When the Louisiana High School Athletic Association voted to move the softball pitching mound back from 40 to 43 feet in 2011, it added offense and a put a premium on better defensive play in 2012 and thus far in 2013.
Coaches aren’t seeing as many 2-1 contests dominated by pitchers who could simply use their speed to blow hitters away. Home runs have been flying out of parks in northwest Louisiana in near record numbers and errors have been on the rise as fielders are seeing more balls coming their way.
“There are a lot more runs being scored and more home runs being hit,” Evangel softball coach Sher Mueller said. “We have to spend more time working on contact points, especially in dealing with the outside pitch and the change up.”
The Haughton Lady Bucs, one of the top power hitting teams in the area, pounded 20 home runs last year and already have 18 this spring, including 7 by Brooke Payton. Evangel’s Carolina Sanchez has 8 roundtrippers, despite pitching every other game, while Parkway’s Alexis Rayborn and Benton’s Gabby Kespelher have 7 apiece. Calvary has sent 14 out of the park as a team, although no single player has more than 4.
“It was a challenge for me as a pitcher to move back three feet and it made every pitcher work harder to throw the ball,” said Sanchez, who has verbally committed to Louisiana Tech. “As a hitter, it’s given me more reaction time to see if I need to lay off a pitch.”
High scores in district games, like the 8-7 slugfest that Airline and Haughton played on Monday, are becoming the norm.
The rule change also had the unintended result of giving prep players moving to the college level a shorter evolution time.
“I’m so glad they changed it, because I can’t imagine going to college and having to change everything,” Sanchez said.
Northwestern State softball coach Donald Pickett likes the fact that high school players are being forced to play more defense.
“It definitely changed the high school game,” Pickett said. “It made them become better players. It gave hitters more confidence and it’s made the transition of pitchers much shorter.”
Lady Techsters softball coach Mark Montgomery said the learning curve for a pitcher formerly was about two years, because they were forced to re-learn things liking breaking off their curve ball later.
“Now we have one less issue to deal with. It’s back to a more mental game,” Montgomery said. “Kids who could throw hard, and throw it by people in high school, had to realize they couldn’t just throw it by people in college.”
North DeSoto coach Lori McFerren said the rule change from a white to a yellow softball has also increased the ability of hitters to master pitchers. And softball hasn’t seen power bats get banned as baseball has been forced to endure.
“You put the ball, the bats and the moving the mound together and it’s definitely made teams more offensive,” McFerren said.
Echoed Haughton coach Hal Harlan: “The bats are still hot. Our baseball team went from 50 home runs to 1 and that was an in-the-parker after the change.”
Harlan said he doesn’t believe the pitching is nearly as strong in the state this year, but that “good pitching will still beat good hitting.”
“The (Meagan) Lively girl at Neville and the West Monroe girl (Haley Hayden) can still throw it by people,” Harlan said. “But when you make a mistake at 43 feet it hurts you more than at 40 feet.”
Southwood coach Wade Strother said he hasn’t noticed much difference offensively or defensively.
“I haven’t heard much conversation from other coaches about the change,” Strother said. “I thought it would speed it up, but it hasn’t.”
North Caddo coach Lory Kowaleski, who was a Division I catcher at Centenary, believes moving the mound to the same distance that colleges employ was a good move.
“It gives the hitter another 10th of a second to make a decision, making the game more offensive minded,” Kowaleski said. “It took the LHSAA too long to make the decision, but it’s in the best interest of the players on all fronts – safety, making it like the college game and eliminating so many low scoring games.”