Citrus Park Little League coach Mario Mirabal was desperate.
He told his players to strike out.
He told them to step off base and get called out.
They couldn't score. Not yet.
The only way the 11- and 12-year-old softball team could win the state tournament was to win. But only in extra innings. By a specific score _ 8-7.
As Mirabal told his team to make outs Friday, the opposing manager rifled through the rule book. In the end, it took officials at Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pa., to straighten out the situation.
And Citrus Park learned it had been in a no-win situation all along.
If Citrus Park won, three teams would have had 2-1 records in the bracket, forcing a tiebreaker. The tiebreaker was based on the lowest number of runs allowed per inning throughout the round robin state tournament.
So with the score tied at 5 against Destin Shalimar in the bottom of the seventh, Citrus Park realized if it pushed one more run across, it would win but not advance based on the tiebreaker.
Citrus Park quickly calculated it needed to win 8-7, meaning the game had to go more innings. That's when Mirabal, with the bases loaded, instructed his players to intentionally make outs.
Mirabal's daughter, Richelle, was told to lead off third base to get called out. (Leading off is not permitted in Little League Major softball). He then told Trisha DeBold to strike out for the second out of the inning before Caitlin McDonald popped out to shortstop to end the inning.
"It was very confusing," Citrus Park pitcher Khrystyne Ely said. "When we're here to beat everyone and our goal is to try to make the World Series and our coaches are telling us how good we are, and then they turn around and tell us to lose, to get out."
"It's embarrassing," Citrus Park shortstop Morgan Grove said. "First (intentionally making outs), and then it's not accomplishing anything."
The tactic drew the attention of Shalimar manager Dina Dodge, who protested to home plate umpire Brett Ullery.
"Little League is for fun," Dodge said. "That's what we teach them. Right now, we have three or four girls saying they don't want to play softball anymore because the other team's coach isn't making it fun."
At the instruction of Ullery, Dodge went in search of a rule Mirabal and Citrus Park were in violation of. She discovered rule 4.15 (6), which allows the umpire to declare the game a forfeit if a coach "employs tactics designed to delay or shorten the game."
Ullery concurred Mirabal was attempting to delay the game. He filed the protest with District 6 administrator Martin Stewart, who relayed it to the Southern Regional office, which sent it to the Little League Charter Committee in Williamsport.
The committee ruled Citrus Park was in violation and had to forfeit.
"I think the whole system needs to be redone," Mirabal said.
"Either go back to double-elimination or the tiebreaker rules need to be changed. The system really stinks. The best team didn't win."
Little League spokesman Lance Van Auken, said Mirabal should never have told his players to intentionally make outs.
"It's a matter of sportsmanship," Van Auken said. "By allowing that to happen, (Mirabal) was making a travesty of the game. (Citrus Park) should have tried to win within the spirit of the game, and let the chips fall where they may."
Van Auken said the host district for state tournaments determine the tournament format.