Benefield: No villains or winners in forfeited softball game
A rule was broken. No one disputes it. The Rancho Cotate Cougars took a forfeit loss on April 1 despite beating the Windsor Jaguars 3-1 in the first softball game of the North Bay League-Oak Division season.
But how it was handled, well, that part falls more into the proverbial gray area.
The game pitted the 2-2 Cougars against the 2-1 Jags. Rancho always seems loaded and the Jags have a fine pitcher in St. Mary’s-bound Kayla Scott, so the game promised to be a good one.
With a string of rainy days that had canceled games and rearranged practice schedules, officials from both schools agreed to move the game from Windsor — where the field was deemed too soggy for play — to Rancho, where conditions were better.
When the Windsor team arrived at the field and began to warm up, coaches saw members of Rancho’s team in their batting cage, hitting regulation softballs. That’s verboten.
Under NBL bylaw 9.306 (it’s even in bold), it says: “… regulation balls may not be used for front toss. ONLY whiffle or other low flight balls may be used for front toss. PENALTY FOR VIOLATION: The game shall be forfeited by the offending team.”
The Jags’ coaches saw that Rancho was using regulation balls. A coach recorded the warmup with a phone. But Windsor head coach Morgan Rasmason didn’t say anything to any member of Rancho’s coaching staff.
The game was played. The Cougars won behind RBIs from sophomore Tatum Maytorena, junior Kenadi Akin and senior Makayla Barnes. Pitcher Kaylee Drake, a junior, got the win and Scott took the loss.
But it didn’t end there.
Rasmason registered a complaint with North Bay League Commissioner Jan Smith Billing. When Smith Billing reached out to Cougars coach Tracey Poueu-Guerrero, Poueu-Guerrero didn’t deny they’d done it; she said she had forgotten the new rule. For Smith Billing, it was open and shut. Rancho would be issued a loss via forfeit.
“It’s on me,” Poueu-Guerrero said.
The weather had been miserable, making the Cougars’ usual warmup area nearly unplayable. So she sent her team to the cage. She said they were not trying to pull a fast one. Nor were they were trying to cheat, she said. They simply went through their swing warmups with regulation balls.
“It was out in the open. It’s not like we were hiding behind a tree or a storage container,” she said.
While the rule has been on the books for North Coast Section postseason play for years, the regulation is new to the NBL this season, and the game in question was the first league contest for both teams.
At a preseason coaches meeting, all involved acknowledge Smith Billing spent a good deal of time talking about the new rule, going so far as to tell the tale of a team that was made to forfeit their section championship because they, too, had used regulation softballs in front-toss batting practice before a playoff game.
Rasmason remembered Smith Billing’s discussion.
“They were hitting front toss in their cage with real balls, which is in clear violation,” she said. “At the time, I tried to look up the (league) constitution on my phone but couldn’t find it. I kept it in the back of my mind.”