Softball Preview: Rule change has hitters closing gap
In this photo from May 15, 2012, Vernon Hills' Jordyn Comitor drives the ball to left field. | Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media
Look out for...Jenn Claussen (Sr.), Vernon Hills
The third baseman/pitcher returns after being a key contributor to the Cougars’ NSC Prairie Division championship team in 2012. As a pitcher, Claussen led the team in wins (11) and innings pitched (114). The right-hander also hit .350 with 27 RBI.
Kathleen Felicelli (Jr.), Carmel
As a sophomore in 2012, Felicelli slugged a school-record 12 home runs. She was the Corsairs’ only pick to the All-ESCC squad. The three-sport athlete plays shortstop for Carmel, which is coming off a Class 4A sectional final appearance.
Maria Schroeder (Jr.), Lake Zurich
The Bears third baseman had a remarkable sophomore season. She slugged at a .672 rate, compiling a 23-game hitting streak. On defense, she had just one error in 222 innings.
Caroline Schuler (Sr.), Highland Park
One of the Giants’ bright spots in 2012, the third baseman was an All-CSL selection as a junior. A three-year varsity player, Schuler also shines in field hockey and was named to the Illinois High School Field Hockey Association’s all-state team last fall.
Updated: March 25, 2013 1:36PM
Three feet may equal a yard, but in softball, it might as well be a mile.
In 2010, the IHSA adopted rules first written by the National Federation of State High School Associations that mandated changing the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate from 40 feet to 43 feet.
This coming season will be the fourth since the change went into effect, enough time to shape opinions on how the rule has impacted the game. Interviews with coaches and players in the area provided a unanimous view: advantage, hitters.
“It’s leveled the playing field,” Vernon Hills coach Steve Korney said. “In my experience, it has given hitters more of a chance to be successful.”
Deerfield coach Susan Johnson said: “It gives (hitters) three more feet to track the ball. If you can put the ball in play and be quick, it’s an advantage.”
A review of scores from postseason games before the rule change and after support those statements. In 16 Class 4A sectional final games played in 2008 and 2009, the average number of runs scored was 4.3. In 2010 and 2011 — the first two years after the mound was moved back — the average number of runs over the same number of sectional final games was 6.1.
While that is a small snapshot, it provides a window into how runs are now softball’s currency.
“When pitchers threw from 40 feet, it was relatively close, boring games. Pitchers were so close, they were like, ‘We can overpower them,’ ” Vernon Hills junior Jordyn Comitor said. “(Now) they (hitters) get more time to see the ball. You wait on the ball to get deeper. It makes it easier to mess with (the pitch).”
As a sophomore outfielder in 2012, Comitor hit .402 with 11 doubles and 33 RBI for the Cougars. She is also a pitcher, giving her perspective from both sides of the issue. Comitor said as a counter to the extra distance, throwers must change speeds.
“Instead of speed to rely on, you can rely on movement,” Comitor said. “Having a changeup that’s effective, and a screw ball. I focus more on my other pitches.”
Libertyville coach Elissa Wisniewski played at Stevenson and in college at Winona State. In her second season as Wildcats coach, she also gives private lessons to kids from age 9 to high school.
Wisniewski begins teaching pitchers to throw from 43 feet at age 12 to prepare them for high school and college, where the distance is the same. Mechanics are key, she said, because being off by the slightest of margins on the release of a pitch can result in the location of the ball missing the strike zone by inches.
“The sooner you release the ball, the lower it will be. The later, the higher it’s going to be. (Pitchers) must hold onto it a fraction of a second longer,” Wisniewski said. “It’s learning how to use your legs and increase arm speed to make up the difference.”
Until pitchers make the adjustments, hitters will reap the benefits.
“The days where 2-1, 1-0 games were commonplace, those days are gone,” Korney said. “Hitting is such a reactive-type thing, the additional time is better. Now the hitters have more of a chance.”