There’s a lot that’s still unknown about exactly how things went down in the North 2, Group 4 quarterfinal game between top-seed Ridge and 8th-seed Westfield, which results in the Red Devils being disqualified from the state tournament due to a pitch count violation.
In a statement the NJSIAA provided via email to Central Jersey Sports Radio Saturday afternoon: “During Thursday’s quarterfinal game of the NJSIAA Section 2, Group 4 baseball tournament, Ridge High School violated pitch count rules. As a result, its pitcher was declared ineligible and, per rule, Ridge was required to forfeit. Westfield High School will now advance to face Bayonne High School on Tuesday (5/30).”
According to an NJ Advance Media report by Luis Torres, Ridge ace Connor Byrne was taken out of the game after throwing 82 pitches. This, after having thrown 69 in Monday’s opening round playoff game against Piscataway. That would have given Byrne 151 pitches thrown, one over the NJSIAA “hard limit” of 150 pitches per five calendar days.
That “hard limit” is in contrast to the single day pitch limit of 110 pitches, which is a “soft limit,” wherein a pitcher may stay in the game to finish the batter, whether the batter is out, reaches base, or that batter ends the inning or game. The hard limit means the pitcher must be removed even in the middle of an at bat.
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE OFFICIAL NJSIAA PITCH COUNT RULES IN .PDF FORMAT
That’s what we know. What we don’t know is why Byrne wasn’t removed at 150 pitches, or 81 on the day. Was Ridge head coach Tom Blackwell unaware of the hard limit, which is a new addition to the rules this year? Where was the official pitch counter in all this?
Per NJSIAA rules, here is what should have happened, before the first pitch of the game was even thrown:
- “During these state tournament rounds (State Tournament Rounds 1, 2, 3 & Sectional Finals), each school shall designate a pitch counter for their team. In addition, the home team must supply an “Official Adult Pitch Counter” who shall not be part of the coaching staff or team manager. The official pitch counter should be dressed in apparel that is considered neutral during the state tournament. The official pitch counter shall be situated in an area near the backstop and equally accessible to both teams. The official pitch counter will count pitches for both schools.” This means both Ridge and Westfield should have their own pitch counters, which is something that’s required all season long. The NJ Advance story says Westfield AD Sandra Mammary told Torres that both teams checked in with the official pitch counter after each inning.
- Before every game, both Head Coaches shall exchange their pitching logs as part of the pre-game conference with umpires. This shall include names, numbers and pitches thrown by each pitcher. We don’t know yet whether or not the official pitch counter, which was on site, according to Mamary, was provided this information. This would also tell the pitch counter how many pitches each pitcher was allowed to throw in the game.
- Pitch counts must be verified with representatives of both teams after each half-inning. If both teams agree on a pitch number, that number shall be recorded as the official pitch count. If one team disagrees on a pitch count, the official pitch counter’s number shall be recorded. Once the first pitch is thrown for the next half inning, there can be no protests or appeals to the pitch count. Again, from the comments by the Westfield Athletic Director, this appears to have taken place. At this point, the pitch counter and both head coaches should have been aware of the pitch limit on Byrne, since both head coaches would have received pitching logs as part of their pre-game conference with the umpires.
- The official pitch counter shall inform both coaches and the plate umpire when a pitcher reaches their maximum pitch count threshold. Coaches are responsible for their pitcher’s pitch count at all times. Here’s where the questions come in. The pitch counter should have informed both coaches and the plate umpire when the Byrne reached 81 pitches, the maximum he was allowed for the day. By all accounts in numerous media reports, that never happened. Byrne was removed after 82 pitches. As a backup, the Ridge coach also should have been aware of the rule and removed Byrne, which did not happen. Was there a discrepancy as to the pitch count when Byrne was removed? An update to the Torres story with a quote from Mamary says, “When that kid pitched his 82nd pitch, we stopped the game, we asked how many pitches they had because they are the home team and they confirmed that they had 82 pitches. The umpire said, ‘Yes, we have 82 pitches.’ (He) said back to my coach, ‘Yeah, there’s 82 pitches’. And we said, ‘OK. Now it’s kind of out of hands.'” So it also appears Westfield knew Byrne had thrown 81, and stopped the game only after the violation occurred, rather than when Byrne was at his limit.
Unless there’s a further discrepancy in the pitch count for Byrne, the only thing that’s clear is that the rule was violated, and per the rules, Westfield has the right to protest, which they did, and Ridge is disqualified from the tournament.
Rules are rules, whether they’re fair and intended to ensure the safety of student-athletes or not. Clearly, the rule was violated.
But it seems like there’s more than enough blame to go around.