Pitching distance now 43 feet
August 18, 2009North CarolinaBy Mike Duprez
North Davidson coach Mike Lambros saw it coming a long time ago, and now it is here.
After many years of throwing from 40 feet, high school softball pitchers in North Carolina will throw from 43 feet in 2010.
"I predicted several years ago that it would happen before our seniors graduated," Lambros said. "The national federation said we had to do it by 2011. We wouldn't have had a vote next year anyway, so why wait?"
Once the rule change was announced, Lambros had every pitcher on his program down to the eighth grade start throwing from 43 feet.
It's a rule that could create significant changes in a game that, at the top level, has been dominated by pitchers. Central Davidson's Chelsea Leonard was virtually unhittable in her entire career. In a fourth round playoff game against Ledford, Leonard struck out 24 batters in nine innings and she fanned 37 in 14 innings over two games in the Final Four.
"Hitters are going to have a few extra seconds to make a decision," said Ledford coach Charlie Brown. "When you face Chelsea Leonard at 40 feet, you don't have time to think at all or really see the ball. This is going to help hitters a little bit."
Central Davidson has won three straight 2-A state champions with the help of Leonard's dominant pitching. Leonard has graduated and moved on to Louisville. But the Spartans have already adjusted, as pitcher Emma Comer is throwing from 43 feet in summer travel tournaments.
"I think it's a great idea," said Central coach Gene Poindexter. "I think it will be good for the sport, and it was a long time in coming."
All the coaches agreed that there should be more offense in 2010. But there will be other differences as well, such as more breaking balls from the pitchers.
"Number one, it protects the pitcher," Lambros said. "Number two, it makes the defense more accountable. There isn't going to be any room for errors. I still think there will be strikeouts. It's all in the way you approach it."
Many of the county's top returning pitchers, such as Comer, Tess Swing and Hannah Alexander from North and Ledford's Kristen Murphy, are regularly pitching from 43 feet in tournaments, so it won't be new to them next spring.
Pitchers in college and international play were already throwing from 43 feet.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association's decision to implement the rule change in 2010 rather than wait a year brings the high school game into conformity right away.
The effect on the high school game will be noticeable as the coaches see it.
"It's obviously going to produce a little more offense, I think," Poindexter said. "But I think the pitcher who can move the ball is still going to be able to move it. The pitcher who can't is going to be a little more slower."
Lambros, whose teams have been 4-A state runners-up five times, feels pitching speed could drop as much as 3-4 mph, which could be a big boost to offense. Pitchers like Leonard, Danielle Glosson and Crystal Cox often reduced games to pitch and catch. Strikeout totals upward of 19 of 20 in a seven-inning became fairly commonplace.
"I think strikeouts will still be there," Lambros said. "Will there be 19? I don't know. Would Chelsea Leonard or Danielle Glosson been as good from 43 feet? I'm sure they would have. Do I think Tess and Hannah will still be the same?
Sure I do. I think it's all in the attitude that you approach it with."
But there are indications that a great deal more offense is on tap for 2010.
"Over the summer with the 18Us, there has not been a ton of strikeouts," Lambros said. "The defense is going to be more accountable."
And there may be less chance of pitchers getting struck in the head by line drives. Many of them wear protective masks.
"It's going to be safer for the pitcher," Poindexter said. "They're going to have a little more time to react. I think it's going to help the game."
It will probably look different to fans next spring but probably not to the players.
"Most of the county's best pitchers have been throwing from 43 feet in tournaments," Brown said. "They're used to it. It won't be an adjustment for them."
Lambros doesn't think it will be a big deal three years in the future. But for now, it is.
"It's an exciting time for softball," Lambros said.