By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Two years ago, the Ohio High School Athletic Association, in an effort to make defense more a part of the game of softball, announced the decision to move the pitching rubber from 40 feet to 43 feet from home plate.
At the time, it was believed the move would cut down on strikeouts, thus allowing hitters to put the ball in play more often, making defense an even more important part of the game. It was believed teams would score more runs as a result.
So far, coaches haven’t noticed much of a difference in the game.
“If you look at the scores, they’re pretty similar,” Riverside coach Bill Ross said. “Everyone was amped up (thinking there would be a drastic increase in offense) and not much happened.”
“I don’t think it was as big a deal as everybody made it out to be,” Edgewood coach Steve Cunha said.
“(The pitchers) still have to throw the pitches where their supposed to be thrown. If you throw 62 miles per hour but it’s right down the middle, you’re going to get whacked around pretty good.”
Part of the reason the game didn’t change all that much is the pitchers themselves. Many of the girls who pitched the one season at 40 feet then moved back to 43, were good enough the change didn’t matter.
“I didn’t see a big difference,” Pymatuning Valley coach Andy Gray said. “When they converted, we had Sarah (Urchek). It didn’t seem like a big difference for her. Her velocity was pretty much the same.”
“Good pitchers will be good pitchers, whether it’s from 40 or 43 feet,” Cunha said. “I almost think the move back to 43 feet helped the girls who don’t throw as hard. Those girls who are are able to use the corners and change speeds are a little more effective.”
Cunha had a perfect example of that type of pitcher who spanned the change in distance.
“Jess Rich threw about 56 or 57 (miles per hour),” Cunha said. “We won a lot of games with her.”
The extra feet allows a pitchers different pitches move a bit more. Essentially, a riseball has three extra feet to rise and a curve ball has more room to break, allowing those pitches to be a little more effective. There was but a minimal adjustment pitchers had to make in order to make their pitches work from the new distance.
“There was a small adjustment period for them because they had work on their release points,” Cunha said. “Three feet sounds like a lot, but it’s about one normal step. Three feet is not that big a difference.”
The change didn’t affect some pitchers as much as others. A good number of girls were already pitching from 43 feet some during their summer travel seasons and were also preparing for the move to 43 feet when they got to college.
“The better pitchers, at least the ones I knew, were already pitching from 43 feet,” Ross said. “They were trying to show the pitching coaches at college showcases and on visits that they could pitch from that distance.”
In the minds of the hitters, that one step makes a big difference. That, however, is more fiction than fact.
“I would imagine that some think that extra split second helps,” Cunha said. “They expected that there would be a jump in runs per game and batting averages and we didn’t see that.
“A good hitter at 40 feet is going to be a good hitter at 43 feet. If you don’t hit a lick from 40 feet, then that extra three feet is not going to help much.”
There is one area of the game that was affect quite a bit by the extra feet between the rubber and the plate. Bunt coverage became a little more of an adventure for some teams.
“It does affect the defense and the small-ball game,” Cunha said. “Your pitcher is three feet farther back, making it easier for teams to bunt.
“It does affect things, especially if you have a pitcher that’s not quite as athletic. That three feet will affect how much she can get to.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.