The Clover Hill baseball team was forced to forfeit its 5A South region semifinal game on Saturday for using a pitcher beyond the limit of Virginia High School League rules. Consequently, Freeman will advance to the 5A state tournament.
Clover Hill coach Brett Mooney took the blame, saying he wasn't trying to cheat and simply made a mistake.
"I just feel awful for my guys," Mooney said. "It's just the worst feeling a coach can feel."
Clover Hill pitcher Kyle Hasforth pitched four innings Tuesday against Deep Run in the region quarterfinals. The game was suspended because of rain in the top of the fifth.
He rested Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, then returned to the mound Saturday for the semifinal game against Freeman.
The VHSL rule states that if a pitcher goes four innings then rests three days, he can only pitch three innings upon his return.
Hasforth started the game and pitched four innings. When the fifth inning began, tournament director Clyde Metzger held a meeting with the team's coaches. He directed them to keep playing, but said he would contact the VHSL.
So the game went on, and both sides knew a forfeiture could be on its way.
When the game ended, Clover Hill had won 2-1 in 10 innings and no word had come back from the VHSL. Freeman coach Ray Moore held what he thought was the final meeting of the season. Then he dismissed his team.
But before he could leave the stadium, he got word from his athletics director, Suzanne Criswell, that Clover Hill would forfeit the game. Moore told a few players who hadn't left yet, and they spread the word to their teammates.
It'll be a quick turnaround for the Rebels, who travel to Hickory High School in Chesapeake on Sunday for the region final, then go to Fairfax on Friday for the 5A state semifinals.
Mooney said he wasn't aware of the rule. He thought there was no limit on how long Hasforth could pitch Saturday.
"It was my fault for not knowing the rule as it was written out and not executing it as it was written out," Mooney said.
Before 2013, the VHSL's pitching limitations were simple. A pitcher could go no more than 10 innings during a two-day period.
Then that rule was replaced with a series of more detailed instructions that take up nearly a page in the league's handbook.
They set specific limits on the number of days rest required and the number of innings a pitcher can go in certain situations.
Still, some say the rules are not clear.
The first major issue surfaced in 2013 when Hanover and Great Bridge met in the Group AAA state title game.
Great Bridge used all the eligibility of ace Connor Jones in the semifinals because the coaching staff believed Hanover had already exhausted its ace, Derek Casey.
But Hanover believed Casey had eligibility remaining. So the Hawks pitched Casey in the state title game and won. The VHSL agreed with Hanover, leaving Great Bridge out of luck.
Jones and Casey now pitch at Virginia.
A more accurate way to measure effort of a pitcher, the coach said, is pitch count. Hasforth issued 50 pitches Tuesday and 47 Friday, Mooney said. So the coach was comfortable with the number of pitches his pitcher had thrown. High schoolers frequently exceed 100 pitches in a single game.
"I'm not going to abuse a pitch count," Mooney said. "I'm not going to let a guy get hurt....I don't feel like I was abusing the kid."
VHSL assistant director for athletics Shawn Knight said he believes most people have a good understanding of the rules. He thinks there has been only one other instance this year where a team had to forfeit a game because of a pitching violation.
"It seems to be working well," Knight said.
What is common, he said, is for coaches to call the VHSL to make sure they're following the rule, or to ask how many innings a pitcher has left in his next outing.