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The award for the most unusual game of the week surely goes to Wednesday’s contest between the Montgomery Vikings and the Rancho Cotate Cougars.

The two North Bay League softball powers will meet at 4 p.m. in Rohnert Park— only the game will start in the bottom of the eighth with the score already knotted at 3.

“It’s a bizarre deal,” said Montgomery coach Mike Malvino.

The deal is this: On April 19, Montgomery was playing league-leading Rancho Cotate when a 3-3 tie after seven forced extra innings.

Montgomery couldn’t score in the top of the eighth and Rancho got its first batter, senior Malia Kuka, on base after a walk. Rancho coach Tracey Poueu-Guerrero put in sophomore Melissa Pamatmat as a pinch runner and called for senior Taylor Del Santo to bunt. And here’s where it gets bizarre.

Del Santo, who is hitting .315 with 11 RBIs and two home runs on the season, lays down a bunt that dribbles toward first base. In taking off from the batter’s box, Del Santo dropped the bat along the first base line. Before Montgomery pitcher Anna Zoia-Buescher picked up the ball, it rolled into the bat.

The home plate umpire stopped the play, waving his arms over his head and calling dead ball. Zoia-Buescher, hearing that call, didn’t throw to first, where Del Santo touched the base.

“He shouldn’t have killed the play. It was a fair ball,” Poueu-Guerrero said.

“When that happens, it’s just an incidental play and it should have played out,” she said.

And yet, despite the dead-ball call, Del Santo was allowed to remain on first.

That’s when Malvino intervened.

“You can’t call a dead ball and award someone first base,” he said.

Play stopped for some time as the officials pulled out rule books and conferred. When play resumed and the umpire allowed Del Santo to stay on first, Malvino lodged an official complaint: The Vikings would continue the game under protest.

Two batters later, Pamatmat scored for Rancho and the game was over. Sort of.

“I have never been in a situation like that,” Malvino said. “It’s kind of unprecedented.”

Lodging an official protest was a risky move. In more than two decades of coaching, Malvino said he’s never seen a protest upheld. Jan Smith-Billing, the North Bay League commissioner who convened a panel of administrators to rule on the controversy, said she’s never seen anything like it in 40 years.

“This one, I believe, could have been handled right on the field. The official admitted the error. You don’t let part of the play continue and part of the play not continue,” Smith-Billing said.

Smith-Billing confirmed with North Coast Section officials that the protest was not over a judgment call, but an error in interpreting and applying the rules.

“He called a dead ball; that was his call,” she said. “But as a result of his call, the batter should have returned home and the runner should have stayed at first. Once it was a dead ball, what happened shouldn’t have happened.”

In what strikes me as a silver lining in all of this, the coaches on both sides of a pretty good rivalry agreed.

“We were both cool about it,” Malvino said. “Tracey, when I was out there, she said, ‘Mike, I would have done the same thing.’ ”

Poueu-Guerrero didn’t even attend the protest hearing because she backed Malvino’s petition.

“It wasn’t contentious; it was great competition,” she said.

So that’s where we pick this tale back up.

Wednesday at 4 p.m. the game will resume. It’ll be 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth with no outs. Del Santo will be up and Pamatmat will be on first. No lineup changes, no changes at all. It will be like the last 21 days were just a blip in time.

Except that the Cougars are now 11-0 after dispatching Casa Grande 11-1 Tuesday. Montgomery’s record is now is 8-4.

Even better? These two teams play again Thursday at Montgomery for their regularly scheduled matchup.

“They are a darned good team,” Malvino said of the first-place Cougars. “We are also a team that nobody wants to play.”

Especially three times.

The game that wouldn’t go away could be resolved this afternoon with one swing or the two teams could grind on for a few more innings.

Which leaves just one question.

When Del Santo comes to the plate at 4 p.m., will she bunt or will she swing for the fences?

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671, Kerry.benefield@pressemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and Instagram @kerry.benefield.

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