough situation for everyone,” Hayes said. “My AD came over this morning and another coach from our district came into the office and said, ‘Did you know how many he was at?’ I didn’t know.”
Said Allen: “I hope that the PIAA will revisit the issue this offseason and make sure there’s an official scorer at every playoff site. They do it for some of the other sports; I hope they’ll do it the same for baseball.”