By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
Bruce baseball players were taking final exams Wednesday morning when the Mississippi High School Activities Association upheld its decision to ban the Trojans from the state championship series for the violation of a pitching rule.
The MHSAA executive committee denied an appeal by Bruce officials concerning a ruling by executive director Dr. Ennis Proctor, which called for a forfeit of the Trojans’ Game 3 state semifinals series-clinching win against Hamilton.
In that game, played Saturday, Bruce pitcher Caleb Hanley worked 42⁄3 innings and exceeded the 17-inning weekly limit by two-thirds of an inning.
“It’s tragic that this happened like this,” Bruce principal Mark Grubbs said. “It’s like a death. We’re in exams, so it has been sporadic trying to notify the players.”
Hamilton (22-4 after the forfeit) will replace Bruce (23-7) in next week’s 2A state championship series against Richton at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
In a statement released by the MHSAA, Proctor said: “ … In order to be fair to all of our schools who have followed the rules, we must enforce the rule and not allow Bruce High School to advance in the playoffs due to this rule violation.
“It is regrettable that student athletes must suffer for adult mistakes.”
Grubbs said his coach, Sid Burt, would not have pitched Hanley, a senior, had he known it was a violation.
Burt “is devastated,” Grubbs said. “He would never do anything intentionally to gain an edge.”
Burt could not be reached for comment.
Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest sent his team through a practice session on Wednesday after learning of the MHSAA decision.
“A lot of people will say we don’t deserve to be there … we got lucky,” he said. “Like a friend told me this morning, ‘Fate has smiled down you, you need to smile back.’ ’’
Earnest said he feels bad for the Bruce players, who are being denied an opportunity to play for a state title.
“That’s a chance of a lifetime taken away from them,” he said.
What’s a week?
Burt, Grubbs said, was under the assumption the rule – “A pitcher shall not pitch more than 17 innings per week.” – was for a school week, which is termed a Monday-Friday in the handbook.
The handbook also includes the usage of a calendar week – Monday-Sunday – for determining the number of games that can be played in a week.
“If you go by a school week, our pitcher pitched 13 innings, not 172⁄3,” Grubbs said. Hanley pitched seven innings Monday in a Game 3 against Eupora, six innings in Friday’s Game 2 against Hamilton, and then 42⁄3 innings on Saturday.
A spokesperson for the MHSAA admitted to Bruce officials who attended the hearing the rule was vague concerning what constituted a week.
“We were told the rule would be changed,” said Grubbs, who attended the hearing with Burt and Calhoun County superintendent Mike Moore. “However, they said they were not going to overturn Dr. Proctor’s decision.”
Bruce supporters could file for an injunction in chancery court to stop the playoffs, but past rulings have favored the MHSAA.
One of those came in 2008 when Leland parents filed an injunction in Hinds County to stop Walnut from playing in a postseason football game. In that case, the MHSAA reversed a ruling and awarded Walnut a victory.
The MHSAA’s ruling was upheld by the court.
“It’s sad that a bunch of overachieving, underdog kids who fought like crazy are being held out of the playoffs because of a vague interpretation of a vague rule,” Grubbs said.
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Innings pitched during the disputed week by Bruce ace Caleb Hanley:
May 10 7 innings (Eupora)
May 13 6 innings (Hamilton)
May 15 4 2/3 innings (Hamilton)