In the top of the fourth inning in a high school baseball game between Augusta Christian Schools and visiting Briarwood Academy, Taylor Hensley sat crouched behind the plate.
Hensley, Augusta Christian's starting catcher, readied himself to catch one of many balls thrown to him at 70 miles per hour or faster. Instead, the pitch was foul and tipped back into his face.
Pain, shock and possibly permanent damage was easily avoided. The ball ricocheted off Hensley's helmet and fell to the ground.
Safety equipment such as the face mask and helmet Hensley was wearing has always been an absolute necessity in baseball. Between batting helmets, cups and chest protectors, the sport remains a relatively safe one.
In the South Carolina Independent Schools Association, high school baseball teams have taken one more step in the name of safety.
Starting this year, all SCISA baseball players are required to wear approved face masks or shields on their helmets when batting. The ruling came down from a committee at the SCISA headquarters and was met with mixed emotions from both players and coaches.
Hensley, a junior at Augusta Christian, looks through a mask all season long as the team's starting catcher, but he was one of those players who didn't like the new rule.
"I'm used to looking through a cage, but when I first heard it I thought it was pretty ridiculous," Hensley said. "The whole team didn't really want it."
At the SCISA headquarters in Orangeburg, S.C., athletic secretary Mike Fanning said the action stemmed from a new rule made for softball by the National Federation of State High Schools Association.
"We have been studying the situation for a year now since the Federation announced last year that it would be mandatory for girls softball," Fanning said.
"We had it happen on multiple occasions last year where a batter was injured from a foul tip when he was trying to bunt. That's what we're hoping to prevent."
Fanning said several SCISA schools voluntarily used face masks last year to try out the new rule. Augusta Christian first debuted the mask-clad helmets about a week before the season started.
"We had to realize there's no sense in arguing about it," Augusta Christian coach Craig Johnson said. "I can understand why they're doing it because of the liability issues."
Despite the masks, the Lions have had little problem in the first half of the season. Playing to defend last season's SCISA state championship, Augusta Christian has put up an 11-1 record, including its most recent win - a 6-1 victory over South Carolina baseball power North Augusta.
Johnson said the win column is a strong indication that his team has overcome the face-mask obstacle.
"The hit totals and run totals are up," he said. "I don't think it took that long to adjust."
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