Norwood sophomore Jackson Cropper was straight dealing.
Until, suddenly, he wasn’t.
Cropper likely owns the distinction of being the most notable victim of the MIAA’s new pitch count limit. The Northeastern recruit had to hand over the ball one out away from completing a no-hitter May 17.
Cropper had all four of his pitches working as he struck out 18 of the 22 Millis batters he faced, walking two and allowing just one flyout and one groundout.
“He’s got electric stuff,” Norwood coach Kevin Igoe said. ‘”He really does. . . . He’s going to change the record books.”
Except not on this day. After 6⅔ innings of brilliance, Cropper reached 115 pitches and Igoe was forced to pull him.
“It wasn’t fun,” Igoe said of his walk to the mound.
The saving grace came when reliever Joey Steeves struck out the final batter to complete the 19-K, combined no-hitter.
Instituted before the canceled 2020 season, the pitch count limits stem from the MIAA’s adoption of the National Federation of High Schools rules, and they are already causing consternation.
“I think it’s lousy,” Igoe said. “You’re going to do way more damage this way.”
Last week, with one out in the seventh inning, Canton coach Matt Shuffain was forced to pull his ace, Andrew Middleton, who was locked in a pitchers’ duel with North Attleborough’s Dennis Colleran Jr. Middleton hadn’t thrown more than 92 pitches in his first three starts before hitting 115 on Monday in a game the Bulldogs lost, 3-1.
“I think he could have finished,” Shuffain said, adding, “I think the pitch counts are good for the kids, and it’s safe. I also think some of these kids could throw a little more.”
The NFHS rules were adopted following recommendations by the American Sports Medicine Institute — home of famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews — and Pitch Smart, a collaboration between USA Baseball and Major League Baseball, that high school pitchers throw no more than 105 pitches in an outing.
According to the National Institute of Health, the rate of medial ulnar collateral ligament reconstructions, known as Tommy John surgery, increased sixfold among youth and high school athletes from 1994 to 2011.
A study published in 2017 by the American Journal of Sports Medicine showed that in 2015, 57 percent of all Tommy John surgeries were performed on 15- to 19-year-olds, although that percentage has dropped some since. According to Pitch Smart, adolescent pitchers who undergo elbow or shoulder surgery were 36 times more likely to have routinely pitched with arm fatigue.
“If we look into it on a game-by-game basis, the research has shown that pitch counts is the ideal way to keep track and monitor how much people are pitching, and therefore the risk of getting hurt,” said Dr. Glenn Fleisig of the American Sports Institute in a video on MLB.com.
The new MIAA guidelines limit hurlers to 115 pitches in one day. If a pitcher throws 71 or more pitches, he needs to rest for four days before handling a full workload again, although on the fourth day he could throw up to 25 pitches. The number of rest days shrinks with the pitch count. For example, if a pitcher throws 41-55 pitches, he must rest for two days. Pitchers can finish an at-bat when they reach the limit, but not the inning.
That was the case for Milton sophomore Owen McHugh last Friday when he started off the fourth batter of the sixth inning with his 111th pitch. He induced an inning-ending fly ball to center with his 117th.
Milton coach Brendan Morrissey said he was grateful McHugh was able to finish his six innings of work and that while he agreed with the limits, he believed the coaches in the Bay State Conference were already responsible with their pitchers.
Igoe, however, believes the gradated pitch limits aren’t the best way to prevent overuse injuries.
“I don’t really care for the pitch count because you can pitch a guy multiple times a week,” he said. “I’m a one-outing-a-week with five days’ rest guy. I believe in rest. The way it’s mapped out, you could pitch a kid Monday-Wednesday-Friday, which is going to do more damage.”
Igoe is correct; a pitcher could throw three times in five days if each appearance is limited to 40 or fewer pitches.
Of course, not every coach has the benefit of a deep stable of pitchers. Smaller schools can be disproportionately affected, especially during this condensed season, and pitch limits loom as a game-changer in the playoffs.
“I think it will be an issue in the playoffs,” Shuffain said. “That’s when the pitch count should be out the window. You’re playing one game at a time.”
▪ After completing his playing career at Wakefield in 2016, Kevin Murray immediately started coaching. He joined the Warriors staff, learning under Kevin Canty for three seasons, before accepting the freshman coaching position at Austin Prep last spring.
But when the season was canceled because of COVID-19, Murray was back to square one. He connected with Pentucket AD Dan Thornton early this spring for the program’s varsity head coach opening and was hired a month before the season.
At 23, Murray is one of the youngest head coaches in the state. He has Pentucket off to a 5-3 start in the Cape Ann League, despite navigating through the challenges of a first-time varsity coach.
“It was definitely different trying to connect with these younger kids but once we started connecting on a non-baseball level everything got a whole lot easier,” Murray said. “Kevin Canty at Wakefield is probably the most organized coach I’ve ever been around and he helped me be ready for this. He taught me practice plans, different ways of executing those plans, and how to get the most out of each minute during practice.”
Pitching has been the strong suit for Pentucket. Led by junior co-aces Ethan Hunt and Chase Dwight, Pentucket has held opponents to two runs or fewer in six of its eight games.
With the majority of the team’s core intact for next season, Murray said he hopes the remaining eight games this season, plus the state tournament, will continue to build momentum for the future of the program.
▪ The Plymouth South offense had quite a two-day stretch Monday and Tuesday, defeating Quincy, 24-4, and Dennis-Yarmouth, 20-5, before securing a 2-1 win over Hanover on Wednesday . . . Hamilton-Wenham coach Reggie Maidment earned his 100th career win in the Generals’ 6-0 victory over North Reading on Saturday . . . When Abington and Cardinal Spellman square off Saturday, it will be a reunion for the Perakslis family. Green Wave coach Steve Perakslis, in his 19th season, will face his son Stephen, a first-year coach at Spellman and 2009 Abington alum.
Games to watch
Friday, Whitman-Hanson at Plymouth North, 4 p.m. — Both teams enter the Patriot League regular-season finale at 8-1 and the winner will capture the Keenan Division. Plymouth North beat W-H, 10-7, in the first meeting May 17.
Saturday, Stoneham at Wakefield, 10 a.m. — The undefeated Warriors handed Stoneham its first loss of the season Tuesday, 3-2, behind a strong outing from ace Chris Alden. Saturday’s rematch may decide the Middlesex League Freedom Division.
Monday, St. John’s Prep at Xaverian, 4 p.m. — First place in the Catholic Conference is up for grabs when the No. 3 Eagles visit the No. 5 Hawks in Westwood. Xaverian won the first matchup, 4-2, on May 13.
Tuesday, Walpole at Wellesley, 4 p.m. — The seventh-ranked Raiders have won eight straight and welcome a talented Walpole team in the lone meeting this season between the Bay State Conference foes.
Wednesday, Medfield at Westwood, 3:45 p.m. — At 9-1, the eighth-ranked Warriors have rattled off seven consecutive wins as they face a Westwood side that has gone 6-1 since an 0-3 start.
Correspondent Matt Doherty contributed to this story.