West Henderson (Mountain Home, N.C.) senior Reilly Gilbert threw the pitch in the bottom of the fifth inning on Friday.
Erwin (Buncombe County, N.C.) sophomore Lamar Mudong ducked.
The umpire couldn’t move fast enough.
The curveball heading for the shoulder or head of Mudong never threatened crossing the strike zone, whizzed over Mudong’s head, but drilled the man behind the mask in the left forearm.
“A curveball came at me, and I ducked, then the next thing you know, the ump is hurt,” Mudong said. “I immediately apologized. I should have worn that pitch. It would have been in my head or shoulder but I ducked. Having protection in is better than having the umpire hurt.”
Three batters later, Erwin coach Dylan Jones, West Henderson coach Wesley King and the two umpires agreed to suspend the game and finish it at a later date. The Warriors led 9-3 with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning with Derrick Safe, already 4-4 with a double and four RBIs, on first base.
“It’s a suspension just like if the skies opened up and it started raining,” Jones said. “With us, in our conference, and with the pitch counts, to be able to find a spot to finish two innings is tough when we start looking at our pitching with opponents we’ll have to play. We’re going to get on the phone and see exactly what happens with pitch counts.”
That one pitch, a curveball that slipped as he tried to apply the perfect spin and release at the precise split-second needed to throw a strike, from Gilbert’s hand counted more than any other.
“I threw a curveball and it didn’t break,” Gilbert said. “It may have been the wind. Probably not. But I don’t know what happened.
“I asked if he’s all right and he said yes.”
All right is a relative term.
Shaking it off didn’t relieve the pain. A walk to West Henderson dugout couldn’t ease the pain. Taking a seat helped, but not enough. Something didn’t seem quite right.
The Erwin training staff rushed to the umpire. A soft touch to the injured location produced a wince and a yelp. A trainer applied a splint and ran a battery of tests.
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Players on the field tried to stay warm during the delay on a breezy evening. Gilbert played catch. The rest of his teammates gathered around second base. And both teams started having fun. A variety show broke out.
Erwin players lined up as if they were bowling pins and tumbled when one teammate rolled a ball at his feet. The Falcons plopped on the ground and mimicked that they were rowing a canoe. Erwin outfielder Erik Martinez danced a jig.
Then the umpire needed a hand to secure his mask and pull down his sleeve before crouching back to the scene of the collision.
He lasted three more batters before departing with his arm in a sling.
“He just couldn’t finish,” King said. “He felt that he could not do the job necessary for both teams. Coach Jones and I agreed that we want him to feel better as soon as possible.”