Friday, June 9, 2023

Runner's Hand Hits Ball During Celebration - Interference?

In the bottom of the 6th inning of the Women's College World Series, Oklahoma batter Rylie Boone hit a double to right-center field. As Florida State outfielder Jahni Kerr's throw returned to the infield, first baseman Bethaney Keen prepared to catch it, but before the softball could get to Keen, it hit the outstretched arms of Boone, who stood atop second base celebrating her hit. Umpires no-called the sequence as Boone advanced to third base on the throwing error charged to Kerr.

The question we received is whether or not this should have been declared interference—or at least a dead ball. To answer, we begin as we always do with the relevant rulebook, the NCAA Softball rules.

Rules 11.18 & 12.17 define interference as "an act that denies a defensive player a reasonable opportunity to make a play (field/throw) anywhere on the playing field. The act may be intentional or unintentional, and the ball must have been playable."

Replays indicate the offensive player's act denied a defensive player a reasonable opportunity to receive a throw, but not to make the throw itself (similar to runner's lane interference with the fielder taking the throw, not the one giving it). The act was unintentional insofar as the runner did not appear to intend to interfere and the ball appeared potentially playable to infielder Keen, who lined up to catch the throw before it struck the runner's outstretched hand.

Rule 12.4.6 states a runner is out "when they commit an act of interference" but because the definition is somewhat vague regarding this play, we continued reading to Rule "The runner may not at any time unnecessarily wave their arms or verbally distract the fielder."

Although it would appear the runner did not verbally distract any fielder, could one deem that the celebratory gesture constituted a violation of the "unnecessarily wave their arms" provision?

What's your call? Choose carefully, because if this is interference, the required penalty is the runner is out. If this is not interference, the runner is safe at third on the throwing error. There is no intermediate option (e.g., the rules do not allow an umpire to call "Time" and place the runner back on second base).

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Is it interference when a throw hits a celebrating runner's outstretched arm?


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