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California baseball team sent home from playoffs over Wiffle ball batting practice

Santa Monica (Calif.) High head baseball coach Kurt Schwengel's team moves on after appealing a playoff loss. (Shutterfly)
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Santa Monica (Calif.) High head baseball coach Kurt Schwengel's team moves on after appealing a playoff loss. (Shutterfly)

In a bizarre turn of events, a California high school baseball team that walked off the field victorious was instead sent home from the playoffs hours later for practicing with a Wiffle ball before the game.

According to Palos Verdes (Calif.) Peninsula High baseball coach John Hangartner, his players took part in a short batting practice session prior to a 7-2 victory against Santa Monica in California's Southern Section Division 3 tournament, throwing Wiffle balls overhand from their knees to awaiting teammates.

Meanwhile, a Santa Monica assistant coach filmed the session on his cell phone and submitted it — following his team's loss — to Southern Section officials as a violation of Blue Book Rule 1522.2.

“Teams entered in the baseball playoffs will not be permitted to take batting practice on the day of a playoff game prior to the commencement of the contest.” Batting practice will be construed as ANY type of pitching motion with ANY type of ball from in front of the batter (including pitching machines and overhand throwing). With the consultation and support of the C.I.F. Southern Section Baseball Coaches Advisory Committee, the rules are as follows... THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE BATTING WARMUP WILL BE SIDE SOFT TOSS, BATTING TEE WORK OR PEPPER. ...

THE PENALTY FOR BATTING PRACTICE WITH WIFFLE BALLS, SOFTBALLS, BASEBALLS, ETC. MAY BE FORFEITURE OF THE GAME.

As a result, Santa Monica advances to the sectional quarterfinals in Peninsula's place. With their state title hopes now dashed, Peninsula coaches and players are bewildered by the decision, and their pleas with Santa Monica head coach Kurt Schwengel to reconsider his appeal have gone unanswered.

“We were doing it for 10-12 minutes,” Hangartner told the Daily Breeze. “We weren’t trying to hide, or cheat. We simply didn’t know the rule. We thought you couldn’t stand and throw like a pitcher. ... We are asking the coach to call off the appeal and do the right thing. My players don’t deserve to go out like this. But it doesn’t look good. The only one who can change this is the head coach.”

While the Wiffle ball toss does appear to be a violation of the rule, it's hard not to feel for the Peninsula seniors, whose playoff hopes and prep careers are now over despite winning their final game.

“They filmed us throwing/hitting wiffle balls to each other, and as a team we’re shocked that this happened,” Peninsula senior Ed Haus added to the Daily Breeze. “We can’t believe their coach would blame a five-run game on us hitting wiffle balls prior to game time. It’s unreal.”

A similar incident involving batting practice eliminated Indio (Calif.) Shadow Hills High's softball team from the postseason last spring, causing College of the Desert softball coach Thomas Armstrong — who hosted the 2013 Southern Section tournament — to call the rule into question.

"I don't see that they gained any advantage," Armstrong told the Desert Sun. "It's a rule that has to be changed. You're talking about a team that was traveling and basically killing time. From my understanding, we're not talking about being in a batting machine or live pitching. We're talking about simply just soft toss or pepper, and that's not going to change the outcome of a game."

Once again, it seems the right move would have been to warn Peninsula that it was in violation of the rule rather than film the entire incident and go tattling to section officals after a loss.

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