ARLINGTON, Texas -- Landon Wallace's out on an interference call will be one of those plays a segment of Mountaineer fans will dissect over the next few days -- at least until WVU gets back on the field a week from Friday in the first round of an NCAA Regional.
The play nipped a budding West Virginia rally, that still needing another hit or Oklahoma State miscue to complete, and loomed large in the Cowboys eventual 3-2 win.
On the play, Wallace laid down a stellar bunt that died a few feet in front of the plate. Skipping over the ball, and tossing his bat away from it to remove the chance of second contact (and an automatic out), Wallace sped down the baseline, touching it with multiple steps and straddling it more than once. OSU catcher Chase Adkinson pursued, picked up the ball and threw to first, but saw it sail wide and inside his target, which left Wallace safe. Safe, that was, until Wallace was called out for interference for running out of the prescribed lane.
Head coach Randy Mazey immediately called for a review, basing his objection on the fact that the rule says that not only must the runner be outside the lane, but that he must also affect the throw being made to first. That section of the rule reads that interference occurs when:
"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;
Note 1: If the batter-runner is running illegally to first base and their 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. Exception—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. They may exit the running lane on their last stride or step if they have been running legally within the running lane up to that point. Note 2: The batter-runner is considered outside this 3-foot lane if either foot is outside either line."
Unfortunately, a review of the play found all of those conditions to be true. Wallace's left foot was inside the line on multiple strides, he wasn't outside the line to avoid a tag, and was outside it well before his last step. And in doing so, he was judged to have altered the throw of the fielder, who threw the ball wide to the inside of the base to avoid him.
Of course, there's a fair bit of judgement in this call, but it should also be noted that this wasn't the first time WVU (and Wallace) have been called for interference in a similar situation this year. It's admittedly a difficult thing to control just where each foot comes down when trying to run at top speed, but it's a rule that has to be followed.
As a result, Wallace was out and the runner in front of him, Grant Hussey, was returned to first base.
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Another question around that play was one of tactics. Might Hussey, who led off the inning with a walk, have been lifted for a pinch-runner? That could have changed the dynamics of the inning after Wallace's play. Hussey was pushed to second on Braden Barry's walk, and perhaps a speedier sub might have been able to work on the front end of a steal and put pressure on OSU pitcher Juaron Watts-Brown. However, that didn't happen, and Watts-Brown was able to concentrate on the two hitters around Barry, both of whom he struck out to end the inning.
SEAMS AND BARRELS
WVU stranded 12 runners and produced just six hits for the second consecutive game. The Mountaineers were 2-18 with runners on base, and 1-10 with them in scoring position.
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The loss was the sixth straight defeat for the Mountaineers in the Big 12 Championship. They lost their final two games in the 2021 tournament, and both of their games in 2022 and 2023.
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The defeat didn't appear to have a huge effect on WVU's RPI, dropping it three spots to No. 24, but of course it did remove it from any consideration for hosting a regional.
WVU will learn its destination for Regional play on Monday, May 29 at noon, with the selections airing on ESPN2.