High school softball has become very offensive. With the pitcher’s circle being moved back from 40 feet to 43 feet from home plate this spring, hitters are making more of an impact on the game. Gone are the days when no-hitters were the norm and games lasted forever with no score.
First, the international rules were applied to take care of the extra, extra inning games like the famous one four years ago between Wall High School and Freehold High School. That contest went 24 innings before Wall won, 1-0, on an unearned run. Freehold pitcher Ashley Forsyth fanned a record 31 batters that day.
The international rules — if a game is tied after nine innings, the next inning begins with a runner on second base — may have shortened the length of games, but it did not keep pitchers from dominating the hitters.
That has changed in 2010 because of 3 feet of real estate.
“The extra 3 feet gives a batter time to sit on the change-up,” Freehold Township High School softball coach Beth English said.
English said the change-up was a deadly weapon for pitchers at the shorter 40-foot pitching distance because of how quickly a hitter had to make up her mind to swing. The extra fraction of a second that the 43-foot distance provides for a hitter has made a significant difference.
A look at the leading hitters in the Shore Conference this spring shows that almost 20 hitters are batting .500 or better. Colts Neck’s Taylor Kuzma (.529) and Freehold Township’s Carly Friedman (.525) are the leading hitters in the area.
Home runs have been far more frequent. Kuzma has smacked seven homers, Freehold Township’s Brooke Witcher has hit five home runs and Howell’s Jillian Friedman has belted four homers.
Kuzma, a junior who has made a verbal commitment to attend and play softball at St. John’s University, said the change has definitely helped the batters.
“Yes, there is a real difference,” she said. “You can sit back longer and wait for the pitch. It makes it easier to see if (a pitch) is a ball or a strike. There are a lot less strikeouts. Alot of girls are putting the ball in play.”
In travel team softball 43 feet is the pitching distance. Kuzma said newcomers to high school were having a tough time adjusting to the speed of pitches coming from 40 feet away. With the pitcher’s circle in high school now moved to 43 feet, the hitters who play travel softball are more comfortable, she said.
Manalapan High School softball coach Adam Falk said, “The move definitely made the game much more offensively exciting. I found that (moving the circle to 43 feet) gave the pitchers who have movement on the ball a chance to work their pitches, but on the other hand, batters had more time to adjust. Overall this was a good year for hitters.”
Speaking on behalf of pitchers, Manalapan High School senior Deanna Daluise said she likes the shift from 40 to 43 feet because it separates the pitchers.
“Forty feet was a breeze because of the speed of the pitches,” she said. “Forty-three feet is better. It makes you work and think on the mound. If you miss your spot from 43 feet, a double turns into a home run.”
Daluise, who will be playing for 2010 national junior college champion Brookdale Community College next year, pointed out that high school pitchers had to make small adjustments to account for the change in distance. She said a drop curve that would hit the outside edge of the plate from 40 feet is now low and outside.
The college softball pitching distance is also 43 feet.
Daluise concluded that while good pitchers will still dominate, the extra 3 feet does give hitters an advantage.
English likes what the change in the distance from the pitching circle to home plate has done for the high school game.
“It is a more offensive game,” she said. “Every aspect of the game is more important now.”
Coaches cannot hide players whose defensive skills may be a liability now that more hitters can put the ball in play, English explained.
Howell High School softball coach Laura Savage, whose 2010 team set school records for hits and runs in a season, said the change has “leveled the playing field.” With fewer strikeouts, more teams have a chance to make things happen offensively.
Savage said she also believes that the decreased velocity of pitches has made the sport safer for girls to play.