The triumphant bus ride home had been over for a while and Plant City baseball coach Michael Fryrear was settling in for the evening Thursday when he got a text message from his athletic director.
The sobering report: Officials at the game had misinterpreted a rule, nullifying the Raiders’ apparent 2-1 victory over Lakeland George Jenkins. Both teams would have to finish the seventh inning Saturday.
“We were thinking we won the whole time,” Fryrear said. “All of a sudden, I’m like, ‘What the hell?’ ”
The celebration was not only over; it apparently never should have happened in the first place.
The Class 7A region quarterfinal will resume at 4 p.m. Saturday at George Jenkins High School, with the teams tied 2-all with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. George Jenkins will have runners on first and third base.
It’s quite a reversal of fortune for the Raiders (13-12), who pulled out of the stadium Thursday night believing they had survived driving rain, a late rally by the host Eagles and a confusing rule interpretation by the game officials.
Fryrear said he lobbied officials several times to suspend the game after a storm moved into the area in the sixth inning, with Plant City holding a 2-1 lead.
“It was unsafe for the kids,” Fryrear said. “The field was flooded …puddles were all over the place.”
The officials pressed on, allowing the game to get into the bottom of the seventh inning with the Raiders needing only three outs to clinch the victory.
Plant City ace Kevin Long, who went into Thursday with a 7-3 record and 0.87 ERA, had allowed only four hits, struck out nine and walked none in the previous six innings. He seemed on the cusp of a complete game.
But Fryrear said the rain made it difficult for Long to get a firm grip on the ball. “He said, ‘I can’t throw. I have no control. I don’t know where it’s going,’ ” Fryrear said.
Long subsequently hit two batters and allowed Jenkins’ Sayge Woodham to tie the score with a two-out single.
Umpires then stopped the game because of the weather and muddy field conditions, and eventually declared Plant City the winner 2-1.
Later that night, the Florida High School Athletic Association ruled the officials had misinterpreted a rule and “because Jenkins tied the game, the game is tied and the game must be completed from the point of suspension.”
The rule further explains “if the game is called when the teams have not had an equal number of completed turns at bat, the score shall be the same as it was at the end of the last completed inning.”
“We’re happy that the rule that was called was incorrect and we have another shot to keep playing and either win or lose on our terms,” George Jenkins coach Jim Kilborn told the Lakeland Ledger.
Fryrear told the team’s seniors of the change during a meeting early Friday morning and informed the others by text message.
“They feel like they got cheated,” he said. “But we’re going to have to recover. When adversity hits you in the face, you have to hit back. I want to win it the right way.”
Fryrear said Long probably wouldn’t return to the mound to finish the game. Instead Plant City will likely turn to sophomore Miguel Martinez, the Raiders’ top reliever with a 1.37 ERA.
“He has command on all three pitches,” he said. “If we can get by that (seventh) inning, I think we’ll be re-energized.”
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jdhometeam.