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KHSAA addresses controversial ending to Johnson Central-Ashland Blazer softball game

OWENSBORO, Ky. - In the Consolation Bracket of the 2014 Worth/KHSAA State Softball Tournament, Ashland Blazer defeated Johnson Central 1-0, but the game was certainly not without controversy.

Down 1-0 in the bottom of the 7th inning, Lady Eagle Rachelle Fairchild hit what appeared to be a game-winning two-run homerun over the right-center field fence. However, the call was quickly overturned and ruled a ground-rule double by the umpiring crew, sending both base runners back onto the field. The next batter, Shelbie Cantrell, lined out to the first baseman, ending the game and ultimately Johnson Central's season.

WYMT's Jamie McCracken was able to obtain video of the homerun-turned-double, and the video was later reviewed by KHSAA officials, who issued this statement about the matter:

'During the 7th inning of game 14 of the Worth/KHSAA State Softball Tournament (a consolation bracket elimination contest) a judgement call was made by the umpiring crew which in hindsight, and upon postgame review by the KHSAA staff, was in error. The situation occurred when Johnson Central’s Rachelle Fairchild hit an apparent game-winning home run, but following a brief conference, the crew of officials declared that the hit was a ground rule double instead of the game-winning home run.

“Following today’s game between Ashland Blazer and Johnson Central, KHSAA staff reviewed news footage of the at-bat which was ruled a ground rule double in the seventh inning. With the benefit of slow motion, high definition video, it is clear that the ball left the park on the fly, and a home run should have been ruled,” said KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett. “Unfortunately, our umpires don’t have technical access to slow motion, high definition video during a contest (or any other type of video), nor are they permitted within the bylaws or playing rules to review these situations; and left to the judgement of the naked eye, they clearly erred.”

“While NFHS playing rules do not permit the review of video, I felt it important to make a determination so as to help identify areas of emphasis for training in the future, ” noted Darren Bilberry, KHSAA Assistant Commissioner with primary responsibility for softball. “Under both the NFHS playing rules, and KHSAA Bylaw 21, protests or appeals of judgement calls are not permitted once the contest has ended, and the judgement of the official, right or wrong, must prevail. On review, clearly the ball left the park, and a fielder attempting to make a play then displaced the fence afterwards. The fence was not a factor in the play, it was simply an error in judgement.”

“Assessments and evaluations of the officiating crews are made following each set of games at the state tournament, and the official’s involved in the Ashland Blazer-Johnson Central game were not retained to officiate additional games,” added Bilberry. “In reviewing the play in question, we felt that had they properly rotated per the NFHS three-person coverage, they would have been in better position to be able to accurately make the correct call.”

“At the amateur level, there is always an element of human judgement and performance, whether that’s a coach in his/her decision about playing time or strategy, player execution of game strategy and coach directives, or the judgement of an official. Interestingly, I had a conversation with a couple of individuals before leaving the park about a coach’s decision to pitch to a very good hitter earlier in the tournament in a situation that resulted in that player getting a game-winning hit. The human element simply can never be removed from amateur sports. We put a great deal of time, energy and resources into recruiting and training the independent contractors that serve as umpires and other officials, in an effort to help make them consistent and allow for their advancement and expansion of knowledge. In addition, our staff and hundreds of workers and volunteers devote countless hours and resources to making the participation experience optimum for all players, coaches, officials and fans. It is a shame that some of the participant’s memories of this unique experience may be permanently marred by this incident. We will continue to strive to help our officials improve to help the participation experience of the students, ” Tackett concluded. '

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