Pitching sees less zip, but more jump

Hitters like new 43-foot pitching distance, and so do hurlers
By: Bill Poindexter/Roseville Press Tribune Sports Editor
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Moving the softball pitching rubber from 40 feet to 43 this season has produced more hitting and scoring. No surprise there.

What may come as a surprise is the improved pitching statistics.

Woodcreek High School begins the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs Friday night with a .283 team batting average, 19 points above last season. The Timberwolves average more runs (4.48 to 4.12) and hits (7.48 to 6.6) than they did last season.

In the circle, Woodcreek’s pitching staff — sophomores Amanda Horbasch and Lexi Wilkerson and freshman Jenna Curtan — allows a collective .227 batting average, 12 points lower than last season. The trio allows 5.8 hits per game, one fewer than last year’s 6.85 average.

While that three extra feet has taken zip off their velocity, it also allows Horbasch’s riseball to climb more and gives Curtan’s screwball and curve and Wilkerson’s changeup and curve more time to move.

“Definitely the rise,” Horbasch said Thursday after practice, adding there’s more opportunity to throw low and high riseballs. “At 40 feet, you don’t really have that option. You can only throw a low rise.”

Roseville has increased numbers this season in team batting average (.327 in 2011 over .320 in 2010), runs per game (5.65 to 4.5) and hits per game (8.96 to 7.14). The Tigers would face Woodcreek at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at the Sacramento Softball Complex if both win Friday night.

Kayla Fields’ batting average has increased from .277 in 2010 to .344 this season. While improved statistics also are related to age and maturity, the sophomore said the additional three feet gives hitters more time to watch the ball travel.

“You have longer to see where the movement is going, the spin of the ball and things,” Fields said. “It lets you see the ball longer and track it.”

Roseville’s team batting average allowed is slightly higher this season: .184 against .177 in 2010. Senior Delany DeMello began pitching from 43 feet last summer and said the transition took about two weekends worth of tournaments.

“I know the batter can see it better, but you can still hit your locations better,” said DeMello, who has a 1.85 ERA.
Coaches are on both sides of the fence regarding the new distance. Woodcreek coach Art Banks likes the change. He pointed to the Timberwolves’ lower strikeout ratio this season: 2.1 per game compared to 4.4 in 2010. Roseville’s strikeout ratio has dropped from 2.7 in 2010 to 2 this season.

“It’s not as dominating a game as it used to be by the battery,” Banks said, adding defense now plays a bigger role. “Ours has been pretty tough at times. It’s actually played into our hands pretty good.”

Granite Bay coach Michele Granger doesn’t believe the change is “a big deal” at the varsity level, but she questioned the change at the junior varsity level.

“The biggest problem is going to be for the JV kids that maybe could have bloomed later,” the Olympic gold-medal pitcher said. “They’re the ones that are struggling to decide if pitching is something they want to do at the varsity level.”