Fate has smiled on the Hamilton High School baseball team.
Now coach Lewis Earnest hopes the Lions can smile back.
Those were the some of the words Earnest told his players Wednesday after he learned the Mississippi High School Activities Association Executive Committee upheld the ruling of Executive Director Dr. Ennis Proctor to withdraw the Bruce High baseball team from championship play due to a violation of the 17 inning per calendar week MHSAA pitching rule.
In a statement released by the MHSAA on Wednesday, the association said it was reported to its office that Bruce High had allowed pitcher Caleb Hanley to pitch 17 2/3 innings in a calendar week. A calendar week is defined in the MHSAA Handbook on page 20 under Rule c. Rules governing Baseball: “Calendar week defined as Monday through Sunday.” Rule j on page 20 states, “A pitcher shall not pitch more than 17 innings per week.”
That statement goes on to say, “The primary reason for the rule limiting the number of innings a pitcher can pitch in a week is because of the safety issue insuring (sic) a pitcher takes care of his physical well being so as not to injure his arm. The rule also insures (sic) that there is fair competition among teams.
“This rule limiting the number of innings for a pitcher has always been interpreted by the MHSAA office as applying to the calendar week as defined in the handbook. The head coach at each school is responsible for knowing the rules of his or her sport.”
Said Proctor, “The MHSAA regrets that a situation such as this has occurred at any time — but it is especially regrettable during the post season (sic) or play-off (sic) season. In order to be fair to all of our schools who have followed the rules, we must enforce the rule and not allow Bruce High School to advance in the playoffs due to this rule violation. It is regrettable that student athletes must suffer for adult mistakes.”
The decision paves the way for Hamilton to play Richton at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl in game one of the Class 2A best-of-three state title series.
The game was originally scheduled for 1 p.m. but was switched due to conflicts with school graduations. Game two will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
After several days of fielding numerous phone calls from coaches, parents, friends, and members of the media, Earnest was glad to have the issue resolved and is ready to move on. He said the Lions had a light practice Wednesday and that the kids were “excited and fired up” to still be alive.
“One thing we told them is you have got a second chance, a big second chance, that a lot of people don”t get,” Earnest said. “Now you have to take advantage of it. Not only that, they have to prove that we”re worthy of being there because most of the state probably thinks they shouldn”t be down there.”
Earnest said he would have been fine with a ruling that forced the teams to replay game three, which Bruce won 6-5 to take the series. But he said he knew that wouldn”t be the decision because he felt the MHSAA would go “strictly by the book” when it interpreted the rule regarding innings pitched in a week.
Earnest hopes, though, that the MHSAA re-writes the rule and examines several other rules to avoid situations like this one from happening again.
“I am surprised it has taken this long for this rule to come up,” said Earnest, whose team has won three of five games against Bruce this season. “I am surprised it has not been broken.”
Hamilton High Principal Mark Howell said Wednesday the situation wasn”t a good one for either side. He said Hamilton High feels for Bruce High, but he said the school “felt obligated to take up for our kids, too.” He said Wednesday afternoon he had heard rumors about an injunction being filed to counteract the MHSAA ruling, but he didn”t know if one was in the works.
“We probably would have done the same thing,” Howell said of Bruce High”s decision to appeal to the executive committee. “Like I said, it is unfortunate it went that way. We don”t feel playing a third game over was an option. It was up to Jackson as to how they defined a week.”
Hanley pitched seven innings Monday against Eupora in game three of the semifinal-round series. He then pitched six innings Friday in a 10-0 victory against Hamilton in game two of the Class 2A North Half State title series. He started game three Saturday at Hamilton High and pitched 4 2/3 innings in Bruce”s 6-5 victory that helped it clinch the Class 2A North Half State title.
Bruce led 6-3 entering the bottom of the fifth and Hanley retired the first two batters before Dylan Earnest doubled and Chase Reeves walked. Jay King relieved Hanley and got out of the jam.
Kevin McCartney and Earnest hit back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, but it wasn”t enough for the Lions.
This is the second time in a month an incident like this has happened in the region.
Last month, the Tuscaloosa County (Ala.) High baseball team was forced out of the Class 6A playoffs after it was found to have violated an Alabama High School Athletic Association rule that limits pitchers to seven innings on two consecutive calendar days.
Tuscaloosa County”s Jacob Hendrix pitched four innings against Spain Park on Friday and pitched in parts of four innings the next day. After receiving reports from both schools, the AHSAA ruled April 19 that Tuscaloosa County”s 9-8 victory on Saturday would be a 7-0 forfeit for Spain Park.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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