With the field cleared more than an hour after an apparent state tournament-clinching victory, Le Mars baseball coach Trent Eckstaine had to walk across the diamond and give away the state qualifier banner.
Earlier Wednesday evening, Le Mars had dog-piled onto the pitcher’s mound and held the banner for photos to celebrate its first-ever state tournament berth.
Le Mars had beaten top-ranked Sioux City Heelan 8-5 in 11 innings in a Class 3-A substate final before it was learned that the Bulldogs had used an ineligible pitcher, costing them the victory — and presenting Heelan with the state berth instead.
“I didn’t know what to say,” Heelan coach Andy Osborne said Thursday. “It was really tough to take that.”
Heelan won by forfeit because Parker Rolfes did not take enough rest as mandated by the Iowa High School Athletic Association.
Rolfes threw nine innings Monday, which meant he could not pitch again until Thursday under IHSAA rules. In Wednesday’s game, he tossed five innings in relief.
In the 11th inning, a Heelan parent notified Osborne of the potential violation after receiving a call or text — Osborne wasn’t sure which — from someone in Sergeant Bluff, which Le Mars had played Monday.
“At this point we had the bases loaded in the 11th, the tying run is on first,” Osborne said. “So all of this is kind of going on. I’m in the thick of things coaching. It was the furthest thing from my mind, to be perfectly honest.”
So Osborne told a parent to instead give the information to Heelan athletic director Jason Pratt.
Following the game, Pratt was in the dugout on the phone with IHSAA baseball representative Roger Barr to sort out the situation.
While the rule is stated on every lineup card used by coaches, Osborne wasn’t sure of the consequences.
“I didn’t know what the repercussions would be,” Osborne said. “I really didn’t anticipate a forfeiture. Having never been through anything like that, I didn’t know what exactly was up.”
A similar situation occurred in a 2006 Class 3-A state semifinal game between Western Dubuque and Carroll. A Western Dubuque pitcher had thrown the final inning of a Friday win after pitching nine innings in a Wednesday victory.
In 2006, the rule stated that a pitcher must follow a nine-inning outing with two days’ rest. The time lapsed between the conclusion of the first game and the pitcher’s one inning equaled 48 hours and 27 minutes, so the state ruled that the pitcher was used legally. So Western Dubuque went to the state championship game.
The wording of the rule was altered following that season to clarify that a player must not pitch for two calendar days after his ninth inning in a one-week period. In other words, Rolfes was ineligible to pitch Wednesday for Le Mars.
Barr said the state worked with Le Mars’ administration and Eckstaine. When they indicated that Rolfes had thrown nine innings Monday, they were forced to forfeit.
Indications were that an umpire had told Le Mars that Rolfes could pitch. A memo sent to coaches on June 7 emphasized the rule, and underlined a portion told coaches, “It is your responsibility.”
Attempts by the Register to reach Eckstaine on Thursday were immediately unsuccessful.
Barr reemphasized Thursday that the responsibility to enforce the pitching limitation rule rests solely with the coaches.
“It’s the coach’s the responsibility to know and monitor their pitchers,” Barr said. “Umpires don’t know when the pitcher last pitched. He’s not the one keeping the books and knowing who pitched and didn’t pitch.”
Le Mars’ first state tournament berth has been wiped away, and Heelan is headed to Principal Park. Quite possibly still stunned.
“It was kind of shock. It certainly wasn’t celebratory,” Osborne said of his team’s reaction. “Even at 10:30 in the morning today, it doesn’t feel like we won a game to qualify for the state tournament.
“I don’t know if anybody wins in that situation, to be perfectly honest.”
See the rule:
The following is a six-page document sent by the Iowa High School Athletic Association to its baseball coaches on June 7. Included in the guidelines is a reminder of the association’s rules for pitcher rest.