Anyway you dice them, the softball stats are surprising.
Red Mountain has seven games with at least 17 hits, including a one-week stretch where the Mountain Lions had at least 20 in all three of their games.
Heading into Tuesday’s games, Basha is averaging 9.6 runs in power point games since mid-March’s spring break. Gilbert is at 7.8 per game. Perry has put up five games of 10 or more runs, and the Pumas scored nine in two other games. Desert Mountain has scored five runs or more in every power point game except its loss to Horizon.
Saguaro has scored double digits in nine of its power point games. Paradise Valley surpassed 10 runs for four consecutive games in March, then another stretch of three in a row in April. Queen Creek has run-ruled every home opponent except one and coach Katie Bundy said she hasn’t seen a single riseball pitch thrown to her team this season.
For any number of reasons, the swingers are getting payback on hurlers for the past five seasons — a time many longtime softball coaches and followers said was dominated by pitching.
Not this year. Whether it’s because of adjustments that have been made since the mound was moved from 40 to 43 feet, the dominant crop of past pitchers (Dallas Escobedo, Mel Willadsen, Sam Parlich, Olivia Bergman, etc...) wasn’t going to be duplicated or a plethora of top young hitters returned better and wiser, this spring has been a hitters’ haven in 2011.
According to MaxPreps, only six East Valley pitchers are in the state’s top 25 leaders of ERA (Gilbert’s Michelle Duncan, Desert Mountain’s Andy Wellins, Perry’s tandem of Torry Herzberg and Jessica Wilkinson, P.V.’s Mariah Valencia and Horizon’s Allison Schullo). Only nine E.V. pitchers have an ERA under 2.00.
“Pitching was so good the past two years we might be saying the pitching is down, but it’s still quite good,” Lions coach Rich Hamilton said. “They’re not Dallas, Mel, (former Peoria Centennial ace Morgan) Montemayor, but it’s pretty good.
“Is pitching down? Maybe it is given the high standard we had set, but I think pitching is good.”
Chandler coach Kim Higginbotham played during one of the “pitching booms” a few years ago, but this year the Wolves played against Highland (17-14 win in early March), Tucson Salpointe (a 12-inning, two-day marathon the Wolves won on a walkoff home run) and Red Mountain (a 5-1 deficit and eventual 11-9 loss).
“You’re feeling like you’re never out of a game,” she said. “In previous years if you got down 3-0, it was practically over. We’ve been down three to four runs and given ourselves the chance to come back a few times.”
The trickle-down effects of an increased amount of monster mashing includes more balls put into play, and thus, more chances for defenses to either shine or stumble.
It can also cause philosophy changes both in the macro (the season) and micro (in-game). Some coaches have slowed down their previous instincts of always bunting over a runner who gets on base, or “small ball.” That’s because unless it’s the end of the game, it’s likely a base runner in, say, the third inning isn’t going to be the last potential chance for a run in a 2-1 or 1-0 game.
“I really can’t let my guard down or stop being aggressive with them,” Bundy said. “I didn’t know if an eight-run lead against Maricopa (last week) was enough because now it can turn around quickly in an inning. I get scared a lot more because anything can happen.”
Many believe the state tournaments will settle some of these scores as games get tighter, and the quality of pitching and defense improves through the elimination process.
Still, forecasters see more 5-4 or 4-3 games than 2-1 or 1-0 in May. Good news for Joe Fan who likes to watch batters hit, runners run and defenses become increasingly paramount. Bad news for staff aces and fans who used to breathe easy once a team had anything more than a two-run lead.
“I’ll take a win however they come but it’s more enjoyable for the fans,” Higginbotham said. “Softball gets a bad rap for being pitcher dominant. Come watch it this season because balls are flying.”