Maryland softball was clinging to a two-run lead in the final inning against Rutgers Wednesday, with closer Keira Bucher in the pitching circle trying desperately to preserve the Terps’ advantage.
On a 2-1 count, Rutgers shortstop Kyleigh Sand pounded the ball right back to Bucher who calmly threw home, then catcher Amelia Lech fired it to first for what looked like the game-winning double play.
Lech jumped in the air, Bucher pounded her first and first baseman Sydney Lewis dashed toward the pitching circle in celebration.
Then, first base umpire Bobby DeMayo threw his hands apart in a safe motion. The Terps were left stunned.
“If we got the call our way, then we would have won the game. It’s really frustrating as a player because we have [replay] but it’s not used at every game,” catcher Kiley Goff said.
Rutgers had new life thanks to a close call, and the Scarlet Knights took advantage. Rutgers walked it off moments later, winning the game 4-3. Coach Mark Montgomery said he wasn’t disappointed by the call itself, but rather the lack of replay review that could have changed the outcome.
“I’ll be honest with you, I have another victory, 100 percent sure, if we have [replay review] right now,” Montgomery said. “We win that first game at Rutgers because we turned a double play, and he made a bad call and you live with the results and that’s just part of it.”
For years, college softball didn’t have the luxury of taking an extra look at a close call. In the past, coaches such as Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso and Texas coach Mike White complained that softball was lagging behind other sports with replay. Finally, in 2021, the NCAA approved implementing video review in softball.
Meanwhile, college baseball allowed for replay review in the College World Series since 2012, but 2015 marked the first postseason game umpires used review in.
“We’re still not equitable,” Montgomery said. “I mean we’re making ground, we’re making strides and I’m not saying everybody in [Maryland’s] athletic department here as well as other athletic departments aren’t doing the best they can.”
Still, the NCAA states the new rule change is not mandatory, leaving the discretion up to individual schools and conferences.
Therefore, another issue of equity arises between the various conferences.
While the SEC and ACC have utilized replay to a large extent, the Big Ten has allowed for individual schools to have discretion on whether to implement replay. In 2019, the SEC instituted a video replay review process during the conference tournament.
“The SEC is the powerhouse of softball, so whatever they need they’re going to get,” Goff said.
The differences in replay protocol arise when separate leagues clash, such as in a non-conference February tournament Maryland played in.
Against ACC opponents North Carolina and Virginia in Chapel Hill, NC, Montgomery said over the four games Maryland played in, there were six challenged calls. Four of the six calls were reversed, according to the coach.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten will not make wholesale changes until 2025, when UCLA and USC join the conference. For this season and next, replay for Big Ten softball home games is optional and can be employed by the Big Ten member schools that have the technology in place, a Big Ten spokesperson said.
Once UCLA and USC join the Big Ten, replay for softball will become mandatory for all 16 of the conference’s programs, the spokesperson said.
According to Montgomery, only two Big Teams Maryland faces this season use replay review, Northwestern and Illinois, who will host the 2023 Big Ten tournament. However, the veteran coach remains perplexed over why the Big Ten has not pushed for a full-scale replay operation across the conference.
“From a budget/Big Ten administrators, whether it is at the Big Ten office or whether it is with the individual schools, I can’t tell you that,” Montgomery said. “But it was not a priority and it was financially challenging, and so therefore it was voted down, so we have tried to go for it for the past two years.”
“Every coach in our league shares those frustrations,” Montgomery said of the lack of replay reviews.