Softball adjusts to pitching distance
bob ford/times news filephoto Northern Lehigh's Maggie Lear unwinds with a pitch during a game against East Stroudsburg North. This season, the softball rubber was moved back three feet.
Over the years, pitchers have ruled high school softball.
But thanks to a rule change this season, which has been mandated by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), that might be starting to change.
During the 2009-10 school year, the NFHS made a revision to Rule 1-1-2b in the softball rulebook by increasing the distance from the pitching rubber to home plate from 40-feet to 43-feet.
According to the NFHS, its main rationale was in "creating a better balance between the offense and defense" on the softball diamond.
Although it was adopted two years ago, programs in Pennsylvania waited to this season to initiate the move on the softball diamond.
Northern Lehigh's Brian Schell has seen plenty of no-hitters in his 13 years as a softball coach and has observed plenty of low-scoring games from the dugout.
Because of the rule change, Schell believes that now the game won't solely focus on the arms of their pitchers like it has in years past.
"I think that over the years pitching had started to dominate the game," said Schell, of the impact of the rule change on the game. "Softball should be a team sport. I definitely like the fact that you should now see offense and defense become a much bigger part of the game and it will be less likely that teams can simply relying on a pitcher to carry them.
"I think it's going to allow for a little more scoring and more defense to play part of the game and I think that's good for the game."
A year ago, Northern Lehigh pitcher Maggie Lear backed up teammate Julie Wagaman, who was the TIMES NEWS Player of the Year.
In her final stint with the Bulldogs, Lear has now taken on the task as the team's ace. In addition to more starts than a year ago, the senior pitcher also has to deal with taking a few steps further back.
Lear believes it has played a "big difference" on her pitching compared to last season as now she has to "rely on other pitches than just her fastball,"
"I definitely think it's a hitting game now," said Lear, who is in her third year of varsity ball and fifth year as a pitcher. "It's going to be a hitter's game now because they definitely have the advantage on pitchers, especially with this being the first year moving back three-feet as some pitchers aren't quite used to it yet.
"The scores are going to be cranked up a lot more than they used to be."
Pleasant Valley coach Steve Caffrey hasn't seen any significant scoring changes yet. But, the veteran coach was all-in-favor of the move for one main reason.
"I like it for the safety of the pitcher," said Caffrey, who is in his 18th season with the Bears. "I haven't really seen any difference this year than any other year only because we haven't had a whole lot of games. I really haven't noticed any differences as far as velocity is concerned with the pitches. But, I definitely agree the move was the right move for safety reasons."
He immediately went on to talk about a hands-on experience.
"As a matter of a fact, when we played East Stroudsburg South earlier this year, one of our batters hit the opposing pitcher another three-feet closer and it's only going to be a lot worse," Caffrey said. "As soon as the ball hit her, the girl fell to the ground and fortunately she was able to get back up. But, another three-feet closer, it may have hurt her a whole lot more."
Jim Thorpe softball coach Bernice Bott is on the same page as Caffrey as far as any "differences" at this moment. It doesn't help though that Bott and her Olympians have only played two games up until this point.
Still, Bott doesn't see it producing any huge changes.
"I think the rule change is good for the pitchers who are planning on going to college and it's getting them ready to excel at that next level," said Bott. "For the most of the pitchers, it is not a change because they've all been playing summer and fall, and for some even winter ball at this distance so we might not even see it have any impact on the game.
"Yes, it gives the hitter three feet extra to see the ball, but that in reality it is only a fraction of a second. In overall competition, I'm not sure we are going to see the balance that they were looking for."
While the move may effect the game in a whole lot of other ways, Schell feels the idea of moving the pitching rubber back will help him get his philosophy across to his players a little easier.
"It makes it more of a team sport," Schell said. "As a coach, I always emphasize that we are a team, not one player. We don't rely on one player and one player only. That just helps me continue to throw that message at the girls and they're continuing to believe it. Last year, we had a good pitcher in Julie (Wagaman), but it really was our all-around play our offense, our defense that resulted in the (Colonial League) championship.
"I like the change simply because, again, it weighs the dominance of a team more over than just a pitcher. In the past, sometimes you would see a team that just had a pitcher and that was it and they would eek across a run or two and they end up winning the game. To me, that isn't what high school sports should be. It should be a team sport."
RAIN, RAIN GO AWAY .... As everyone knows, especially athletic directors, this spring has had its share of wet weather.
Whether it's been snow or rain, the precipitation has caused havoc on area baseball and softball schedules unlike other years.
For proof of that statement, some numbers have been crunched. Here are the results.
In adding up each baseball team's games played through April 13, the 10 area clubs have combined for 30 games. Of those, Northwestern has played the most with five.
A year ago at this time, the 10 clubs had combined for 62 games. Lehighton had played the most - eight - with the least being five (by Marian and Tamaqua).
In the six years prior to this season, the fewest games played by April 13 was 53 during the 2007 season. That's still 77 percent more than what's been played this year. The most during that time frame is 76 during the 2009 campaign. In that 2009 season, every team had played at least six games by this point with three of them having played at many as nine.
TAMAQUA STILL HAS HOPE .... The Tamaqua girls track team suffered a tough loss last week when defending state javelin champion Ali Updike was lost for the season with a knee injury. The good news for the Lady Raiders is that they are still winning meets thanks in large part to the performance of Kayla Hope. Hope had an outstanding week on the track.
Last Thursday, the junior collected top honors in all four events that she took part in her team's 80-70 Schuylkill League win over Pottsville. Hope took firsts in the 200 meter dash and the triple jump, ran a leg on the winning 400 relay team, and capped her performance by not only capturing first place in the long jump, but setting a new school record with a jump of 17-feet, 6 and a half inches.
Hope followed that with another fine showing in Tamaqua's 97-53 victory over North Schuylkill yesterday afternoon. Hope picked up first place honors in all four events once again the 200 meter dash, the long and triple jump, and the 400 relay.
HARRIS THE HERO .... Although she only had one meet in the last week, Pleasant Valley's Kelecia Harris was able to match Hope's efforts in a non-league meet this past Tuesday.
Harris led Pleasant Valley to a 79-65 win over Hazleton
Harris crossed the finish line first in the 100, 200 and 400 meter dashes, while also winning the long jump.
ON THE PROWL ..... After falling behind early in their first two games, which ended up in losses to Emmaus and Pen Argyl, the Northwestern softball team was able to turn early deficits against Palmerton and East Stroudsburg South into come-from-behind wins.
After surrendering 3-0 leads to Palmerton and ES South last week, the Tigers rallied to score a 6-5 Colonial League win over the Bombers and a 5-3 non-conference win over the Cavaliers.
On Monday however, Northwestern decided it was tired of playing from behind as it took an 8-0 lead before cruising Wilson to an 8-3 Colonial League win.
The Tigers are currently riding a three-game winning streak after starting 0-2.
TWO TOUCHDOWN INNING ..... In a non-conference game against Moravian Academy on Monday afternoon, the Marian baseball team managed to take a 1-0 lead on a JT Keer solo home run in the bottom of the first inning.
After a scoreless second inning, the Colts' bats exploded in the third inning as they collected 14 runs and 12 hits to run away with a commanding 15-0 win over the Lions.
In that inning, Ryan Gimbi (double, triple, two runs scored, two RBIs) and Ron Kosar (two doubles, two RBIs) both had a pair of hits. Keer added a triple and two RBIs, while Mark Strawick chipped in with a double and two RBIs. Corey Ryba contributed a double in an inning that saw the Colts record a total of nine extra base hits.