Ole Miss-Georgia Series Overshadowed By 13 Illegal Pitch Calls In First Two Games
A pivotal weekend series between No. 8 Ole Miss and No. 18 Georgia in Athens was marred by 13 illegal pitches called against Ole Miss in the first two games that threw the Rebels off and left many shaking their heads after Georgia swept the three games. Ole Miss entered the weekend in third place in the SEC with a chance to win the regular season title. But after losing all three games the Rebels fell to fifth place and without a first-round bye in this week’s SEC Tournament.
The controversy started on Friday in the bottom half of the first inning. On a 1-2 count to Georgia shortstop Alyssa DiCarlo, Ole Miss starting pitcher Brittany Finney struck her out on a rise ball. Just as DiCarlo retreated to the dugout, first base umpire John Baca called an Illegal pitch. DiCarlo tripled to right field on the following pitch. Two batters later, Finney fielded a come-backer on a 1-2 count from Lacey Fincher to end the inning, but another illegal pitch was called by Baca.
Finney, a senior, had only been called for an illegal pitch twice in 17 starts and 100-plus innings this season. She was called for nine illegal pitches in last Friday’s game. Seven of the calls came on two-strike counts and five negated outs recorded.
Georgia (39-16) won the game, 1-0, on a walk-off triple from Tyler Armistead in the bottom of the seventh. Ole Miss’ hopes of winning the SEC were crushed as the Rebels needed a sweep and some help from LSU in order to win the title outright.
|Illegal Pitch Calls Against Ole Miss vs. Georgia|
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On Saturday, Ole Miss jumped to a 1-0 lead before the game was suspended in the bottom of the first due to weather. It didn’t resume until Sunday morning.
Holding a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh, Finney entered the game in relief of Molly Jacobsen to face the top of the Georgia lineup. On a 1-2 count, Finney got Georgia’s Ciara Bryan to pop out to second base. But Finney was called for an illegal pitch by Danny Bowman sending Bryan back to the plate. Two pitches later, Finney was able to retire Bryan on a flyout to left.
With one out and DiCarlo, Georgia’s best hitter, at the plate, Finney appeared to retire DiCarlo twice, but each time Finney was called for an illegal pitch by Leah Bowen. The last illegal pitch call happened on a full count which resulted in a walk to DiCarlo. Georgia went on to win 6-5.
"The sad part is, because of what happened this weekend, the concern right now is, if Finney goes out there, are these umpires now going to watch that more closely and now start calling it a lot more than what they normally would?” said Ole Miss coach Mike Smith. “That is a concern. If it does happen and Finney is in the game, we may have to have a quick hook when it comes to that.”
Softball America reached out to SEC Coordinator of Softball Umpires Christie Cornwell on Sunday about the number of illegal pitches called against Ole Miss in the first two games. Cornwell said that the illegal pitches were called correctly, but noted there were only seven in the first game. Video from the game confirms there were nine. Cornwell didn’t answer several other specific questions sent to her in writing.
Softball America also reached out in writing to Vickie Van Kleeck, Secretary-Rules Editor of the NCAA Softball Rules Committee. As of Tuesday morning, neither Van Kleeck nor anyone else from the NCAA responded to SA’s request for comment.
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Smith said the Ole Miss staff will address the issue with Finney over the next couple of days to correct her crow hop. It should be noted that in a series at Mississippi State on April 19-21 where Bowman was on the umpire crew, Finney pitched 11 innings (120-plus pitches) and wasn’t called for an illegal pitch.
"That's the issue we have to deal with in practice," said Smith. "We'll have (pitching coach) Ashley (Chastain) working with her about trying to keep her foot down. It's crazy that we're talking about this in the postseason, and it hasn't been an issue all year until last weekend. It's kind of hard to make that transition in one day, but we're going to do our best."
When the series finale started on Sunday afternoon, Ole Miss was deflated. Georgia went on to win, 8-0, to sweep the series. Ole Miss fell from a potential SEC Champion to the No. 5 seed in the SEC Tournament. As of Monday, the Rebels’ RPI fell from No. 15 to No. 17.
Smith thinks Ole Miss needs to win two games in the SEC Tournament in order to host a NCAA regional. That’s a difficult position for a team that only lost one conference series, gone 12-11 against teams in the Top 25 of the RPI, 5-5 against teams from 26-50 and undefeated against teams below 50.
"I think the players were flustered. It's over with," said Smith. "We're done with that part of our season, and we're focusing now on the postseason. They still know what's at stake. Regionals are at stake and potentially being at home versus being on the road. There's a lot going on in their brains, plus they're dealing with finals... It's not just been a softball emotional week and a roller coaster, but just everyday, student-athlete life. I feel bad for everything that they're dealing with. People don't realize they're student-athletes, not just these athletes."