Right about the time everyone is down in the dumps about what high school sports has become — most recently and prominently with what’s happened at Gilbert in the past week — sportsmanship saves a day.
A spot in the Tempe Diablo soccer semifinals was at stake between Corona del Sol and Mountain View. Both had the same tournament records (including a scoreless tie in a head-to-head matchup) going into Wednesday’s matches, which meant wins by both schools would turn into tiebreakers in deciding who advanced to Thursday’s semifinals.
The tournament’s tiebreaker criteria was changed a few years ago at coaches’ request. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head (Corona and Mountain View were tied). The next is goal differential among those teams (Corona had the advantage over Mountain View).
But Mountain Pointe coach Bryan Sabato said nowhere in the past three years in there has there been a maximum number within the goal differential tiebreaker. Coaches were all given the tiebreaker rules in a packet ahead of time, and Sabato said nothing has changed in the rules since at least 2010.
“I helped Mountain Pointe with the tournament and I looked over the rules twice and missed it," said Corona coach Matt Smith, who's helped run this tournament's schedule on the girls side for several years. "I feel completely crappy about that.“
Corona beat Marcos de Niza, 15-0, but even then Smith had emptied his bench (the last few goals were scored by, among others, a freshman, a junior who rarely sees the field and his third-string goalkeeper), stopped running any plays downfield, ran the clock after goals, etc...
Gilbert had already beaten Marcos, 10-0, and nobody thought Gilbert was intentionally running up the score either, so it’s clearly been a struggle for the Padres. But there's a good chance that's completely unrelated to their tournament schedule to begin with.
“If the (tiebreaker) rule had been in place, we would have gone to penalty kicks with Mountain View (for a trip to the semifinals), unless we had scored another goal against Gilbert,” Smith said. “I did not finish with my starting lineup for the last 15 minutes, when we could have gone for that goal if we wanted, but it was more important to get all of my players an opportunity to play against a good team like Gilbert.”
Mountain View would have needed to score somewhere between 16-18 goals against Marcos on Wednesday night to top Corona in the tiebreaker and send the Toros to the semifinals.
Before the match, Toros coach Brian Ronan had learned of this scenario.
“I thought walking into my meeting the girls might wail against me,” Ronan said.
With his starters playing the first 15 minutes, it was a 6-0 lead over Marcos in the first half when Ronan made changes. He emptied his bench, had a two “touches” maximum which meant no sprinting and dribbling, players had to connect on at least 10 passes before going to goal. It was, as he said, about getting all of his girls in the match and working on finishing plays off throw-ins, corner kicks, etc., ways the Toros will have to score against elite teams as the season goes on.
“They were proud of what they’d done and we had a chance to teach them a life lesson,” he said. “You can’t want much more. It’s been about four years at least since we’d advanced that far in a tournament. I’d really like a shot at a Desert Vista or Hamilton, and you get better by playing which is why you enter the tournaments, but you look at this situation and say whether the ends justify the means.”
The final was 6-0 in favor of Mountain View, and so the Aztecs — who by a few witnesses accounts weren’t embarrassing the Padres either — advanced to the semifinals by virtue of the scoring differential tiebreaker.
The Toros are back at practice for the rest of this week.
It was a difficult pill for a good Toros team to swallow, but in doing so they still come out better for it all the same.
“I can’t say that if I was in Brian’s situation that I would have done the same, maybe, but probably not,” Smith said. “I’m not in this to destroy teams, but I am in it for my team and if I thought them advancing would benefit us, I probably would have gone for it, so I give Brian and the girls a ton of credit.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.