As Shoemaker pitcher Marissa Franklin stood on the rubber waiting for the catcher’s sign, Brittany Bass took off running.
But, not for second base. The Belton senior had no intention of stealing.
She was headed for the dugout.
Bass tried her best to act like she just made a mistake. But, everyone in the stands at the game knew she had only one thing in mind — getting called out and ending the 22-0 onslaught of Shoemaker as soon as possible.
The Lady Tigers’ final two innings against Killeen and Shoemaker were a joke — almost an insult to the losing team.
But what could Belton coach Matt Blackburn do? The Lady Tigers had to keep hitting. Blackburn won’t let anyone strike out intentionally. He knows he can’t let his team get into the habit of giving away at bats, not when Temple and Waco Midway are in the same district.
But when Belton is up by 20 or more runs, he knew he had to do something.
So Bass took off running, pulled up halfway to second base with a smile on her face and headed straight to the dugout without even breaking stride. And it was not the first time, either.
Belton defeated Killeen 22-0 on Tuesday. And in their first six District 8-5A games, the Lady Tigers have outscored their opponents 83-2.
Both Belton’s wins over Killeen and Shoemaker would have been over after three, though, had it happened last season.
Due to a change in the district rules, teams are now forced to play five innings and the talent level in 8-5A is so unbalanced that 22-0 is not even the largest margin of victory of the year. That belongs to Waco Midway, which defeated Shoemaker 25-0.
Last season, if a team was winning by 20 runs after three innings, the game was over. If it was 15 runs after four, the game was over. The rule change was, of course, the wrong decision. It should have stayed in place. The KISD teams should have known better. No good comes from a 22-0 loss where, in the last two innings, one team has to try to get out intentionally.
In fact, it probably did more harm than anything. Shortly after the loss to Belton, nearly half of the Lady Roos quit the team. They were done with losing 22-0.
And I can’t blame them, not really. I don’t believe you should ever quit in frustration over a game. But dealing with lopsided losses like this is something no teenager should have to endure.
Part of the blame lies with KISD. The facilities and the coaches are simply not in place for its athletes to be competitive anymore. Belton, Copperas Cove, Temple and Waco Midway have simply outclassed them across the board when it comes to taking care of its student athletes.
Part of the blame, though, also resides with a community that is constantly in flux. The stream of transfers in and out of the city left by the deployments of parents leaves KISD coaches with the inability to develop a frame of teamwork and cohesion. Several of the Belton players have been playing together since they were in Little League.
That simply doesn’t happen in KISD schools. And it never will.
So what can be done? Money. It takes money to fix these things. High School sports have become — much like college sports before it — an arms race. Anyone who says winning is not related to who has the most money is delusional or in denial. Belton passed a $6 million bond and upgrades its facilities and now has a field house that would rival most Division II schools. It is winning softball games 22-0, baseball games 21-2 and has a former quarterback, David Ash, starting for the Texas Longhorns.
Meanwhile, at Killeen the lockers are old, the uniforms have been used for two or even three years and you can’t count the tears and holes in the net that surrounds the softball field on one hand. And two football teams have had losing streaks of 20 or more games.
KISD simply does not have the budget and tax-base to put as much money into its athletic programs as other schools in its district. And the community cannot afford — or has not shown the willingness — to take money out of its own pocket and pass a bond that would correct the issue.
And the athletes pay the price.
They get to watch opposing players take off for second base with no intention of actually getting there. They get to see the opposition cross the field and race to the dugout, hoping to end the game a bit sooner. To end their misery a bit earlier. To have the other team think, “Sorry to do this to you, I wish I was running to the bus instead and going home, too.”