JOLIET – Prairie Ridge ended up seeing little of Providence cleanup hitter Phil Kunsa during its 8-7 loss to the Celtics in the Class 4A state semifinals.
With two outs in the bottom of the first inning Friday, Kunsa hit a dribbler to shortstop Nick Schmidt, but the subsequent throw to first sailed high, pulling Marcus Sargeant off the bag. As Sargeant came down after extending to reel in the ball, Kunsa collided with the Wolves’ first baseman while appearing to extend his arms outward.
First base umpire Steve Basse ejected him for offensive interference as a result, prompting a heated exchange with Providence coach Mark Smith.
“My job in that situation is to get down that line as fast as I can to save the inning,” said Kunsa, who is committed to Middle Tennessee State. “It was a bad throw and where he landed was right in the baseline. I have to try to get to the bag for my teammates. Granted, I maybe could have slid around, but it was so last minute that I had to collide with him.”
Entering the game, the senior right fielder was hitting .359 with 11 home runs, 12 doubles and 46 RBIs. With the slugger out of the lineup, Prairie Ridge kept Providence off the scoreboard for the first four innings.
“I felt like he could have gotten out of the way,” Sargeant said of the play, “but it could have gone either way.”
Asked if he was surprised to see him ejected, Sargeant added, “kinda, yeah.”
According to the National Federation of State High School Association rules, which are used by the Illinois High School Association in tournament play, a runner is called for interference when he “creates malicious contact with any fielder, with or without the ball, in or out of the baseline.” Additionally, because of the ejection, Kunsa is ineligible to play in Saturday’s championship game at Silver Cross Field.
“He [Basse] said he thought it was malicious intent,” Smith said. “Knowing he has umpired in the Catholic League and has had us before, I said our kids aren’t like that. We have good kids here who play the game the right way.
"I think anyone who has seen us play would attest to that. And I argued that – because your first instinct is to put your hands up. And he’s a big boy. When he’s coming at ya, you’re going to put your hands out. That’s what Phil did. At least that’s how I saw it. Very disappointed in him getting ejected, but we have to deal with it.”
Smith said he plans to appeal the decision in the hope Kunsa could play Saturday.
“He’s like a son to me and I’m going to do everything I can to fight it,” Smith said. “I thought it was a terrible call. … Extremely disappointed with the decision by the umpire. But he made the call. We’ll appeal it. We’ll see what happens and hope for the best.”
Conversley, Prairie Ridge coach Glen Pecoraro agreed with the decision.
“He lowered his shoulder,” he said. “It was a no-brainer.”