Rain dampens state tournament for Pipestone Area

As journalists, we are supposed to be neutral.

We are supposed to be unbiased observers.

It can be tough at times.

I’ll admit, in the sports department, we all pull for our teams. But we keep those feelings inside. We don’t let those come through while at the game or while we’re reporting. It’s easy when we’re watching two teams in the coverage area — we experience both winning and losing in one event.

At state events, it’s a different story.

I found myself in this situation last week at state softball. I was covering Pipestone Area — a team I’ve covered numerous times in my four years at the Daily Globe.

In fact, the Arrows were one of the first teams I covered after I began my tenure in Worthington. On one of my first days, then-sports editor Kevin Kyle — who is ironically in the same position in Pipestone — told me they were going to send me to Mankato to cover the Arrows. They went on to win a state title that year in a weekend that will stay with me forever.

Fast forward four years and I’m back at Caswell Park in Mankato. The players are different this time around, but there’s nothing different about the Arrows’ hopes for a state title.

Unfortunately, they never had the chance. After a 3-2 victory in the opening around, PA was facing a tough Park Center team in the semifinals. In fact, the Pirates were the defending state champions and returned most of their team from a year ago.

The Arrows were finally starting to show signs of life late in the game when disaster struck. The skies opened and the lightning and rain started. The game was eventually called, ending PA’s chances for a state title with a 3-1 loss.

Needless to say, it became a hot topic around the park — and Internet.

The response that was posted on Facebook from the Minnesota State High School League was: “It is a regulation game if: (a) five full innings have been played; or the home team at bat has scored an equal or greater number of runs in four or four-and-a-fraction turns at bat than the visiting team has scored in five turns at bat; or (b) play has gone beyond five full innings and is called when the teams have not had an equal number of completed turns at bat … Games called are over if they are regulation, even if less than 7 innings have been completed.

“A suspended game is any game that is ended before it becomes a regulation game or a regulation game that has a tie score when ended. A suspended game shall be continued from the point of suspension at a later time. The line-up and batting order of each team shall be exactly the same as the line-up and batting order at the moment of suspension subject to the rules governing the game. NOTE: The Suspended Game Rule is in effect for all regular season and post-season games (sub-section, section and state).”

Those are the rules, no question about it. The MSHSL followed them to a T. But I still can’t help but feel for the Arrows.

It was a state semifinal game where both teams were still in contention for a state title. Could the Arrows have beaten Park Center? We will never know. I do know the Pirates were good. They showed that when they dismantled Hermantown 6-0 in the state finals.

I also know a few other things.

First, Caswell Park is a top-notch facility. I have to admit, it’s one of my favorite state venues. They have four fields going all the time, so there is never a lack of games to watch.

However, there are two more on the property that are rarely used. PA’s semifinal game was delayed an hour and a half due to prior games taking too long, meaning that by the time the lightning struck at 7:45 p.m., the game — which was scheduled for 5 — should have been over.

Instead, the game wasn’t moved. The games, which were scheduled for later in the day were allowed to be suspended and played the next day. But PA could only sit around and watch as the skies became threatening, when instead, the Arrows could have been playing on the field they were using to warm up.

But the bottom line is the rules are in place for situations like this. As I sat in my hotel feeling sorry for both teams — I’m sure Park Center wasn’t pleased about it, either — I started to think a few months before. I was at the Xcel Energy Center covering the state wrestling tournament. I watched as Jackson County Central was facing Frazee for the championship. JCC was down early and battled back, needing only a decision at heavyweight to tie with Frazee. The Huskies did just that, knotting the score at 28-all.

Because of the tie-breaker criteria — which were actually printed on Page 11 of the state tournament program — the Huskies thought they had won. JCC won nine of the 14 matches, which was No. 4 on the criteria list and the one which would have been used.

Instead, the high school league awarded co-champions. Yes, there was an exception from the normal rules in place for just such events. Why couldn’t there be such a rule for state softball? I understand if it were a consolation game, or a third-place game, but it wasn’t. It was between two teams who were still in contention for a state title. It is obviously too late for the Arrows this season, but I have to give them credit. They came back and gave it everything they had in the third-place game.

I just hope it’s something that gets looked at in the future so the same thing doesn’t happen to another team.