Santa Clara High played eight Frontier League games this season, which means its starters have played the equivalent of almost two games at full speed.
If there was a mercy rule in high school basketball, it would have been exercised in every one of the Saints' league games. The average margin of victory for Santa Clara was 55 points.
Thank goodness for the playoffs. The Saints, who have won 63 consecutive league games, may actually play a few close ones.
Santa Clara plays host to Tehachapi in the first round of the Southern Section 1-A Division playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Six other county girls' teams play the same day.
Ventura, Newbury Park and Buena, all 4-A Division teams, are among the teams that qualified for the playoffs. And they were all on Santa Clara's preseason schedule as Coach Tom McConville struggled to match his small-school juggernaut against worthy preleague opponents.
Santa Clara is 17-6 and five of the losses came against those three teams. The Saints lost twice to Buena--by 6 and 19 points--twice to Newbury Park--by 3 and 7 points--and once to Ventura by five points. Santa Clara avenged the loss to Ventura the next two times the teams met. The Saints also defeated Camarillo, another 4-A playoff team.
But then the league season started and the starters didn't get much playing time.
"I played everybody," McConville said. "It's not like I wanted the score to be ridiculous."
Santa Clara started every game by pressing and running. "I told them not to worry about the score," McConville said. "We have things we have to work on, regardless. In the first quarter, we score whatever we can."
After that, substitutions are made in waves. At the start of the second half, the starters are put back in, but they don't press.
The Saints have managed to dominate with a small and quick team. Tanisha Anderson, a 5-10 junior, is the tallest starter.
"In the 1-A, give me a quick, athletic team rather than a tall team," McConville said. "Only against some of the really good 4-A schools does size hurt us."
At the controls of the Santa Clara offense is Tami Adkins, who was a first-team All-Southern Section selection last season as a sophomore.
McConville compares the 5-5 Adkins favorably with Mary Klemm, Buena's All-American guard. "They've played head up and Mary has never outplayed her," he said.
Adkins averages 11 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds and 6 ball-recoveries. "She's great from free-throw line to free-throw line," McConville said. "She excels running the fast break and is excellent on the press going the other way."
Kris Zeits, a 5-6 senior, averages 11 points and 6 rebounds for the Saints. Gina Duarte, a 5-4 senior, and Roberta Pinedo, a 5-5 junior, are the other starters.
But don't ask the coach what their positions are.
"People ask me that and I say, 'Heck, I don't know," McConville said. "We don't categorize people. We run multiple things and nobody has to be at a certain place. Everyone has a green light to shoot. It's kind of where ever you end up."
Santa Clara, which won the 1-A Division in 1986, again may wind up on top.
La Reina (17-5), which finished second in the Tri-Valley League, plays host to Sierra Vista (14-7) in another 1-A Division game on Saturday.
In the 4-A Division, Buena is seeded No. 4 despite finishing second in the Channel League. Santa Barbara, which dealt the Bulldogs their only two losses of the season to end Buena's 11-year reign as league champion, is seeded second.
Buena (21-2) plays host to Hawthorne (13-10) Saturday night at 7:30.
In other 4-A Division games Saturday, Camarillo (13-8) plays at top-seeded Morningside (25-1); Ventura (14-10) plays at Pasadena (20-5); Marmonte League champion Thousand Oaks (23-3) plays host to the winner of Wednesday's game between Warren and Pius X; and Newbury Park (17-5) plays host to Upland (20-4).