Del Norte softball fans may remember McKenzy Ferndandes’ clutch two-out single to break a 0-0 tie last spring in the North Coast Section Division IV championship game, or the strikeout by Allison Douglas with runners on second and third to close out Del Norte’s 3-1 victory over St. Mary’s for the school’s second NCS title. But that is not how the game will be remembered in the record books.
As of Aug. 17, Del Norte is officially the runner up in the NCS Division IV tournament while St. Mary’s has been elevated to the 2017 Division IV champions after the North Coast Section determined that the Warriors violated the NCS Sports & General Rulings Handbook Bylaw 22.501H f, which bans participation in batting practice within two hours of the game, at the game site.
According the the handbook, the penalty for violating 22.501H f is forfeiture.
North Coast Section Commissioner Gil Lemmon said while games are occasionally played under protest and require an official ruling from the NCS, this may be the most high-profile game ever decided by an NCS committee.
“We have never had a school required to forfeit a championship game,” Lemmon said. “That is a first for me and I have been here going on 23 years. So that is unusual.”
Del Norte appealed the decision, but on Aug. 17 the NCS officially denied the appeal.
“(Del Norte Athletic Director) Bob Hadfield, who I have great respect for and have known for years — drove all the way down from Crescent City to make the case that they weren’t trying to gain a competitive advantage and were seeking some other penalty other than giving up the championship game,” Lemmon said.
According to the appeal summary, “Based on statements given by both schools, it is determined that less than two hours prior to game time (1 p.m.), Del Norte used regulation softballs via coach-pitch directly in front of the batters in the batting cages.”
Both schools agreed on what occurred prior to the game, according to the appeal summary, but Del Norte head coach Pablo Lorenzi said he thought the activity qualified as soft toss, which is still allowed within two hours of game time.
Lemmon was not part of the committee that ruled on the appeal, but he was present at the meeting as the resource person.
“I heard the conversation and I believe Mr. Hadfield when he said that they weren’t trying to gain a competitive advantage, but the reality is — based on the committee’s decision — that they did gain a competitive advantage. The rule is that you do not conduct batting practice two hours before the game and there was no dispute at the game that Del Norte was in their batting cage and balls were being thrown to the hitters from in front of them,” Lemmon said.
“I think that was key in the decision, because part of Del Norte’s claim was that they thought the activity qualified as soft toss. Soft toss is when you toss a ball from the side, up in the air, not a situation where balls in the batting cage are coming directly to the batter. I believe there was some confusion about the rule by Del Norte, because they would never jeopardize the opportunity for their girls to be section champions. I think it was an error, but it is one that the committee felt allowed Del Norte to gain a competitive advantage... It is incumbent on all of our schools to know what the rules are.”
Although disappointed about having to give back what was the school’s second-ever NCS softball championship, Hadfield said he respected the North Coast Section’s decision.
“We violated the batting practice rule, which specifically states that you cannot take batting practice two hours before the game,” Hadfield said. “We were wrong. We tried not to vacate our title — we asked for a lesser punishment — but the committee didn’t see it that way.”
According to the appeal summary, Del Norte High School requested the panel consider a penalty other than forfeiting the championship contest, such as exclusion from hosting an NCS playoff game in 2018, not allowing Lorenzi to coach in the 2018 NCS Championships for one or more games, or exclusion from the 2018 NCS Softball Championships entirely.
Ultimately, with the penalty expressly laid out in the bylaws, the committee’s didn’t feel it had much leeway to support an alternative punishment.
“(The bylaw) doesn’t give us any kind of latitude to say that we are going to penalize you next year, or in some other way. We don’t have that flexibility to do that. That is due to a movement back in 2005 or 2006 where our schools wanted to have penalties written into the rules so schools would know what the penalty is for an infraction,” Lemmon said. “I feel bad for Del Norte because they are a great school, they have a great administration up there and I love working with all of the individuals there. But we have to adhere to the rules and it doesn’t really matter who the school is. You have to follow the letter of the law.”
Although ultimately ruling against Del Norte’s appeal, “the panel commended Del Norte High School administration for their professional demeanor and cooperation during this difficult review, and the potential ramifications to their softball program,” according to the appeal summary.
Lorenzi was disappointed with the final decision by the North Coast Section but said it doesn’t take away from the girls’ efforts last spring.
“The girls won it where it was supposed to be won — on the field,” Lorenzi said.
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org.