BEAR GRASS - It’s a head-scratching decision that left North Duplin’s baseball team and fans confused, particularly head coach Bill Outlaw.
The former collegiate pitcher had discussed obstruction with the home plate umpire and warned that something dangerous could happen.
It nearly did.
And certainly not in the Rebels’ favor.
A sixth-inning judgment call on an errant throw enabled once-beaten Bear Grass to prevail 2-1 and advance in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1A playoffs.
“The inning before we had the same thing happen and I told the umpire ‘the next time it happens, he’s going to throw it up side his head, he’s going to get a concussion and it’s going to be on you,’” Outlaw said.
“Obviously, it happened.”
Locked in a tense, scoreless battle, North Duplin catcher Tyler Johnsey attempted to gun down a Bear Grass runner, but his throw deflected off the helmet of Colin Langley in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The ball bounced into foul territory and by the time he tracked it down, the Bears’ Logan Coltrain scored for the 1-0 lead.
Outlaw stormed from the dugout and contended Langley committed obstruction, which should be a dead ball. He and the home plate umpire carried on a lively conversation that eventually led to a protest committee meeting request by Outlaw.
The umpires, at first, refused.
Each school’s protest committee stepped onto the field, listened to Outlaw’s plea and the umpire’s ruling. The committee, which had two BG members to compared to one for ND, voted 2-1 in favor of the umpire’s judgment call.
“I still believe we had the right argument,” Outlaw said. “I played baseball at East Carolina and have never seen it called like that. It’s a huge break for them.”
Langley eventually doubled into the power alley to extend Bear Grass’ advantage to 2-0.
After an inning-ending flout, the Rebels gathered in the dugout.
“I want everybody fighting here,” Outlaw said.
Andy Cameron reached on an infield error and moved into scoring position on Eric Rosas’ sacrifice bunt. Kyle Smith plated Cameron with a triple down the right-field line that bounced past a diving Bear Grass defender.
Outlaw pondered his choices.
Squeeze or trust his batters?
“I thought about squeezing, but I’ve got two at-bats I trust in,” Outlaw said. “I’m going to take my chances with two outs. Everybody in this ballpark knew a squeeze was coming. Obviously, it didn’t work out for me.”
Coltrain induced an infield pop-up and groundout to seal the outcome. The fourth-seeded Bears (12-1 overall) won their fourth consecutive opening-round playoff game.
“We didn’t quit,” Outlaw said.
The 13th-seeded Rebels (6-6) played error-free defense behind left-hander Gage Outlaw and caught runners on two occasions that squashed Bear Grass. The senior scattered four hits, walked two and struck out four in a complete-game effort.
Johnsey, Smith, Cameron and Kyle Holland each had one hit.
“He’s pitched his tail off all year,” coach Outlaw said of his son. “His record doesn’t show it, but pitchers don’t always get the records they want. He has done his job, kept us in every baseball game even though we didn’t win them all.”