MONTGOMERY — Hartselle High’s William Booth has coached enough baseball games in his career to have a state-record 1,100-plus wins.
Yet in all his 34 years of coaching he’d never seen anything happen to his team like the pivotal play in Wednesday’s Class 6A state championship game.
Hartselle appeared to have won the championship over Faith Academy on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh and final inning. The team even celebrated with a dogpile down the first-base line.
Faith Academy then appealed the play asking if the runner left third base before the catch. The third-base umpire ruled he did, resulting in an out.
To the horror of the Hartselle faithful, the inning was over and the game went to the eighth where Faith Academy scored seven runs to take a 14-7 lead and eventual victory when Hartselle failed to score in the bottom of the eighth.
Faith Academy celebrated with its own dogpile on the field.
The state championship trophy with the blue state map was all but in Hartselle’s hands. Instead, that trophy went south with Faith Academy, which won two of three games in the championship series.
“No, I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Booth said. “We all thought he left after the catch. I feel bad for the kids, who have worked so hard to get to here. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
The controversy will be talked about in Hartselle for as long as there is baseball. The sudden thrill of victory and then agony of defeat may never go away.
Video of the play hit social media before the game had ended. The television coverage on WOTM, the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s flagship TV station, even synced the catch of JoJo Williamson’s flyball with Peyton Steele’s tag at third. The call appeared to be open to questioning.
Right now there is no video replay review in high school baseball in Alabama. The state has instituted it in football.
Major League Baseball has video replay review. There are some limits to what is reviewable, but the play like the one that ended up costing Hartselle could have been reviewed.
The Hartselle baseball team and many fans who made the trip south for a chance to see the Tigers win their ninth state championship were stunned and made their displeasure known. At least one player had to be visibly restrained by a coach at the end of the game when the umpires left the field.
“When you’ve worked so hard to be in position to win a state championship and you have it taken away like that, it really hurts,” Hartselle senior catcher Glavine Segars said. “That should never be allowed to happen.”
Booth was coaching in his 11th state championship series. The 77-year-old is battling a serious case of cancer. Closing out this season with a state championship would have been a fairy tale ending for the coach and his team.
“The state championship was a goal for this team since the start of the season,” junior first baseman Brodie Morrow said. “We wanted to win it for Coach Booth. He deserved it and we deserved it.”
Hartselle forced the decisive third game in the series by defeating Faith Academy 8-3 earlier on Wednesday. Faith won the series opener 10-1 on Tuesday.
In Game 3, the teams traded the lead multiple times. Hartselle fell behind 3-0 before going ahead 4-3, and then the game was tied 4-4. Faith led 7-4 going into the bottom of the sixth inning before Hartselle scored three times to tie the game again. The score was still 7-all when the pivotal play occurred.