Baseball – Cranford Protest Denied, Middletown North’s First State Championship Upheld
After putting its celebration on hold for nearly 48 hours, the Middletown North baseball team can go back to celebrating its first ever NJSIAA championship.
The NJSIAA denied Cranford's protest of Middletown North's 5-4 win in eight innings and appeal for Middletown North to forfeit the victory, according to a letter sent by executive director Collen Maguire to Cranford athletic director Darren Torsone and reported by NJ Advance Media.
According to NJAM, Maguire acknowledged a counting error by the official pitch counter that allowed Middletown North starting pitcher Colin Dowlen to throw 120 pitches -- eight more than he should have been allowed -- but also said there were circumstances in place and procedure followed that made upholding the process untenable.
According to the email, Maguire cites a memo to the coaches sent on June 16 cautioning coaches to not rely on the scoreboard pitch count or their own pitch count as official. In this case, the scoreboard turned out to be accurate while the pitch-counter was short by eight pitches.
Instead, coaches were instructed to consult the official pitch counter after each inning, which Middletown North coach Ryan McCabe did and Cranford coach Dennis McCaffery did not. McCaffery did not speak to the pitch counter until Dowlen exceeded his limit on the scoreboard.
The NJSIAA Pitch Count Rule advises the coaches "must" check with the official counter after each half inning so that discrepancies can be met in the moment.
"Instead of checking the pitch count after every inning, Cranford coaches relied on the scoreboard, which is not official, and waited until they thought the pitch count had been exceeded before raising their concerns," Maguire said in the email, as reported on NJ.com. "Even though the official pitch counter made a mistake, Middletown North had a right to rely on his official count. In short, I will not change the result on the field based on a mistake made by an official pitch counter, who was in charge of enforcing a health and safety rule, and particularly so where, as here, there was no intent by Middletown North to game the system or gain an advantage."
There are procedures in place to deal with a discrepancy in pitch counts, and McCaffery's failure to check with the official counter throughout the game turned out to be the basis of the NJSIAA's rejection of his school's appeal. McCaffery's position is that Middletown North knew what the actual pitch count was and took advantage of the situation, which, in his view, violated a stipulation in the rule stating that "Coaches are responsible for their pitcher's pitch count at all times."
The NJSIAA, however, reiterated that the "pitch count" should be interpreted to mean the number that the official pitch counter records, or the number that is agreed upon by the coaches.
Maguire also expressed her regret for the counting error in the email to Cranford, saying the NJSIAA will "make sure something like this cannot happen in the future."
Middletown North players and coaches were congregating at its end-of-season banquet Monday night when they learned the news that they could carry on celebrating their Group III championship, which came after the team started the season 5-8 and was 9-10 on May 12 before rattling off 12 straight wins to end the season and make history.