Potomac School had played good baseball through six innings, and it appeared a win over St. Anne’s-Belfield was in hand.
Senior Carter Bosch, the Panthers’ ace, had started the mid-April nonconference game and had 11 strikeouts with three outs to go. But Bosch had thrown 105 pitches, and under Virginia High School League rules, he only had five left. So Coach Eric Crozier pulled him before the seventh inning began.
That’s when things went downhill.
“Yeah, I remember that game very well,” Bosch said with a sigh a few weeks later. “It was a pretty tough pill to swallow because I felt like I could’ve kept it going. I felt great.”
The Panthers blew a four-run lead in the top of the seventh and went on to lose, 9-8, in extra innings. The game might have ended differently just two seasons ago, before the National Federation of State High School Associations decided all pitching rules must be count-based.
As the second season of the rule approaches its end, most local coaches contacted by The Washington Post said they don’t mind it, but some are split on its effectiveness.
The pitch-count limit varies by state. In Virginia, a player maxes out at 110 pitches, and the number of days he then must rest is determined by pitch count. Having thrown 26 to 50 pitches means he can’t pitch for one day, 51 to 75 means two days and so on. In Maryland, the maximum is 105 pitches for juniors and seniors and 95 for freshmen and sophomores, with required rest similar to Virginia’s.
Private teams such as Potomac School often follow the rules of their state. And the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference developed its own limitations based on Maryland’s and Virginia’s rules.
According to the NFHS, the rules were designed to be a comprehensive obstacle to overuse. Crozier said overuse in high school often comes from getting too caught up in a game or a season and a desire to ride one or two pitchers to success.
“When you have a guy, like Carter, that you’d love to throw out there every day, some people abuse those types of guys,” Crozier said. “And by doing that, you’re hurting their longevity; you’re hurting their ability to play at the college level. And for what? A high school win?”
DeMatha Coach Sean O’Connor said the rules provide a hard line in a conversation often featuring players who want to stay on the mound or parents who question rest time. His team’s website has an eligibility tracker; it lists all of the Stags’ pitchers, when they most recently pitched, how many pitches they threw and when they next would be able to go.
“It’s something we were absolutely thinking about before this rule,” he said.
Whereas previous rules centering on innings thrown per week had obvious loopholes, O’Connor is concerned that some teams are taking advantage of the new limitations as well.
“It has become a strategy thing with no punishment to the situation,” he said. “When a coach does something wrong, what happens now? I haven’t heard of anyone getting punished. You’re telling me everyone is sticking to these rules?”
The penalty for a violation is supposed to be forfeiture of the game in which the pitcher was used illegally. None of the players or coaches interviewed for this story had heard of a team that had to forfeit a game, but officials from the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association and the VHSL confirmed it has happened at least once in each state.
Another issue is dealing with situations like the one the Panthers faced against St. Anne’s-Belfield: Hard pitch counts don’t account for the context of a game. In last year’s Maryland 4A state semifinals, Severna Park had the same problem as Potomac School: Its starter reached 105 pitches with one out remaining and the Falcons leading by two. A reliever came in, and Howard tagged him for three runs to earn a spot in the state title game.
As the playoffs begin, the rest aspect of the rules may become more important than the pitch count maximum. While starting pitchers reaching triple digits is fairly rare, many teams often use their best arms in relief situations. Leonardtown Coach Chris Schoenbauer said the rules haven’t had an ill effect on the high school game, but they have changed the way it must be managed.
“It’s different than the old rules, but it’s important. There’s just no need for a 16-year-old to be throwing more than 105 pitches in a baseball game,” he said. “You have to think long term.”