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Sports

April 29, 2013

Vanoss penalized for too much Mulliniks

Byng —      When rivals Stratford and Vanoss met in a Class A Regional Tournament elimination game Thursday evening at Roff’s Tiger Field, there was no doubt the game would contain high drama.

     But no one could have dreamed how things would unfold during an unfathomable ninth inning that anyone involved in — or even watching — the contest will never forget.

     Let’s start at the very beginning.

     Stratford scored two runs in the top of the first inning when Chase Bradstreet doubled, and Randy Brown and Reece Reynolds followed with RBI singles. Vanoss head coach Jacob Grace couldn’t wait any longer. With the season on the line, he called on ace Clayton Mulliniks to put out the fire. And boy, did he ever.

     Mulliniks struck out the final two batters he faced in the first inning to prevent Stratford from causing any more damage. He then dominated the Bulldog lineup for the rest of the game. But more on that later.

     Vanoss got one of the runs back in the bottom of the first, when A.J. Christy reached on an error and scored on an RBI groundout by Curtis Decker. The Wolves finally tied the game with another run in the fifth, when Riley McCulley doubled and came home on a one-out, RBI groundout by Dustin Mulliniks. That game-tying run came after Stratford had left the bases loaded in the top of the fifth — the only time the Bulldogs really threatened to score against the hard-throwing Vanoss pitcher.

     Clayton Mulliniks was throwing better and harder than he had every thrown before. But the time he got through pitching the top of the ninth inning, he had recorded an incredible 23 strikeouts. It was a regional tournament performance for the ages.     Stratford had definitely had too much Mulliniks at that point.     Unfortunately for the Wolves, that's exactly what got them in trouble.

     This is where the story turns from exhilarating  to downright tragic. The moment Grace sent Clayton Mulliniks back to the mound to start the ninth inning, the game was over. When Mulliniks stepped on the bump and delivered his first warmup pitch, Stratford had just won a game that was tied 2-2 in extra innings by forfeit.

     You see, Mulliniks had already appeared in two innings during a first-round loss to Roff earlier in the day. Under the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activity Association baseball rules, a pitcher can only appear in 10 innings per day. Since Mulliniks had used up two of his innings, he was only legally allowed to appear in eight innings against Stratford. A regulation game lasts only seven innings, so there was nothing to worry about. That is, until the game remained tied heading into the ninth.

     Roff officials realized the mistake, double-checked with the OSSAA via a quick phone call and had to inform the umpires working the game of the rules violation. The game was stopped at that moment, and the Bulldogs were declared the victors by forfeit. The 2013 Vanoss baseball season had come to an abrupt, screeching halt.

     Vanoss fans were shocked. Grace, in his first year as the Wolves’ head man, was sick to his stomach.

     “It was horrible,” Grace said Friday night. “I just got caught up in the game. I didn’t take into account how many innings Clayton had pitched. All I could think about is winning at that time.”

     Grace admitted he had trouble finding words to say to his team after the game’s unusual ending.

     “I couldn’t tell them anything. It was really hard for me. I knew it was on my shoulders. I should have made sure I checked on that rule,” he said. “It was a mistake by the coaching staff that caused them not to succeed as much as they should have. It won’t happen again. It was definitely difficult ... but I shoulder the blame on that loss.”

     Stratford head coach Mark Qualls, unlike Grace, is a grizzled coaching veteran. He said he’s never seen, and for sure has never been a part of, anything so surreal.

     “It was very crazy. I’ve never had anything like that happen in all my years of coaching,” he said. “It was a sad deal because you feel bad for the kids. We’re all in this for kids. The kid from Vanoss is a super kid and a super pitcher. He was just dealing all night, and all the sudden that happened. I feel bad for their coach too. I know he feels bad. But he will bounce back.”

     Qualls was just as involved in the game as Grace was, and he didn’t realize that Mulliniks had reached his limit.

     “Honestly, I was’t aware of it," Qualls said. "When I realized what they were talking about, I got to thinking, 'Well, yeah, that’s too many.’”

     Grace said he would have had to replace his red-hot pitcher with freshman Riley McCulley.

      “I knew if I had to go get him, I had to bring in a freshman, and that would be a tough spot to put him in,” he said.

     Grace was confident his team had a good chance to defeat Stratford at some point during the extra play.

     “I think we would have pulled that one out if we had continued on. It was very difficult to explain to the kids. I tried to tell them how proud I was of them, when all I could think of was not being able to let them continue on,” he said.

     Still, Mulliniks’ amazing night capped a great spring and a good career for the Vanoss hurler.

     “He’s been really consistent over his last four or five starts. He slowed his mechanics down. But he hasn’t been throwing with the same velocity he did Thursday night. He really upped the velocity,” Grace said. “He just shut the door. He got in control pretty early on and opened up his velocity. It was something to watch. He was hitting all his spots.”

     After facing Mulliniks for what had to be nine LONG innings, Qualls said it was a testament to his team to keep Vanoss from breaking the tie while trying to survive against the Vanoss ace.

     “I was proud of my kids. The word we’ve been using a lot is perseverance. You just last and last and last. We forced them to go those extra innings and kept battling. That’s why the rule’s there,” he said.

     Grace said he has a good nucleus coming back to build on a 20-win season (the Wolves ended up ranked No. 18), but he feels terrible for seniors Clayton Mulliniks and Decker.

     “That’s what’s so hard. You see your seniors go out there and do everything they can to get the win, and it comes down to a rule that comes into play,” he said. “I definitely won’t make that mistake again.”

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