Longhorns nipped by Eagles in controversial 7th
In the end it all came down to a play at the plate.
Trailing 7-6, with runners on first and second and down to their last out in the seventh inning against the Omaha Eagles in the quarterfinals of the Class A State Tournament May 6 in Black Rock, Viola's Lucas Humphries slammed a line-shot straight up the middle of the diamond.
Letting the ball pass by him at second, Kevin Painter rounded third and headed for home.
Omaha's Keagan Chaney picked up the ball in shallow center and fired it home where Painter was tagged out in a cloud of dust to deny the tying run and preserve the Eagles' 7-6 victory.
It was a dramatic ending to a very strange and controversial seventh inning.
David Johnson started the top of the seventh on the mound for the Eagles, marking Omaha's sixth, but not final, pitching change of the game.
After getting John Mark Montgomery to fly out, Johnson gave up back-to-back walks to Painter and Clayton Gardner, before Omaha coach Steve Williams pulled Johnson in favor of Alex Parker.
This is where the controversy began.
Parker had faced a batter in the top of the sixth, coming in for reliever Jesse Courtney with the bases loaded to strike out Brett Cotter to keep Viola from doing major damage in the inning.
Longhorn Head Coach Dion Hargrove questioned the legality of a non-starting pitcher who had pitched earlier in the game re-entering to pitch again.
While Parker was taking his warm-up pitches, Hargrove approached the first base umpire about the substitution and was told it was the home plate umpire's call.
When Hargrove told the home plate umpire "A non-starting pitcher can't re-enter to pitch," the umpire said "Yes he can."
Not satisfied with this answer, Hargrove sought further discussion as Parker finished his warm-ups.
The umpire refused further explanation, telling Parker to go-ahead and pitch.
With Viola's Dalton Haley standing out of the batters' box, Hargrove repeatedly asked the home plate umpire for time, only to be refused.
Parker threw three pitches, two balls and one strike, with Haley standing out of the box.
After seeing he would not be granted time to discuss the matter further, Hargrove commented to the home plate umpire, "That's not right. I'll protest the game."
Haley stepped into the box and flied out to deep left, before Humphries' line-shot brought Painter around where he was gunned down at the plate.
The Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) later upheld the outcome of the game with Omaha winning 7-6.
Asked the next day if he was satisfied with the AAA's ruling, Hargrove said "Yes. The AAA called me and said you can't protest a game unless it was played under an illegal contract."
When asked May 7 about the decision, Jimmy Coats, executive director of the AAA, said "Our rules interpreter ruled that the officials working the game made the correct calls, and thus the outcome stands as played."
Regardless the outcome, the Longhorns (22-5) certainly enjoyed a successful season.
"It seems like we always get a late start on the season because we go so deep in basketball. That's a good problem to have," Hargrove said. "Our seniors led us this year just like they did in basketball. It seems like one day we looked up and had 20 wins. We ended up sharing the conference title, we were district champs, won back-to-back regional championships, and made it to the final eight in the state, so yeah, I'd say overall we had a good year."
The Longhorns started their quarterfinal matchup with Omaha quickly as Montgomery's two-RBI double to center gave the Longhorns a 2-0 lead in the top of the first.
The Eagles got one run back in the bottom of the frame on a sacrifice fly before the Longhorns answered with a pair of runs in the second.
With the bases loaded, Eagles' starter Billy Courtney gave up back-to-back walks to Cody Hutson and Cotter which brought in a couple of runs.
A forceout at home ended the top of the second with the bases loaded and Viola on top 4-1.
"We had runners on base all day. We just couldn't get the hits we needed to drive them in. We left 17 guys on base," Hargrove said.
A preview of the seventh inning's weirdness may have come in the bottom of the second.
With one on and no outs, Omaha's Keagan Chaney hit a shot to right and tried to stretch it into a double, sliding into second and popping the bag loose from its mooring.
Chaney was ruled tagged-out at second and left the field.
Omaha's Williams appealed the call to the third base umpire who ruled Chaney safe, so he returned to second.
After a near 10-minute meeting between all the umpires, Chaney was once again ruled out, this time for good.
The Eagles did get four runs in the inning to go ahead 5-4 before Longhorn starter Hutson was pulled in favor of reliever Adam Hancock.
Omaha tacked on a pair of runs in the home half of the third on a hit and couple of errors.
Dustin Fason took the first pitch he saw from Hancock and sent it over the fence in left-center for a solo homer.
The second Eagle run came home as Jesse Courtney hit a pitch straight back to Hancock who overthrew Montgomery behind the plate as Chaney scrambled home to score.
With the bases loaded, Hancock got a flyout to minimize the damage with Omaha in front 7-4.
Viola added another run in the top of the fourth on their third walked-in run of the game.
Hancock seemed to grow stronger as the game wore on, shutting out the Eagles in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
The Longhorns did add another run, to make the score 7-6, in the sixth on an RBI-hit from Hancock before the seventh inning saw Viola's rally fall one run short.
"I thought we played hard all game. It was just one of those days," Hargrove said.
Montgomery led the Longhorns with a pair of RBIs on a double.
He also came up big in the Longhorns' 7-2 win over the Ola Mustangs May 5 in the opening round.
Montgomery hit a solo homer in the fourth of that game and finished the day with three hits.
Hutson, the winning pitcher, had a solo homer in the sixth, and also had three hits.
Haley added a two-run double for Viola.