FLORENCE, S.C. – South Florence Gold Junior Legion’s concerns that they raised about Lexington using two ineligible pitchers during the state tournament have apparently gained traction.
“There is an open investigation into the junior tournament,” said Michael Riefsnyder, administrative assistant to the American Legion state baseball committee. “It involves teams at the junior tournament, and there’s an open investigation.”
Riefsnyder said he had no further comment in relation to that.
SF Gold coach Kenny Gray claims Lexington used two pitchers whose pitch counts deemed them not usable at the time. According to the state tournament’s website, a Lexington player who threw 72 pitches in a July 23 win over Mid-Carolina (7-5 score) also pitched Tuesday against South Florence (74 pitches in relief in SF Gold’s 10-4 victory). According to pitch-count rules, that player was not eligible to pitch again until this past Wednesday.
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Then, in Wednesday’s state final (Lexington’s 14-10 win over SF Gold), a Lexington player who threw 73 pitches in Monday’s 11-1 win over Sumter then threw 50 on Wednesday against SF Gold. Under pitch-count rules, that player would not have been eligible to pitch again until this past Friday.
Although SCHSL and SCISA rules state games that involve pitch-count violations are ruled forfeits by the offending squad, that is not the case in American Legion Baseball.
In Legion ball, the opposing staff must notice when an ineligible pitcher is on the mound at that time and then bring attention to it. The penalty would then be that pitcher is removed from the game and that team’s coach is ejected.
Gray filed an informal protest Thursday once he found out about Lexington’s pitch-count infractions. Riefsnyder, meanwhile, said Gray did not file a formal protest, which would have had to be in writing accompanied by a $300 fee — which would be returned if Gray’s team won that protest — to the baseball committee’s director (Legree Oswald) within 48 hours of the game’s conclusion.
Apparently Gray’s informal protest was enough to spark this open investigation.
According to communication obtained by the Morning News, Riefsnyder texted SF Gold before Saturday’s final day of the State Senior Legion tournament, “We cancelled Lexington coming to the game to be recognized (Saturday) in lieu of the investigation.”
On the phone Saturday night, Riefsnyder denied that was the reason for the Lexington junior team’s absence Saturday afternoon, and instead said it had to do with the changed schedule involving Saturday’s two Senior Legion baseball games so they could be played before potentially threatening weather.
“We had to move the time and we canceled the pregame activities because of the time constraints,” Riefsnyder said. “That is unrelated to the investigation.”
Gray, meanwhile, is still trying to process things.
“It was brought up I should have known during the game,” Gray said. “I didn’t check pitch counts for West Florence when we played them, and I didn’t for Sumter both times, and neither for Fort Mill, and nobody cheated. So, one of the things that has really frustrated me is one of the things in the pregame Sportsman’s Creed of Legion Baseball, where you say, ‘I will keep the rules.’ That’s the first thing you say. And, the rules were not kept.”
While frustrated, Gray also wanted to make some things clear.
“I’m not sitting here talking to you that, ‘Oh, we would have won state had they not put that kid in.’ I am not saying that,” Gray said. “What I am saying is, ‘I would rather know what the result would be if we were on the same playing field as somebody else, and they were using legal pitchers like us.’ I would like to know what the result would have been if we had played even-steven. That’s my thing, right there.”
While an investigation is ongoing, it’s not clear where it can go since this year’s Legion Rulebook doesn’t classify what Lexington did as worthy of forfeits. Riefsnyder declined to talk about possible punishments, if any, for Lexington’s 2022 team.
But could things change for next year’s Legion Rulebook?
“I hope they look into changing the rules to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Gray said.
Gray was then asked if SF Gold would declare itself as Junior Legion State Champion in light of all this.
“I have not thought about that yet,” Gray said. “I’m trying to let the process play out.”