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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

In our house and for softball fans everywhere it is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” It is the beginning of the NCAA women’s college softball run to world series. ESPN and its sister stations have and will be airing many conference tournaments, regional, and super regional games all leading up to the final battle for the national title on May 29th through June 4th.

Watching the televised games and listening to the commentators should be a “must do” for every aspiring softball player. The games are filled with teachable moments, especially for pitchers.

This past weekend we watched many games in our house and zeroed in on the Southeastern Conference (SEC) tournament. The SEC is a powerhouse conference this year with, in my opinion, some of the best teams in the country. There is great parody among the SEC teams this season which made most of the games close, exciting, hard-fought battles in which the “underdogs” defeated the higher seeds in almost all of the match-ups.

There were many great plays to watch and study: fabulous on-the-run catches deep in the outfield; great throws to the plate to snag runners attempting to score; base running errors and successes. The highlights, however were the outstanding pitching performance by two sophomore pitchers, Kelsey Nunley of the University of Kentucky and Chelsea Wilkinson of the University of Georgia.

Both Wilkinson and Nunley were on fire this weekend doing what the most successful pitchers do best… keeping the batters off balance. It was a pleasure to watch. Both have very relaxed, simple pitching styles and throw with lots of tight spin and late movement. Although they could throw hard, neither of them overpowered the batters with 70 mph pitches. Instead, they moved the ball to all corners of the plate and change speeds so often that the batter just could not get any kind of rhythm going.

Kentucky’s Nunley had a wicked change up that she mixed in with faster pitches that stymied every batter. She throws it for strikes and used it to get out of one, very tough, bases loaded situation, seventh inning game winning situation. She had great poise and command of several pitches, hitting any spot she wanted to hit.

Wilkinson had tight spin and late movement on her pitches. Her speed was often in the upper 50 mph range only –Yes, that’s right…only upper 50’s. But she varied the speed and location so often that, combined with the late movement, batters just could not hit her. She struck out countless batters with a rise ball that came right down the middle of the plate but moved over the bats so late that it looked like an illusion. By game end, her opponents had only a handful of hits.

Both pitchers had great, aggressive strides, loose, whippy forearm fire, and excellent posture but it was their variation in speed and movement that made them so successful. They forced the batters to be constantly thinking and wondering, “What pitch is coming and how fast will it be? Batters could not just set up, load and swing because the ball just was not there.

I also LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the how they went after every batter with strikes from pitch one. They were ahead in the count right away on most batters; no fooling around with throwing 3 balls before any pitch came over the plate. One stellar inning had Wilkinson sitting 3 batters down with 9 pitches.

As it turned out, Wilkinson helped Georgia claim the SEC tournament title. But the lesson for aspiring pitchers here is: learn to keep batters off balance. Speed is great and a powerful weapon. But many of the pitchers this weekend who threw in the upper 60’s were watching their pitches fly over the fence. Those that chose pitches wisely, varied speeds and location were the ones that ruled the tournament.

Here is a link to the brackets for the road to the College World Series.

Check your local TV listings for games to watch. Root for our favorite team but also look for those teachable moments. It’s a great time of the year for softball!

About the author

Paula

Paula is part of the Fastpitch Power team, assisting in clinics and other events. She also has a degree in journalism and marketing and frequently contributes to Fastpitch Power articles.

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