High School softball becoming a hitter's game
Updated 11:02 pm, Wednesday, May 8, 2013
The members of the Stamford High School softball team had not yet taken the field moments after scoring seven runs against Fairfield Ludlowe in the top of the 3rd inning Monday, providing a seemingly comfortable 12-4 lead.
Stamford coach Tony Esposito still sported an uneasy look. And a few fans who proclaimed the contest over certainly had not been paying much attention over the past month.
Sure enough, the Falcons scored five times in the bottom of the inning, providing either angst or hope, depending on which side of the field you were situated.
The Black Knights held on for a 13-10 win, further proof that this is not your mom or pop's -- or even older sister's -- FCIAC softball league.
More InformationScoring surge
FCIAC softball has seen a huge increase in run scoring this season, as evidenced by the league's top three offensive teams.
Team Record Runs Per Game
Greenwich 11-4 10.7
Stamford 11-3 10.3
Westhill 11-3 9.7
The days of riding dominant pitching, for a variety of reasons, are on the way out, replaced by high-scoring affairs closer to the games that take place on high school fields at twilight.
The reasons are plentiful, chief among them the adoption, three years ago, of federal rules that moved the distance between the mound and home plate from 40 to 43 feet. That may be one reason why hitting has suddenly replaced pitching as the dominant art form. And if you look at the size of most rosters, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that the growth of youth lacrosse is making an impact.
"The 43 feet definitely has made a difference, and we have to totally play defense now," Esposito said. "The old days of if you had 10 strikeouts, how many outs do you have left? Now you have to make plays. Now you have to field the ball 21 times. The amount of fielding plays you have to make now compared to the past has changed."
Defense -- the belief here, and shared by many coaches -- will be the most influential factor in the upcoming FCIAC Tournament. Esposito got a chance to see that element come into play two days later, during an 8-2 loss to Westhill, a game that would have been closer if not for five errors.
"If we were down 3-0 or 4-0 going into the last three innings instead of 8-0, you feel you have a shot now," Esposito said. "We didn't play the game and it cost us."
Stamford had scored 81 runs in its previous seven games, all wins. Westhill has scored at least eight runs in every game except for getting shut out in its season opener. Greenwich, one of the surprise teams of the season at 11-4, has hit double digits 11 times. The Vikings have scored in double figures more often (eight times), than not (six). That is one reason why they are 3-2 in games they have allowed seven or more runs.
"The bottom line is kids work on hitting more," Esposito said. "Kids aren't working as much on pitching. Softball used to be a sport flooded in the summer. You used to have 30 kids come in that had played summer ball. Now there is not nearly as many."
The term small ball, the concept of sacrificing outs to advance baserunners in hope of scoring the one or two runs your pitcher needed to win, is now an anachronism.
St. Joseph coach Jeff Babineau has seen both the old and new over the past month. His team has scored seven or more runs in its last seven games. That came after opening the season with two low-scoring, one-run contests, and another decided by two runs.
"I think it's just a cycle this year," Babineau said. "I think you have a bunch of younger pitchers. You have kids 14 and 15, learning the game, playing against 17 year olds. Still, you are not going to sit back and relax. You have to get runs."
Babineau has a luxury of sorts. One of his pitchers, Nicole Williams, is a freshman, his other, Tori Ceballos, is a junior. Each would be the top starter for most teams.
"We told them both they have to be ready on the sideline," Babineau said. "There are tons of good hitters in the league."
The most intriguing playoff storyline may be coming out of Darien, where highly touted sophomore Erika Osherow, after a slow start in her first year as the Blue Wave's starter, is riding five straight shutouts. None has come against a weak team.
Still, Osherow is not going to be fanning 21 batters. The team behind her, as well as the teams behind the pitchers of the other five schools with realistic hopes of winning the FCIAC title, are going to have to limit the extra at-bats in a year where all the contenders hit at the relatively same high level.
Danbury coach Harry Trohalis, after his team's 10-8 loss to Stamford on Friday, took a contrarian but no less interesting view.
"I actually think if some pitcher can step up, we're all so close, and I'm not talking (Osherow), she's lights-out," Trohalis said. "She's an ace. If any of those other five or six teams, if their pitcher can step up, they are going to be in good shape."
In a year of change, a trip back to the future might in the end make perfect sense.