In the scorebook it looks like a harmless 3-2 putout to end the fourth inning, but in reality it could have been more.
Much, much more.
The play started simple enough with runners on first and second with one out. Richmond pitcher James Buie coaxed Purnell Swett’s cleanup hitter, Jordan Swett, to hit a ground ball to short for a possible inning-ending double play.
Cody Leviner fielded the ball cleanly, flipped it over to Mike Rush to force Anthony Williamson at second. Rush’s throw to complete the 6-4-3 twin killing bounced in the dirt in front of Richmond first baseman Ethan Baucom. The ball appeared to have trickled away from Baucom enough that Ironeyes Locklear, who started the play on second, tried to score.
Baucom quickly found the ball and fired a strike to Richmond’s catcher, Bradley Brown. Everyone in the field, stands, along the fences and in the dugouts knew Locklear was out by at least 20 feet, the only thing in question was if there was going to be a rundown.
Locklear lowered his shoulder and elected to run over Brown to try and dislodge the ball from his mitt. There was a loud thud that echoed across the campus as Locklear smashed into Brown and his chest protector.
Imagine Scott Cousins, then with the Florida Marlins, barreling into San Francisco’s Buster Posey three years ago. For the older folks, Pete Rose blasting Ray Fosse at the plate in the 1970 All-Star Game.
Even though Brown held onto the ball, it wouldn’t have mattered because Locklear was automatically ruled out on the play. But that wasn’t all. Locklear was disqualified from the contest because of malicious contact with Brown.
According to the NFHS, a collision is considered to be malicious if: The contact is the result of intentional excessive force. Or if the contact occurs close to the bag or home plate or above the waist of the receiving player or there was intent to injure.
Neil Buie, the supervisor of umpires in the Southeastern Region, said the home plate umpire ruled it was not flagrant malicious contact so Locklear will not be forced to sit out two games of this weekend’s Robeson County Slugfest. Buie added the umpire didn’t feel Locklear’s intent was to injure Brown, thus it is not considered an ejection.
While Posey and Fosse suffered significant injuries in their collisions, Brown was more fortunate as was Locklear. Both players were able to walk away with just bumps and bruises.
Imagine what Richmond’s playoff fate would if Brown, the starting catcher and No. 3 hitter, was lost for the rest of the season. A team with state championships aspirations would be forced to juggle its lineup and hope for the best in the postseason.
There is little doubt that Locklear made a poor judgement in that moment but to hear him or his teammates called “dirty players” is out of line. If Purnell Swett was a dirty team, there would have been malicious contact on Rush at second to break up the double play — there wasn’t.
Chalk it up to what it was — just a boneheaded play where everyone lives to talk about it the next day.
Sports editor Shawn Stinson may be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.