Is there no mercy for Our Lady of Mercy and other young and inexperienced softball teams in South Jersey?
Mercy has been defeated by scores of 24-0, 20-0 and 25-3 this season. Softball's mercy rule has saved the Villagers and other less successful programs such as Lindenwold and Pleasantville from worse experiences by ending games two innings early when one side has a 10-run lead.
The rule, however, hasn't stopped the humiliation felt by the losers, or the frustration experienced by the winners during lopsided, premature endings.
Athletic directors, coaches and players aren't happy with unbalanced scoring. They have opinions, but no real solutions to the problem.
"I feel that it is up to the coach of the stronger team to discipline his team not to run up the score," Mercy athletic director Michele F. McGrath said.
Trying to corral a good-hitting team like St. Joseph of Hammonton (13-1), which blanked Mercy by a two-game total of 44-0, can be as difficult as reining in a team of frisky horses.
Nevertheless, McGrath proposed that the stronger team can hold back by taking two bases instead of three, not stealing on a wild pitch or passed ball, walking instead of hitting in a bases-loaded situation.
Mercy coach Don Mills and St. Joseph coach Candy Dean agree with McGrath on the first two remedies, but not the third.
"We don't stop swinging [with a big lead]," Mills said. "It's hard to tell kids that we don't want to score too many runs."
The Villagers (2-7) faced that rare problem in a 17-2 win over Pleasantville (0-10) on April 26. They observed the coach's orders about what's proper. Furthermore, the right-handed batters exhibited compassion by swinging from the left side. They beat the Greyhounds, 25-3, on May 3.
Lindenwold's neophytes have felt the sting of 34-0 and 25-1 losses in the Colonial Conference, but they learned the fundamentals this year and don't seem to take it to heart, according to Lions' coach Melissa Lomax.
Lindenwold catcher Abby Wilt O'Neil, a sophomore, said: "We all hurt, but the next game we are tougher."
Dean said she has her own rule about playing weak teams. Keep the score in the teens, limit the starters to three at-bats and then send in the subs. Still, this does not guarantee that the reserves will not keep the runs flowing.
"How do I tell freshmen and sophomores to hold back?" Dean said. "It's frustrating. I can see it on the girls' faces. They're not out to slaughter someone."
Groping for a solution, Dean said that maybe the 10-run rule could take effect earlier, even though it would shorten the game even more. Or mediocre teams could play each other.
Robin R. Daplyn, president of the Cape May League, in which Mercy and St. Joseph play, says there is no real way to resolve the issue. To end a game earlier after a team has traveled 20 or 30 miles to play ball would be unfair, Daplyn said.
So far as mediocre teams playing each other, Daplyn noted that the schedule for the whole state is made up two years in advance. A weak team this year might be a strong one in two.
"There is no solution," Daplyn said. "The losing team must endure it.
"We hope that the coaches would try not to run up the scores, and they do not 99 percent of the time.
"In basketball you can slow the game down. In soccer everybody can touch the ball before taking a shot. You can't say don't swing until there are two strikes."