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The Sharyland Rattlers baseball team entered their third round playoff game against the Eagle Pass Eagles last Friday thinking that they’d be competing on a level playing field. As the game progressed, however, it soon became so obviously clear to Rattlers’ players, coaches and fans that the umpires’ calls were not going their way that they began to suspect foul play.
As the No. 2 ranked 5A team in the Lone Star State, the Rattlers breezed through an undefeated district season and easily won both their bi-district and area round best of three playoff series in straight games over Del Rio and McAllen High by combined scores of 46-9. With those wins Sharyland improved its season record to 31-1 and seemed to be on the verge of making a run deep into the state playoffs as they prepared for their one game winner-take-all regional quarterfinal game against Eagles Pass in San Antonio last Friday. However, the Eagles emerged victorious in an extremely controversial fashion.
“It was a close game,” said Coach Bart Bickerton. “We were down 7-4 but we battled back to take the lead 9-7. During the course of the game, however, there were several very questionable calls that could’ve gone either way, but we were shocked by the fact that they were all going against us. What we didn’t know at the time was that Eagle Pass had hand-picked all four of the umpires instead of having the UIL assign the umpires as they were supposed to.”
”They won all the coin flips so they got the one game series and the field that they wanted plus they were the home team,” added Bickerton. “Usually when that happens the home team calls the UIL to request the officials, but in this case their coach didn’t do that. Instead, he called the San Antonio chapter directly and, according to what the UIL is now telling us, he hand-picked the four umpires that he wanted.”
The first of the two most controversial calls came with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning as the Rattlers were leading 9-7.
“Eagle Pass had the bases loaded in the seventh inning when they hit a ground ball to our second baseman,” explained Bickerton. “He flipped it to our shortstop for the out at second base and as the shortstop was getting ready to throw it to first base the baserunner slid to the right side of the bag and past the bag, which in high school baseball is an automatic double play. He didn’t slide straight into the bag as you’re supposed to in high school and college baseball. Instead, he slid to the right of the bag where our shortstop was and then he slid past the bag which you can see in the video.”
According to Bickerton, the base runner made contact with the Sharyland shortstop while in mid-throw which resulted in an errant throw to first base and allowed two runs to score. That tied the game at nine and caused the game to go into extra innings.
“It was a four man crew so the ump at second base that made the call should’ve had a good view of the play,” said Bickerton. “I pleaded with him to at least go look at the slide mark because if you looked at the slide mark you’d see that he slid to the right side of the bag and that he passed the bag.”
The ensuing argument over that play resulted in Sharyland’s shortstop Tres Barrera being ejected from the game and Bickerton being confined to the dugout. One of Bickerton’s assistant coaches was also confined to the dugout.
After another controversial call in the top of the eighth inning in which a Rattlers’ hitter was hit by a pitch that was called a strike, the Eagles loaded the bases in the bottom of the frame. That was when the second of the two most egregious calls was made.
“They got a lead-off double and bunted him over to third base with one out,” said Bickerton. “We loaded the bases with intentional walks so we could get a force out at any base. We struck out the next batter for out number two and the first pitch to the next batter was called a balk to score the winning run. The ump then proceeded to walk off the field and I didn’t get an explanation until four days later.”
After the game, Sharyland Athletic Director Richard Thompson filed an incident report with the UIL, but not as a protest.
“The incident report I filed was just to get an explanation about what happened, it wasn’t to protest the game,” explained Bickerton. “As a matter of fact, when I filed the incident report we didn’t even know about the selection of the umpires. I just asked for an explanation of the last two calls. And then when the UIL received the incident report they advised me of the fact that the umps were not UIL assigned.”
As Bickerton discovered later, this was not the first time that the Eagles’ coach bypassed the UIL.
“We found out later that Eagle Pass did the same thing to Brownsville Hanna. They said that they were going to go through the UIL, but then they called the San Antonio chapter directly,” said Bickerton.
While the incident report was not filed as a protest, it did make the UIL aware of the situation surrounding the selection of umpires at last Friday night’s game. Will the fact that Eagle Pass did not follow the correct protocol in regards to the selection of umpires mean that Sharyland will be allowed to re-play the game? That is highly unlikely.
“We’re not going to get to re-play the game,” shared Bickerton. “At this point we’ve already picked up equipment and the kids have been through too much. I’d love to re-play it but how do you do that? Does their coach coach? I think it would be too emotional to re-play that game.”
“The UIL is in a tough spot,” added Bickerton. “I don’t think there’s any way to clean this mess up. You can’t make them forfeit because the Eagle Pass kids and fans had nothing to do with it. I’m sure that there will be a lot of rules changed after this.”
See the Progress Times Facebook page for a video of the game showing these controversial plays.
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.