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SMLL forfeits under controversy

Published: 2:05 PM, 07/09/2013 Last updated: 2:06 PM, 07/09/2013

Author: Seth Butler
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

GREENEVILLE—The championship round of the Little League Softball District 4 Senior Division ended in controversy on Monday night at the Rotary Field of Hardin Park.

Despite holding a 2-0 lead in the sixth inning of the first of two possible championship games, Smoky Mountain Little League’s entry in the tournament had to forfeit Monday’s game against Greeneville after violating Little League Rule 4.17. Smoky Mountain, which had only nine players in uniform, attempted to finish the game with eight players on the field.

Illness rendered Smoky Mountain player Sydney Hazelwood unavailable for the final three innings of
Monday’s contest, forcing the team to attempt to finish the remainder of the game with eight players.

Rule 4.17 states that: “If during a game either team is unable to play nine players on the field due to injury or ejection, the opposing manager shall select the player to re-enter the lineup. A player ejected from the game is not eligible for re-entry. If no players are available for re-entry, or if a team refuses to place nine players on the field, this shall not be grounds for automatic forfeiture, but shall be referred to the board of directors for a decision. Note: A game may not be continued with less than nine players on each team.”

The decision forces an if-necessary game between the two squads, which is scheduled to be played this evening in Greeneville. The District 4 tournament was scheduled to begin on July 1 and run through July 5. Postponements, including one Saturday evening despite no rain falling, have pushed the tournament back.

The controversy struck Smoky Mountain in the bottom half of the fourth inning, with the team - which is comprised mostly of Cocke County High School softball players - holding a 2-0 lead.

Smoky Mountain had only nine eligible players at Monday night’s game, due to three players on the team’s roster out of town on vacation. Hazelwood, who was saddled with illness, was cleared to play in the game by doctors and did so through four and a half innings, meeting her game requirements outlined by Little League rules. After continuing to be affected by her illness, Smoky Mountain coach Chuck Strange removed Hazelwood from the game.

Removing Hazelwood from the game prompted Greeneville’s coaching staff to inquire with the home plate umpire if playing with eight players was legal. The home plate umpire said that the move was legal and that the team could finish the game with eight players.

During the top half of the fifth inning, parents from Greeneville’s team approached District 4 assistant administrator Lowell Easterly behind the press box about the rule. Between innings, Easterly stopped play to get a ruling from Little League officials at the Southeastern Regional and National offices.

The ruling process, which involved Little League Officials at the Southeastern Regional office in St. Petersburg, Florida and national officials in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, resulted in a 35-minute stoppage in play in the middle of the fifth inning.

After play had been halted for the 35-minute period with no firm ruling from either office, Easterly
received word from District 4 administrator Wayne Treadway to continue the game until a ruling from those offices was received.

The two teams played the conclusion of the fifth inning, before a ruling was reached in the top half of the sixth inning that the game was considered a forfeit, drawing the ire of Smoky Mountain fans and coaches.

A visibly upset Strange offered only a one-sentence comment following the ruling.

“This is why Little League is going to be nonexistent in a couple of years,” Strange said.

Easterly offered no official comment to reporters following the game, but admitted he knew the ruling given by the home plate umpire to Greeneville coaches was wrong and that Smoky Mountain should have been told to play with nine players or face a forfeit.

Smoky Mountain, which defeated Greeneville by a 10-1 margin in the winner’s bracket final on Friday evening, plated its two runs in the top half of the fourth inning.

A one out single by Raina Hannon, who stole second, set the table for the Smoky Mountain’s inning. Hannon scored on a single by T.J. Reed, who then came into score on a two-out base hit by Leah Lewandowski to give the team their seemingly commanding two-run lead.

Smoky Mountain hurler Autumn Bible limited Greeneville to one hit through five innings. The lone Greeneville hit was a softly hit ball to right field, after Smoky Mountain had pulled Hazelwood from the field. Bible recorded six strikeouts of 16 hitters she faced.

A ruling was not immediately available if Bible will be allowed to pitch in Tuesday’s if-necessary
game. Little League rules state a pitcher in softball that throws five innings or more, shall require one days rest.

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