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City Section Has No Mercy in Softball : Lack of the 10-Run Rule Leads to Scores of 55-1 and 50-1 on the Same Day

March 26, 1994|PAIGE A. LEECH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Taft High's Michelle Haber enjoys batting, but this was ridiculous.

Haber made 13 plate appearances in a nonleague softball game against Fairfax last week as the Toreadors won by the improbable score of 55-1. Records on routs are not kept, but this had to be one of the most lopsided victories in City Section softball history.

The same day, Poly thrashed Hollywood, 50-1. In a sport often dominated by overpowering pitching and characterized by low scores, two Valley teams combined for 105 runs--on the same day.

Isn't there a sportsmanlike rule that would prevent such thrashings?

Well, yes, sort of. . . .

The Southern Section enforces an automatic "Mercy Rule." If a team trails by 10 or more runs after five innings, the game ends. The City Section version, however, is strictly voluntary. The coach of the losing team can raise the white flag and surrender after five innings.

But more often than not, it's the losing coach who is unwilling to end such public humiliation and opts to keep the girls on the field for seven innings. Coaches want to use the full game as practice time, and members of a visiting team would rather play--despite the huge deficit--than wait for the team bus to arrive for the ride home.

In addition, the vast discrepancy in ability among teams in the 49-school City Section has made routs commonplace. Surprisingly, coaches on the winning side of the routs are the ones calling for mercy.

"I think after five innings, if a team is up by 10 (runs), that ought to be enough," said El Camino Real Coach Neils Ludlow, whose team beat Sylmar, 12-0, last week in seven innings.

Granada Hills Coach Carolyn Gunny disagrees.

"I would not want a team to feel annihilated," Gunny said. "But if the coach wants the kids to play for the practice or whatever, then they should be able to play."

El Camino Real's 12-0 victory over Sylmar last week might seem one-sided, but it qualifies as a nail-biter compared to other recent games. Last week, Verdugo Hills beat Hollywood, 31-0, and Kennedy trounced Belmont, 18-0.

This week was no different. Monroe defeated Van Nuys, 20-2, and Verdugo Hills followed its 31-0 victory with a 28-1 pounding of Belmont, which threw in the towel after five innings.

And those are only the reported routs. Some coaches, such as Poly's Kim McEwen say they refuse to publicly humiliate teams that lose by a large margin. McEwen did not report the Parrots' 50-1 victory to any newspaper out of respect for the Hollywood players, who voted to continue the game after five innings.

"They wanted to keep playing," McEwen said. "Their bus wasn't there yet and they were having a good time. I told the (Hollywood) coach after the game I wouldn't be reporting the score to the papers. I just felt it wouldn't be nice to the kids."

McEwen bristled when she learned that the Taft-Fairfax score appeared in print--with a banner headline no less.

"You know (girls) don't get a lot of press--or positive things said about us--and this was kind of like a joke. It really rubbed me the wrong way," she said.

Taft Coach Donna Hetman shares McEwen's view and asserts that she tried her best to keep the results from the public. "I never called in the score," she said. "(The newspaper) called me and I was kind of adamant about not (printing) it."

The Taft-Fairfax game lasted only three innings because Taft--yes, Taft--had had enough. After nearly three hours during which Taft batted around 13 times, it was Hetman who begged for mercy.

"I went over and said, 'Coach, our bus is here and I've got to get these kids home. They've got school tomorrow,' " Hetman said.

Fairfax Coach Judy Edwards reluctantly complied with Hetman's plea, disappointed that her team could not use the rest of the game for practice.

"It's ridiculous," said Haber, a senior pitcher who did not give up a hit against Fairfax in three innings. "It's not practice for us. It's just kind of a waste."

Often, players and coaches pity their lesser-skilled opponents during a rout and try to make it easier on them. Players will swing at any pitch that is close, take half swings or even bat opposite handed.

But why should a team be forced to adopt those measures? Why prolong a one-sided game just to reach the requisite seven innings?

According to City Section Commissioner Barbara Fiege, the competition is not always over after five innings.

"You could actually make up 10 runs in one inning," she said.

Perhaps, but those occasions are rare. Some teams are simply vastly superior to others among City schools. A few powerful City teams feature players who have participated on Amateur Softball Assn. summer teams.

Other City squads are barely distinguishable from gym class teams. At Fairfax, few players trying out for the team this year owned gloves. Five are still borrowing gloves from the coach. And when some players raised enough money through candy sales to buy mitts, they mistakenly placed them on their throwing hands.

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