American Legion state tournament: Bessey pitcher, coach ejected after pitch-count controversy

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Bessey Motors players point to coach Shane Slicer beyond the left field fence following their 1-0 victory over Bangor Coffee News in the American Legion state tournament at Bangor on Wednesday. Slicer and starting pitcher Colton Carson were ejected early in the game. (Adam Robinson/Sun Journal)

BANGOR — Bessey Motors head coach Shane Slicer got word Tuesday night that Colton Carson would not be allowed to pitch in Wednesday’s American Legion state semifinal because the official scorebook had Carson tallied at 81 pitches in Saturday’s game against Yankee Ford.

Slicer and the team decided to start Carson, anyway, even knowing that it would result in an ejection of both coach and player immediately following the first pitch of the win-or-go-home game against defending state champion Bangor Coffee News.

Bessey Motors pitcher Ashton Kennison pitches during Wednesday’s American Legion state tournament game against Bangor Coffee News in Bangor. (Adam Robinson/Sun Journal)

Bessey Motors went on to win the game, 1-0, as relievers Troy Johnson and Ashton Kennison combined on a two-hit shutout. The win propelled Bessey to the championship game against Coastal Landscape later Wednesday night.

Carson pitched a complete-game shutout for Bessey Motors on Saturday against Yankee Ford in a 1-0 victory. Both Bessey and Yankee Ford tallied Carson’s pitches at 79, Bessey in two score books, which were both signed off by each coach.

The official scorekeeper, Sean Stackhouse, who simultaneously serves the tournament in other capacities, counted 81 pitches. That’s one pitch over the American Legion limit of 80 that would have let Carson pitch again Wednesday afternoon.

Slicer disagreed, but according to the director of the Maine Athletic Baseball Committee, David Gray, there was no official protest that the coach, or Bessey Motors, could file.

“We had two books going, one from a parent that does it for the Maine Principals Association, one by one of our players. They both had 79 pitches,” Slicer said. “We verified it with the other team. They  had 79 pitches. The head announcer never told us what the pitch count was … After the game, I submitted a complaint and I said, ‘We have 79 by two books,’ and they didn’t change their mind.”

“My beef was I wasn’t notified,” Slicer said. “The only thing I could go by was my book, and I thought I was doing the right thing by keeping him ready for this game. Today they told him he couldn’t pitch and I said, ‘I’m going to stand up for it and pitch him.’”

When asked for comment, Gray said that the committee “went with their official scorer,” and did not “have any more to say on that,” and declined to comment further.

Because both teams signed off on 79 pitches being the official count, Slicer and the team assumed Carson would be available to pitch on the fourth day after his start. During Saturday’s game, Stackhouse was not announcing the pitch count of either pitcher, a practice that was started in a future game to keep coaches, players and fans aware of where each player stands.

“My beef isn’t how many pitches it was — there is a threshold — it’s that I really didn’t have an opportunity to make a choice on whether I could keep Colton in,” Slicer said. “I had him at 79 and no one else communicated to me what they had. I didn’t even know they had an official scorer. It was poorly communicated to us as coaches as to how they were going to keep track of it, and after that they started announcing it, which is a much better system.”

Zone 2 commissioner Rod Stevens agreed with Slicer but was not given say on the matter, even though all commissioners are in Bangor for the state tournament. Yankee Ford assistant coach and Zone 3 commissioner, Al Livingston, resigned Tuesday amid the controversy.

Bessey Motors coach Shane Slicer and pitcher Colton Carson, right, embrace after they both were ejected in the first inning of Wednesday’s American Legion state tournament game in Bangor. Bessey Motors won, 1-0. (Adam Robinson/Sun Journal)

“At the conclusion of the game it went up to the so-called official scorekeeper who is doing the announcing, the tweeting, the music and the scorebook,” Stevens said. “He has 81 pitches. Coach Slicer is going on what he had for information because he wasn’t told after each inning what Carson had so he could verify it. He’s going off his information and he says, ‘Great, I have my kid for Wednesday if we get there.’”

The lack of information communicated to Bessey was a consistent theme all week, as Carson believed he would be set to pitch up until Wednesday morning.

“I knew a few days ago that the scorer’s booth had 81, but there were three other books that had 79 so we were kind of hoping that we could talk to the commissioner and let me pitch,” Carson said. “I found out this morning. Coach Slicer talked to them last night and we just had to do what we had to do. We weren’t trying to disrespect Bangor. Coach knew what we had to do and we were behind him in any decision he makes.”

Carson’s father, Patrick, felt the decision was made without the players in mind.

“Last night he texted his coach that he will be playing for at the University of Maine that he would be pitching today, and he was going to come over to watch him throw in his last game of the season,” Patrick Carson said. “He was in a good mood, optimistic, so I’d imagine the one pitch and watching from the dugout is pretty disappointing. That’s what I don’t think in this whole scenario and decision that was thought of that the only people that it affected really are the players on the field.”

Stevens also believed the decision was made unjustly, while still in the rules.

“This is about the kids, the players, and I am a commissioner and I was never consulted on any of that,” Stevens said. “They made the decision. I think it’s very unfortunate that this boy didn’t get the chance to pitch here today. We’re talking about splitting hairs over one pitch. Now, the rules are the rules, but we have got to have a protocol in place so we can verify and make sure they’re true.”

The only people who had final say in the decision to rule Carson ineligible and eject both Carson and Slicer, according to Stackhouse, were the American Legion committee members, led by David Gray. Coffee News coach Dave Morris did not file any protest or complain at all, according to Stevens and Stackhouse.

“They messed that up,” Slicer said of the decision. “I have the support of my zone commissioner. Today was a tough decision, but it was the right decision by me. (The team) wanted Colton to be on the mound, as it should be.”

The game went on as Slicer watched from a hill to the left of the left field foul pole. Bessey scored the game’s only run in the fifth inning when third baseman Emery Chickering singled and was brought home later on a fielder’s choice. Ashton Kennison closed the game to advance Bessey to the final game, a rematch with Coastal Landscaping.

“(The players) knew right from the beginning that it was going to happen,” Bessey assistant coach Lance Bean said, holding back tears. “They had one thing in mind, and that was to win the baseball game. They’re a really close team. They see coach Slicer up there … That’s why we coach, it ain’t for the money.”

Bessey Motors emerges from the dugout to celebrate its 1-0 win over Bangor Coffee News at the state American Legion baseball tournament in Bangor on Wednesday. Coach Shane Slicer, who was ejected earlier in the game, raises his arms beyond the fence in left field. (Adam Robinson/Sun Journal)
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