The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 18, 2013

Jon Gerardi's high school softball column: International rule isn't a good one


Daily Item

---- — I guess you could say I'm pretty much a purist when it comes to sports, particularly when a ruling is made that changes how the game's played.

When the National Football League decided to tweek its overtime rules to allow both teams a possession if the receiving team kicked a field goal on the opening possession, I didn't like it at all.

Play solid defense and don't allow the field goal. That's how I see it. If they kick one, well, that's the game. Tough breaks.

But I digress, that's a discussion for another day.

Some area softball fans may be aware of what's called "the international rule," but for those who don't know what it is, let me explain.

The ruling was passed in late 2008 for high school softball at a PIAA Board of Directors meeting in a 19-10 vote, and was set to take effect in 2009.

What the rule states is that if two teams are tied after nine innings of play, starting in the top of the 10th inning -- and every half inning thereafter until a final is decided -- whoever records the final out in the previous innings automatically starts as a base runner on second in their teams next at-bat with no outs.

The rule was put into play to eliminate lengthy games.

I've been a sports writer now for almost six years and have covered my fair share of softball games, but I honestly can't ever actually recall seeing "the international rule" come into effect since its inception in high school softball in 2009.

That is until this past Saturday.

I was at the Warrior Run and Mifflinburg showdown, a game which starred two of the area's best pitchers in the Defenders' Taylor Parker and Mifflinburg's Alli Lloyd. To probably no one's surprise, it was a pitcher's duel between the two.

Parker and Lloyd ended the game with 13 strikeouts apiece while Lloyd had a 1-hitter going through 10 innings.

So as the 10th started, I look up from sending a score tweet update and I see that Gabby Shrawder of Warrior Run is already on second base. I quickly glance down at my score book then over to a fellow sports writer sitting next to me to ask what's happening since she just flew out to right field in the last inning.

It finally dawned on me that "the international rule" was in effect.

Some may argue that it's not that big of a deal, it's simply one base runner on and both teams get the advantage. It's just trying to speed the game up. That may be true, but it completely changes how the game gets played.

"You definitely have to be careful and they're trying to get that runner into third base, so you have to make the right pitches and you have to be even more careful about what you're throwing and what you're doing because there's no room for mistakes -- especially in any inning -- but especially when there's a runner on second base," Mifflinburg's Lloyd said after Saturday's 6-2 loss to Warrior Run in 11 innings.

In said game, Warrior Run's Devin Nicholas flew out to center field to move Shrawder to third base. The next batter up was Parker, one of the Defenders' top hitters. Mifflinburg coach Steve Ross and Lloyd made the decision to intentionally walk Parker with the runner in scoring position.

Up next was Jackie Clemens. Same thing: intentional walk to load the bases.

Without the runner on second to start the inning, Lloyd pitches to Parker and Clemens normally like she had all game previously (the two talented hitters went a combined 1-for-6 prior to the 10th).

"We would have played it normal in that situation," Mifflinburg coach Steve Ross said of the 10th inning. "I said to my pitcher and catcher (Friday) in practice, we're going to practice this because if it comes into a situation where Parker's going to hurt us, we're going to walk her, and that's what we did."

Instead, Lloyd loads the bases and Katy Swartz hits a sacrifice fly into center field to bring Shrawder home.

While the ruling does have it's downside, not everyone necessarily opposes it.

"I like it," Warrior Run coach Garth Watson said. "In a game like this it gets things moving along. We could've been here until 8 o' clock tonight. Alli and Tay both looked good in the circle. Both defenses, they didn't want to bend."

When the ruling first got passed by the way in 2009, coaches in District 1 immediately were up in arms about it and petitioned the PIAA to rescind the ruling.

I'm siding with the coaches from District 1 on this one.

n Jon Gerardi covers high school softball for The Daily Item. Email comments to him at jgerardi@dailyitem.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JonGerardi.