JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- Johns Creek forced a game three. Then they were told they lost and were eliminated from the playoffs a half hour later. Then, five days later, it was determined they had won.
So now the Gladiators are back, getting ready for a game three.
Johns Creek baseball won its final appeal to the GHSA Board of Trustees on Monday, claiming the umpires used inappropriate conduct to reverse a call that took away the Gladiators' semifinals win. The board voted 5-2, and GHSA gave Johns Creek and Lee Co. a game three to decide who will play in the state championship. That game was scheduled for Wednesday, but moved to Friday at 1 p.m. due to severe weather.
In an exclusive interview with 11Alive, Johns Creek Athletic Director Jason Holcombe said his school's argument was the umpires' use of technology before making a ruling was a violation of the officiating handbook.
"Our argument was that the mechanics being used in the use of technology to make a questionable call that was determined to say that the runner at second did not touch third base..." Holcombe said.
The umpires used cell phones to conference for 20-25 minutes after Lee County argued to officials the runner at second base did not touch third base when Lee Co. walked the batter and the runner at third came home for the walk-off win. The officials and two members of the GHSA conferenced, according to Holcombe.
Holcombe went to get an explanation of the conference, but he and head coach Billy Nicholson were waived off. He still does not know exactly what was discussed on the call or who they were talking to. The officials eventually discounted the run and made them play on. Lee Co. won in extra innings.
Johns Creek lost their first appeal. They had video of the incident which they believed showed the base runner at second touching third. But it could not be used because Executive Director Gary Phillips declared the officials' call a judgment call, and those are not reviewable or appealable.
So instead, Johns Creek was forced to present the facts of the situation and go up against GHSA's stance that the situation was handled correctly.
The board voted in Johns Creek's favor, but the GHSA never told them why they ruled the way they did after a 90-minute meeting where both sides presented their case. The GHSA's official statement does not disclose a reason for the board accepting the appeal.
The GHSA has not responded to 11Alive's request for comment on the use of cell phones to make a decision other than say that "they were not used to determine whether the runner had touched the third base bag."
A source with knowledge of the appeal, but was not authorized to speak publicly about it, said that one of the officials used a personal phone during the conference, which is a direct violation of the officiating rule book. The GHSA sanctioned the officiating group, according to the source.
GHSA confirmed to 11Alive the group of officials will not be used for the rest of the playoffs or state championship, but would not comment further because they are independent to the organization.
Holcombe said the past five days has been emotional for him and his athletes.
"In the heat of battle, it was definitely a lot of emotions in the stands and also for our athletes. The bus ride home was very quiet," Holcombe said, saying he told the kids immediately they would appeal.
"The kids sometimes look to the adults for answers. What we told our kids is we’re going to do everything we can. We’re going to exhaust all of our resources and do everything we can. You’ve got to keep your head up."
The team was allowed to keep practicing during the appeal process. All 29 baseball players showed up for every practice despite not knowing whether or not they will play another game again.
"We’ve always said we’re going to play to the last out, that’s what their motto was on the bus ride home from Lee County, " Nicholson said. The kids told him: "Coach, we’re going to play and practice until they tell us we can’t no more."
Nicholson said this was a good life lesson, especially for the 17 seniors on the team.
Now, the kids are extremely motivated to get to the state championship and face the Pope Greyhounds. The 6A state championship is Friday at 4 and 7 p.m.
"Just seeing the pep in their step and how they’re getting after it, it’s like they’re on a mission and they won’t be denied," Nicholson said.
While it's been exhausting for everyone, Holcombe is glad that the official process worked in the end.
"In the long run a decision was made for what was best for kids, not what was best for adults or what was the easiest decision. It was not an easy decision. I feel for the people of Lee County, but I also feel for the members of that committee that had to make that decision. It was not an easy decision.
"I think it shows if you do things properly, you know the rules and you follow your rule book, you dot every I and cross every T, that you have faith in the process. For our students, they now see that the process works."
Now the rest can be settled on the field.