To cap off its sixth 40-win season in program history, Indiana baseball headed to Lexington, Kentucky to compete in an NCAA regional for the first time since the 2019 season. The Hoosiers defeated the University of West Virginia in their first game of the tournament and faced the Kentucky Wildcats with a berth in the regional championship game on the line.
With the score locked at 1-1 in the top of the seventh inning and two runners on base for the Wildcats, Indiana freshman second baseman Tyler Cerny committed a throwing error on a double play opportunity, giving Kentucky a 2-1 lead that extended to 3-1 on a sacrifice fly.
The Hoosiers got the lead back in the bottom of the frame with a three-run homer from senior catcher Peter Serruto, a hit the Rutgers transfer described as the biggest of his playing career.
Given the newly announced record attendance of over 6,000 at Kentucky Proud Park, adrenaline was running high for all players in the Indiana dugout. Among those players was Cerny, who flew out prior to Serruto’s homer. Amidst the rowdy celebration of the hit that minimized his error, Cerny, with Indiana’s home run chain in hand, stepped onto the turf mere feet outside the Hoosiers’ dugout and placed the chain around Serruto’s neck.
This short excursion away from the Indiana bench led to Cerny being ejected from the game and suspended for the next, which became a 16-6 loss at the hands of Kentucky. NCAA baseball rule 5, section 2, clause D states that bringing celebratory props onto the field of play results in an ejection. When it was initially put into place, the NCAA rule allowed for a warning prior to ejection, but the rule was updated on March 1 so that any player in violation would automatically be ejected without warning.
Nobody can say whether Cerny’s suspension played a part in Indiana’s two subsequent losses to Kentucky. Hoosier pitchers struggled in the lopsided loss on Sunday and the offense faltered repeatedly in the winner-take-all game on Monday night. The focus here does not lie in the outcome of the regional, rather, it lies in the precedent that the NCAA rulebooks have a glaring discrepancy which was brought into the limelight this postseason.
While Indiana was in Lexington, Stanford University softball was making a run to the Women’s College World Series. As they did in Kentucky, emotions ran high for the Cardinal softball team. While they were celebrating a home run, a pink hat was spotted in close proximity to home plate — much more decisively on the field than Cerny and the ill-fated home run chain were. However, because there is no rule prohibiting this in softball, no Stanford players were ejected.
In an era of baseball that is headlined by bat flips and strikeout celebrations that have become known as “K struts,” the ejection harkens back to an age when unwritten rules reigned supreme.
One could point to inconsistencies in the same ballpark as well. In Monday’s regional final with the game tied 2-2, Kentucky’s Devin Burkes celebrated a sixth-inning double with a much more emphatic celebration and no punishment was issued. Furthering these inconsistencies, Kentucky went on to take the lead and celebrated by throwing Evan Byers in the air while in the dugout.
College baseball and softball both celebrate the student athletes who give their all for a chance to reign supreme at the conclusion of the College World Series. Any athlete who has ever come through in a clutch moment or been on a team fighting to keep their season alive will inevitably get fired up when their squad has success.
The fact that one sport bans props from entering the field of play while the other does not can cause confusion for fans who do not understand the discrepancy, drawing the ire of those who root for teams affected by the rule where it still exists. If NCAA baseball wishes to leave antiquated officiating practices behind and bring college baseball into the 2020s, getting rid of the celebratory prop ban is a good start.
Indiana baseball had a lot of shining moments this season — Devin Taylor being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Morgan Colopy’s walk-off home run versus Iowa, Luke Sinnard breaking the single-season strikeout record and Ty Bothwell giving the Hoosiers a chance at their first super regional trip since 2013 are just a handful.
Cerny’s contentious ejection and suspension should not overshadow that, but it also should not be swept under the rug. Officials stealing the spotlight from players has been a persistent plague on the game of baseball and it shows no signs of going away.