Controversial ninth-inning call puts blemish on championship game
By Jason Shoot
It is difficult to disagree that officials and umpires should not be the deciding factor in any athletic event especially a game to determine two teams' seeds at the upcoming American Legion Class A state baseball tournament.
But in the championship game of the North District Baseball Tournament pitting the host Havre Northstars against the Lethbridge Miners on Sunday at Legion Field, a questionable call by umpires may have done just that.
Lethbridge officially won the slugfest 8-6, but the ninth inning was marred by a ruling that may have tarnished the Miners' title.
After Lethbridge staked itself to a two-run lead in the top of the ninth with two runs to break a 6-6 tie, the Northstars fought back immediately in the bottom half of the inning to stage a dramatic comeback.
Garrett Hanson's flare into shallow center field resulted in a leadoff double for Havre. Mike Kellam then followed a line drive single up the middle of the infield to give Hanson an opportunity to score.
Hanson rounded third and closed in on home plate, which was blocked by Lethbridge catcher Craig Pittman. In an attempt to get past Pittman and score, Hanson knocked over Pittman and landed on the plate to apparently cut the Northstars' deficit to 8-7.
The home plate umpire, whose name was unavailable before press time, immediately ruled Hanson safe, and Kellam advanced to second when the throw home scooted past the flattened Pittman.
Second base umpire Dave Boles then crossed the infield to discuss the play with the home umpire. After a couple minutes Hanson was ruled out, disallowing the run and sending Havre coach Mickey Williams and Northstars fans into a frenzied tirade.
Following the game Boles said, "(Hanson) was supposed to slide and avoid contact," but refused further comment.
Williams, after vehemently arguing and finally spiking his dentures into the turf is dispute of the call, filed an immediate protest. That protest ultimately resulted in Boles and the home umpire speaking to the league commissioner, who upheld the ruling and preserved the Miners' two-run lead.
Williams was still visibly infuriated after the loss and pointed to the rule book, which addresses the very situation that resulted in the loss of Havre's run, albeit not too clearly.
Section 3 regarding collision rules in the American Legion rule book states, "If the defensive player blocks the base (plate) clearly without the ball or is not in the immediate act of catching the ball, obstruction shall be called. The runner is safe and a delayed dead ball shall be called.
"If the runner collides (with a defensive player) flagrantly, he shall be declared safe on the obstruction, but will be ejected from the contest."
The umpires, however, chose to follow the next portion of Section 3, which claims, "Any player, who in the judgment of the umpire, maliciously runs into another player is automatically ejected and declared out."
While the rules do support both sides' opinions of the issue, what is not ambiguous is how the umpires' final decision came to be the home plate umpire made a call, and Boles walked across the diamond to challenge and alter the original decision despite standing 90 feet away from the play.
"It shouldn't have come down to something like that," Williams said. "I don't know if we would have scored (the tying run), but down one with a runner at second and no outs gives us a good shot."
Lethbridge's Jordan Rice drove in the go-ahead run with a two-out double in the ninth, and Joe Legge followed with an RBI single to give the Miners the 8-6 lead.
Havre scored three runs in the first to erase a 1-0 deficit with RBI singles by Kyle Sheppard, David Knight and Kellam, but a costly two-out error by Danny Wirtzberger in the top of the second allowed the Miners to tie the game at 3-all on Robert Greeno's two-run double.
An RBI triple by Knight and a run-scoring single by Kellam in the third gave the Northstars a 5-3 lead, and they later padded their lead to three in the fifth with an RBI single by C.J. Reichelt.
But defensive miscues again haunted Havre and opened a window of opportunity for the Miners, who scored three runs in the sixth to knot the game at 6-6.
Lethbridge capitalized on three errors, a base hit and wild pitch to account for the outburst. Havre shortstop David Knight committed two errors in the inning.
Sheppard pitched all nine innings for the Northstars and took the loss despite giving up just two earned runs. He scattered nine hits, walked two and struck out four.
Knight was 3-for-4 with two RBI, Kellam finished 3-for-5 and drove in three runs, Jared Boyce added three hits, and Reichelt and Jordan Anderson both had a pair of hits for Havre.
Greeno, Rice and Jeff Baldwin each had two hits for Lethbridge.