Hitters need any break they can get when they have to face a top-notch high school softball pitcher like Philipsburg-Osceola's Chelsea Rex and Claysburg-Kimmel's Ronette Claar.
While it's still pretty tough to face those pitchers with mean fastballs and enough other pitches to give batters headaches when they're trying to guess what pitch they're going to see, they've gotten somewhat of a break this season.
The pitching rubber has been moved from 40 to 43 feet under a new PIAA rule mandated by the National Federation of State High School Associations. According the NFHS website, the change, after 10 years of debate, was done to "create a better balance between the offense and the defense."
Mirror file photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Pitchers, such as Chestnut Ridge’s Stefanie McCoy, have had to adjust this season to an extra 3 feet added to the distance from pitcher to batter.
The change seems to be accomplishing its desired effect. There haven't been many games played because of this wet April that only a duck would love, but run production seems to have increased in the Mirror coverage area.
"I was in favor of the move, and I still am," P-O coach Jim Gonder said. "It seems like more runs are being scored. Now, teams have to focus more on defense. I think it helps the short game. Every little bit helps."
"I like it," C-K coach Mike Barbarini said. "It really benefits the hitters, giving them more time to see the pitch. It really helps the game because it makes it more interesting. The girls can get better looks at pitches. It gives them more of an opportunity to make contact, especially with a dominant pitcher like Ronette."
You would think that pitchers accustomed to winning by 1-0, 2-1 or 3-2 scores would be upset about the new rule, but that doesn't appear to be the case with a few of some of the area's best pitchers.
"If you're a pitcher who throws hard and who has a lot of spin on pitches, you're going to get more movement on the ball, and it's going to help you," said Rex, a St. Francis recruit who has been sidelined for most of the season with bicep tendinitis but expects to be pitching again in a couple weeks.
"If I get back to 100 percent, I think I'll have the advantage. I think it will help me with more movement and working batters around the zone. If you're not throwing hard, it's going to hurt greatly because the batters have more time to wait for the ball."
"I agree with her," Claar said. "The only thing is the ball moves more, and we have to adjust to that as pitchers. We worked on it all winter, and it really hasn't affected me at all."
Barbarini said Claar isn't striking out as many batters as she was in the previous two years.
"Ronette has had times when she does strike girls out," he said. "I have seen the difference with girls who wouldn't have come close to putting balls in play. It led me to question if she is as dominant as she was in the past. But we put the radar gun on her, and she is pitching just as hard."
The new distance was used in Oregon and Florida prior to the new mandate, and traveling summer teams in Pennsylvania have been playing with the new pitching rubber for two years.
"All summer in travel ball we had the mound back, so we were used to it by the time the high school season came around," Chestnut Ridge star Alana Weyant said. "We play seven or eight games during a weekend, so it got us used to it fast. It's now routine to us."
"It hasn't affected Alana or [Stefanie] McCoy at all," Ridge coach Chuck Corle said. "We were practicing all winter from that distance, so they're used to it. If somebody didn't prepare for it, it would be different."
One of the other advantages to the circle being moved back is pitchers have more time to react to line drives.
"I don't think they moved it back because they wanted more offense. I think it was a safety issue," Barbarini said. "We have these new synthetic bats now, and the ball flies off the synthetic bat. We use some of the aluminum bats in practice, and you can tell the difference. When they're using the synthetic bats, I'm scared when I'm throwing batting practice."
"I've been hit before," Rex said. "I've never been hurt seriously on the mound. The ones that worry me are the ones that are hit below my waist. I've been hit in the knee, and it dropped me right away."
Those who don't like the new pitching distance better get used to it.
"It's not going anywhere," Gonder said. "Nothing is going to change."