Thursday, April 7, 2011

Texas-sized baseball blowout

50-run baseball blowout in Texas prompts changes

AP Sports Writer
DALLAS (AP) — Late on a school night, in a game already delayed because of lightning, Richardson Lake Highlands High School came to bat in the top of the fifth inning leading Dallas Samuell by around 30 runs.
Then they scored another 20 or so. The final score was either 53-0, like the scoreboard read, or 57-0, like the winning coach tallied it up. Worse even than the 56-7 Highlands win over Samuell in football this past season.
It was the most lopsided prep baseball game in state history.
The game has gone beyond just another blowout between a suburban program stocked with kids whose parents can afford out-of-season training and a school struggling to field a team in a low-income neighborhood.
It’s already led to a change in the mercy rules in the local school district. Administrators hope it will bring attention to an often-ignored national rule that offers an easy way to end obvious mismatches.
Most of all, it reignited the discussion about sportsmanship in high school athletics, raising questions about how to handle being on either end of such a game.
Good thing, because the teams play again Friday night.
Lake Highlands coach Jay Higgins is among the dean of baseball coaches in Texas. His school opened in 1963, and he arrived in 1967, making this his 44th season. Last season, he made his 25th trip to the state playoffs, having gotten as far as regional finals twice. Also last year, he was inducted into the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.
He showed up to the Samuell game with 783 wins. Although his Wildcats arrived at Pleasant Grove Field sitting at 0-5, having dropped three games by a single run and going down 11-1 in another, there wasn’t much doubt his team would win.
Once upon a time, Samuell High was pretty good at baseball — state champs in 1965, the only such crown for a Dallas school. But these days, the school doesn’t have enough players to field a junior varsity or freshman team. Samuell won only about three games a year when it played in Class 4A and this season was forced to join 5A, the biggest classification.
Still, first-year coach Mike Pena was 1-0 when he arrived for the home game against Lake Highlands. His Spartans had won 18-7 over a smaller-division school that hasn’t beaten anyone this season.
Neither coach returned calls to talk about the game. However, by all accounts, Higgins tried to do the right thing. Once his team was comfortably ahead, Higgins pulled some starters and emptied his bench. He let his hitters swing away, but told them not to take more than one base. They didn’t steal.
According to a community newspaper in Lake Highlands, the Wildcats had 44 hits — 38 singles, five doubles and a triple. They didn’t have a single home run.
Samuell, meanwhile, didn’t have a hit. Two guys reached on errors, so it wasn’t a perfect game.
“We did everything possible,” Higgins told The Dallas Morning News. “The national federation, which is the rule book we go by, says you have to play five innings before the game is considered official. That’s what I was worried about if you stop after three innings and somebody comes back and says, ‘Well, you guys didn’t play an official game.”’
While Texas coaches follow the rule of ending any game when a team is up by 10 runs after five innings, or 4 1/2 if the home team is ahead, there is another provision that can apply. Rule 4, Section 2, Article 4 of the National Federation of Baseball Rule Book — used in Texas and most states — says a game can be ended early with the agreement of both coaches and the umpire.
“It’s not ever been used to my knowledge,” said Mark Cousins, interim athletic director for the University Interscholastic League, the organization that oversees public high schools in Texas, and a former associate director in charge of baseball. “We don’t necessarily publicize the rule, but it’s been in there for a number of years.”
Elliot Hopkins is the baseball rules editor and national interpreter for the National Federation of State High School Associations. He said it was irresponsible that coaches wouldn’t be more versed in game-ending procedures, but the umpires should’ve known the rule — or done something.
“We don’t put common sense in the rule book, but we hope they use it. Nor do we legislate integrity, but hopefully they use that as well,” Hopkins said. “With a game like this, you worry that a kid wouldn’t want to continue. He might say, ’We just got smoked. I’m done.’ Nobody wants any of that to happen.”
It didn’t. All 17 Samuell players returned for practice the next day.

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