The goals are simple. A basketball team tries to score every trip downcourt and seeks to stop the opposition every time, too.
But what happens when it all falls apart and a team scores on virtually every journey to the basket and stops the opposition nearly every time, too?
Sierra 101, Mitchell 7.
That was the ghastly score of Thursday night’s girls game at Sierra High School.
The Sierra Slaughter can serve as a siren call to high school athletic directors. Each AD should formulate the school’s philosophy for out-of-control routs and decide how many points or runs or goals are too much.
In basketball, maybe the margin is 40. Maybe it’s 50. Hey, I’m not making the decision. But any wise AD will realize 94 points soar far outside the outer limits.
The AD will inform coaches of the acceptable range, which means when a team rolls to a, say, 101-7 victory, consequences will await.
Thursday’s disaster was an extreme but not isolated incident. Mitchell has lost 55 of its last 57 games and been outscored 308-56 in its last five defeats.
Two years ago this month, Mitchell lost to Kylee Shook and Mesa Ridge by 86 points, 115-29. Mesa Ridge burst to an 84-18 lead after three quarters before rampaging to 31 points in the fourth.
On Thursday, Sierra coach Joe Williams never wavered from goals that work in most games but led to a catastrophe against Mitchell.
“It was a normal girls game for Sierra,” Williams said.
In other words, he was trying to score as much as possible while holding Mitchell to as few as possible. He was too successful as normal careened into a hideous night of basketball.
Williams said he did not play his starters in the fourth quarter and called off his full-court press early.
He did, he said, play aggressive halfcourt defense. He did not, he said, chase 100 points.
“If someone is upset at me, I don’t know why,” Williams said. “I’m not going to have them just stand there on defense. If you find a coach who said they will, they’d be lying to you.”
“What am I supposed to do? People are coming at me like I did something wrong. What did I do wrong?"
Well, coach, let me answer.
At some point, your mercy should have conquered your competitiveness. When you led 53-4 at halftime, you should have ordered your players to aggressively kill clock instead of mercilessly massacring the Marauders.
Williams cares deeply about all his players. That’s obvious. He wanted to give his bench players a chance to compete and shine. But showing empathy for the reeling Marauders was a requirement, too.
Sierra captain Aubrey Robinson has heard from harsh critics of the rout. She fails to understand their anger.
“I don’t have any regrets,” she said. “. . . We were just playing ball, and we couldn’t stop doing what we do best because Mitchell couldn’t find an offense. We were just playing ball, so I don’t regret going out there and doing what we did.”
Let’s stop here, because this is where ADs can deliver limits and sanity to routs that lose both.
Coaches and players hunger for as many points as possible, but this competitive drive can steer the best of us straight off the cliff to cruelty.
In the moment when a runaway win turns ridiculous and vicious, school standards set by an AD can jolt players and, more importantly, a coach back to their senses.
A mercy rule was implemented for basketball by the Colorado High School Activities Association during the offseason. If a team leads by 35 points at the end of three quarters, the clock runs in the fourth quarter, stopped only by injuries, free throws and timeouts.
The mercy rule, said CHSAA associate commissioner Bert Borgmann, was enacted to eliminate 101-7 games, but the mercy rule fails to control human nature. Sierra poured on 21 points during Thursday’s running-clock fourth quarter.
“This was a very disappointing situation,” Borgmann said of Sierra’s win. “Sierra needed to take a few more steps to get that score lower, and it just didn’t happen.”
The season isn’t over. Mitchell has 12 games left, including a Feb. 2 rematch against Sierra and two games against Mesa Ridge. Other hard-working but outmatched teams will find themselves in danger of being battered, too.
ADs should be preparing for those games.
Get a plan, now, to make sure no team filled with innocent teens endures another 94-point loss.