Has increasing the pitching distance in high school softball had any noticeable effect on the outcome of games?
To answer that question, you need look no further than the recent Desert Mountain Softball Invitational held at Horizon Park in Scottsdale. The field for the 14th annual tournament included many of the best teams in the state, across all classes and divisions.
If you consider just the Championship bracket, which included the top eight seeds in the tourney, you would need a calculator to run up the total runs scored by those eight teams.
We don’t know how many hits were made, but we do know that there were 122 runs scored over 12 games. If you add in the results of the additional 12 games in the consolation brackets, you come up with 259 total runs scored in the tournament.
This is the second season that Arizona high school teams are playing under the new rules mandated by the National Federation of High School Softball, which moved the pitching circle from 40 feet back to the college distance of 43 feet, giving the batters more time to recognize and adjust to pitches.
The championship game was won by Corona del Sol High School from the Tucson area, the No. 1 seed. The Dorados claimed the title with a 9-5 win over No. 3 seed, Red Mountain High School in Scottsdale. That’s 14 total runs in a championship game that, in years past, would boil down to the two teams with the dominant pitching and the result of the finale would be something like 2-1.
In the past, the better teams were the ones that were able to overwhelm the opposition from the mound. Scores like 1-0 and 2-1 were the norm, rather than the exception.
At the Desert Mountain Invitational, the games played in the Championship bracket included just two shut-outs, when No. 5 seed Pinnacle HS blanked No. 8 Mesquite HS, 3-0, and No. 4 Red Mountain HS earned third place with a 10-0 victory over Chaparral HS.
On the flip side, there were nine games with combined scores that were in double digits.
The idea behind changing the pitching distance was to remove much of the pitching dominance of the past and put more emphasis on hitting and, consequently, on fielding. Defense has become more of a factor in wins since the rules change.
And that’s not all bad. Teams will have to develop good hitters, as well as good pitching, leading to a more well-rounded performance.
Now teams can’t rely on their pitchers as much, and can’t sit back and figure one or two runs is going to get them the win. And the teams that can hit the ball now have just as much of a chance as those with a dominant fire-baller on the mound.
Besides the hitters, the ones who will benefit from the rule change are the fans and the college recruiters.
The fans will get to enjoy the increased hitting that will make the game more lively and interesting, particularly when more home runs are involved, and the college coaches will get the opportunity to see their potential pitching recruits performing at the college distance.
Things are still shaking out over this change, and teams are still adapting.
But so far, it’s looking like a good move for the high school game.