Lamar University of the Southland Conference took on the hosting Liberty University of the Big South Conference as the final two teams left standing in the inaugural NISC tournament. The winner would take home bragging rights and the championship trophy.
The NISC, originally boasted as a forty-team tournament, failed to meet that threshold in its first year of existence, but did host twenty-six teams from across the country in a regional-style format, with six teams advancing to the championship series in Lynchburg from which Lamar and Liberty emerged as the teams that would battle for the championship.
Liberty held a 3-1 lead after five complete innings in the game. Through those five innings, Liberty pitcher Julia DiMartino had thrown a gem, allowing just three hits and one run with four strikeouts.
In the top of the sixth inning, though, the Cardinals broke through, plating four runs to go up by a score of 5-3. In the bottom half of the inning, the game was halted due to rain with two outs and two runners on base for Liberty.
A nineteen-minute rain delay followed, after which tournament officials declared the field unplayable and called the game. Citing NCAA rules, they determined that the game score would revert back to the last fully-completed inning. By virtue of that ruling, the game officially went on the books as a 3-1 Liberty win in five innings.
That's where things get tricky.
Though requests for clarification were not immediately returned, it can be assumed that tournament officials cited rule #6.16 of the NCAA softball rulebook, which dictates procedures relating to a "called game". The rule clearly states that, at the plate umpire's discretion, the game may be called at any time after at least five complete innings, and notes several potential causes for said stoppage.
Quoting in part, rule #6.16.1 reads as follows: "... The score shall be that of the last equal inning played..."
However, included in the same rule is the following note (emphasis ours): "If a game is delayed because of inclement weather, a facility problem, etc., a reasonable amount of time (not less than 30 minutes) must elapse before the game is called."
As previously noted, nineteen minutes elapsed between the stoppage of game play and the game being officially called. This would appear to be in clear contrast to the afore-mentioned note included as part of rule #6.16.
It is worth noting that rain delays were not a rare occurrence during the tournament's final round. In fact, the Lamar/Kennesaw State semifinal matchup, held one day before the controversial championship game, was delayed for four hours and thirty minutes due to rain before being started late, and was later suspended until the following morning, also due to weather conditions.
Tournament director Dave King, of Triple Crown Sports, in speaking to the Beaumont Enterprise, took the blame for the tournament's finish, also noting that Wednesday was the last day allotted for the tournament to include game play and that he wanted to settle a winner on the field.
Lamar head coach Holly Bruder was quoted in a school release as saying, in part, "I thought it was a bad idea to even start the final game. The field was in terrible condition because of all the rain. They told us that there was rain coming in, and that we wouldn't get seven innings in. I think that's a terrible way to decide a champion. If they weren't going to play a full seven innings, then we should have been co-champions. But they decided to play, and then stopped the game when we were one out away from finishing the sixth inning."
Here's how Southland Conference commissioner Tom Burnett reacted to the news:
Wait... what? https://t.co/2s0pX507a9— Tom Burnett (@TomBurnettSLC) May 25, 2017