What’s three feet? The high school softball world is finding out it’s quite a bit.
To comply with a new national standard, the pitching rubber was moved from 40 feet from the plate to 43 feet for this season, and the result has been a more offensive game.
There aren’t exact numbers to compare from previous seasons; we’re talking about high school sports, after all, so the detailed statistical data available at the pro and college levels just isn’t there.
But take a look at this past weekend: Billings West homered five times in a doubleheader against Butte. Billings Skyview scored 24 runs in a doubleheader against Great Falls, which scored 18 runs of its own.
And Billings Senior has already equaled its regular-season home run total of a year ago, just seven games into the season.
Coaches felt that moving the rubber back, conforming the high school game to the college game and adding safety, could benefit pitchers who have a lot of movement on their ball. But even the state’s elite pitchers are finding the going a bit rougher in the circle so far.
Last weekend, The Gazette took the opportunity to survey some coaches on the change. Here are some of their thoughts:
Michael Falcon, Billings Skyview: “The hitters are getting that extra split second that’s helping them see the ball a little better and make adjustments. It’s put a premium on defense, too. More balls are in play, at least as far as we’ve seen. We’ve seen fewer strikeouts in our games. The defenses are a lot more involved, which is neat to see, because it changes the game a lot. Pitching-wise, it’s made locating the ball a lot higher priority.”
Dave Draeger, BIllings Senior: “I think it’s going to cause pitchers to be a little more uncomfortable. You can just sense that from watching some of the games. Some of the pitchers who aren’t used to giving up runs are going to have to find out how to get out of a jam that maybe they haven’t had to before. It’s going to take kids some time to get used to that on the mound.”
Ed Kriskovich, Billings West: “It’s more of a challenge for the (pitcher) to keep the ball down and not put it up in the air where the batter can drive the ball. It’s good for the pitchers, though, because that’s the distance in college, if they’re going to go on and play. It’s making a difference. There are some adjustments that will have to be made. Batters have a chance now to sit back and be a little more patient.”
Greg Branstetter, Laurel: “In years past it seemed like pitchers threw it a little harder, and you did have to bat the way you’re supposed to bat, otherwise you weren’t going to get on it. It gives hitters a better chance. And it’s nationwide. It won’t go back to 40 feet — just because it was so hard for half the batters to hit a mediocre pitcher.”
Coleman Rockwell, Billings Central: “It should benefit the pitcher that moves the ball. ... But if a girl is not moving the ball around, I think it benefits the hitter. If you don’t move the ball, you better have a good defense. I think you’re going to see more runs this year. You sure should. Hitters are getting more time to see the ball, and if the pitchers miss (their spots) from not moving the ball, it’s going to get hit.”
Going, going ...
The softball season seems like it just started, but already Billings Skyview has played 10 games, half its schedule.
Falcon said “it is what it is,” and he sees pros and cons in his team’s situation.
“We just have to make sure we continue to get better every single day,” he said. “Now that our games are a little more spread out we just have to make sure we work that much harder in practice to make sure that we don’t get flat.
“We do have a little momentum right now and that’s the tough thing. You want to be able to keep playing every single day but just the way our schedule is it doesn’t work that way.”
(Gazette sports writer Greg Rachac contributed to this story)