By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
When Andy Wilbanks heard Bruce’s baseball team might be eliminated from the upcoming state championship series because of a possible coach’s error, he called Trojans coach Sid Burt.
Ingomar’s softball coach knew exactly how the Bruce boss felt, because he has been in the same position.
Wilbanks’ team was barred from postseason play in 2008 by the Mississippi High School Activities Association for unknowingly playing one game more than allowed.
“I know what he feels like,” Wilbanks said. “It hurt me, but it hurt the kids more. I told (Burt) that life will go on, and things will eventually get better.”
The MHSAA ruled against Bruce’s appeal Wednesday and will enforce a forfeit of Game 3 by the Trojans in their Class 2A state semifinals game against Hamilton. Burt allowed his pitcher to throw more than the allotted 17 innings allowed per week by MHSAA handbook rules.
Problem is, it seems, there is no clear definition of what constitutes a week – a calendar week (Monday-Sunday) or a school week (Monday-Friday). Both type weeks are mentioned in the MHSAA baseball rule governing the scheduling of games.
If you go by a school week, which Burt did, his pitcher worked 13 innings. If you go by a calendar week, which the MHSAA did, then it was 172⁄3 innings.
Confusing? Maybe so, but the bottom line is this: Hamilton, which lost the game, 6-5, and the series, two games to one, will represent North Mississippi next week in the championship series at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
Wilbanks believes the MHSAA should punish and fine the coach for a rules violation, not the players, especially when you have a situation like this.
“To me, this is the equivalent of the NCAA’s death penalty,” he said.
Bruce principal Mark Grubbs said Wednesday afternoon that the MHSAA’s ruling has been “like a death” to the Trojans.
Wilbanks’ infraction came during a preseason tournament at Ingomar. “We had a team not show up, so we played the game in their spot,” he said. “I didn’t think anything about it.”
At playoff time, Ingomar’s extra game was brought to the attention of the MHSAA, which ruled the Lady Falcons ineligible.
“It was an honest mistake and I can live with myself,” Wilbanks said. “But this is about the kids. We’d won state the year before and I thought we had a better shot that year. Then we get booted.
“I see those kids now and I always think, ‘An honest mistake may have taken another state championship away from them.’”
Today, unfortunately, Sid Burt knows how Andy Wilbanks feels.
Gene Phelps (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior sports writer for the Daily Journal.