This was bad baseball all around, except from home-plate umpire Jeff Head. Almost every bit of the most-important play from the final game of the College Park regional of the NCAA Baseball Tournament was absurd.
As Maryland’s Chris Alleyne hits a slow-roller down the first-base line, one forthcoming action after another was horribly executed until the play was blown dead. UConn pitcher Justin Willis was slow to react after contact, Huskies first baseman Ben Huber stood in an unideal position to get the out and Alleyne, most egregious of all, didn’t stay inside what the NCAA defines as the base path.
Each team was three victories away from the College World Series on Monday night. One play is a miniscule sample size but a calamity of errors, both literal and figurative, took place here. None from Head, who was the only person in the ballpark to see everything crystal clear, as he should.
Rule 7, Section 11, Part P of the 2021-22 NCAA Baseball Rules states the batter is out if “In running the last half of the distance from home plate to first base while the ball is being fielded to first base, the batter-runner runs outside the 3-foot restraining line or inside the foul line and, in so doing, interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, except that the batter may go outside these lines to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball.”
In simpler terms, any controversy may be why one of the Terps’ best players didn’t adhere to this rule in such a critical spot in the game, not whether or not he was out. That’s especially true when you read the first note of the rule: “If the batter-runner is running illegally to first base and his being outside the lane alters the throw of a fielder, hinders or alters a fielder’s opportunity to field the throw, or the batter-runner is hit by the throw that has been made in an attempt to make a play, it shall be called interference and the batter-runner is to be called out.”
Of course, there are exceptions where the rule shouldn’t be applied. And they work against Alleyne’s path to first. He leaves the batter’s box running in foul territory where a collision would’ve been avoided. He diverts his sprint onto the fair side of the line, right in line with where Huber is standing. It looks deliberate, whether that was Alleyne’s intention or not. The list of exceptions makes any Maryland case for an appeal weak. And yes, the umpires did review the call and upheld it.
Exception No. 1 reads “The batter-runner is permitted to exit the three-foot running lane by means of a step, stride, reach or slide in the immediate vicinity of first base and for the sole purpose of touching first or attempting to avoid a tag. He may exit the (Rule 7 lane) on his last stride or step if he has been running legally within the running lane up to that point.” Alleyne wasn’t. Next.
Note 2: “The batter-runner is considered outside this 3-foot lane if either foot is outside either line.” By the time Alleyne collides with Huber, both feet are outside the line, resulting in an easy call. Despite the lack of quality play from Willis and the bad throw that would’ve resulted in an error without the collision, it’s all negated when Alleyne runs so far out of the path given to runners. He’s out. And by the play being blown dead at that point, Maryland’s baserunner, who scored during Alleyne’s run to first base, had to correctly return to third base. The run never crossed the plate as the third out of the eighth inning happened with the next batter.
UConn won the game 11-8 and advanced to Super Regionals, where it’ll likely get blasted by No. 2 overall seed Stanford in Palo Alto this weekend. The Huskies didn’t advance due to any advantage given to them by the umpires. In real time, the call looks rough and wrong. Dialing it back, the outrage wasn’t warranted. Head made the right decision, overruling the first-base umpire, as he had a better view of the entire play. No additional measures need to be added to college baseball, including an edit to the language of the rules. The right call was made on the field and confirmed via replay.