OLD TOWN, Maine — Two illegal-pitch calls last week on her ace pitcher, Kendra Hayward, left Old Town softball coach Jenn Plourde with questions.
Hayward had been pitching the same way against the Eagles in Ellsworth as she had been pitching through the defending Class B state champion Coyotes’ first six games, according to Plourde.
“We were kind of baffled,” said Plourde afterward.
The calls were made because of the way Hayward was approaching the rubber. She had her head down as she focused on her next pitch, holding the ball with her right hand and both tucked in the glove on her left hand.
And that was the problem, said the umpire. Her routine wasn’t occurring in the correct order.
“The pitcher must step on the rubber, with her hands separated,” said Jeff Marshall, a high school umpire who also is the Maine District 6 commissioner for the Amateur Softball Association. “The pitcher looks in to her catcher to take the signal, or at least simulate taking the the signal, then puts her hands together and then she can throw.”
He knows the rule well because he covers it during umpiring classes he conducts. Marshall was not one of the umpires at the Old Town-Ellsworth game.
It might not get called as often as it could technically, said Marshall.
“If it’s close, some umpires will give the pitcher the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
The reason the rule is there, said Marshall, is so a pitcher can’t just walk up and quickly deliver a pitch before the batter can be prepared.
The calls against Hayward resulted in a ball being added to the count, once each on the first two batters she faced. Both times it was the second ball of the at-bat. If there had been any runners on base at the time of the calls, they would have been moved up a base, the same as the balk call in baseball.
After the second call, Plourde talked with Hayward about what Hayward had to do differently to satisfy the rule. There were no more illegal pitch calls in the game, and Hayward appeared unfazed by the incidents.
Hayward struck out the leadoff hitter, Abby Lynch, on a 3-2 pitch, but No. 2 hitter Heather Holt singled on a 3-2 pitch.
The No. 3 batter, Emily Berry, also singled, but Hayward struck out the next two to end the inning. She finished with nine strikeouts and one walk.
“She can easily get back in the game [mentally],” said Plourde. “It could have been very frustrating for her.”