Circle of change: With pitching rubber moved back, coaches expect an increase in offense

Mikayla Duffy was dominant last year for Central High School, but with the pitching rubber being moved back three feet, Duffy will have to rely on movement, not speed for the Warriors.



QUICKREAD

Central

Coach: Scott Else (2nd year)

Record: 22-2, 9-1 (state semifinals)

League: 5A Southwestern

Top players: Mikayla Duffy (Sr., P), Danielle Romine (Sr., C), Jessica Romine (Sr., 2B), Brittany Hoppe (Jr., SS), Alexis Walters (Sr., P/OF).

Outlook: The second-ranked Warriors have eight returning starters from last year’s record-setting team and will be targeted again by opponents.

Fruita Monument

Coach: Jamie Dunn (2nd year)

Record: 19-4, 7-1 (first round of state)

League: 5A Southwestern

Top players: Ashleigh Wissel (Sr., C), Taylor Johnson (Sr., SS), Erika Chirdon (Sr., P), Mika Schminke (Sr., 2B).

Outlook: With eight returning starters, including the starting battery, the Wildcats hope to challenge for the league title and go deeper in the state tournament.

Grand Junction

Coach: Adam Diaz (3rd year)

Record: 15-7, 6-4

League: 5A Southwestern

Top players: Paula Lage (Sr., SS), Arrianna Diaz (Soph., 2B/P), Joei Ritter (Sr., OF), Cierra Cosslett (Jr., P/OF), Kelsey Jull (Sr., OF).

Outlook: The Tigers have seven returning varsity players and talented group of incoming freshmen to challenge Central and Fruita.

Palisade

Coach: Tony Kirby (1st year)

Record: 16-8-1, 6-2 (first round of state)

League: 4A Western Slope

Top players: Emily Crow (Jr., P/Inf); Kendra Barnes (Sr., C); Shelby Hanson (Sr., P); Megan VanNoy (Sr., Inf); Tiffany Wells (Sr., SS).

Outlook: Palisade has nine seniors and six returning starters, including its two top pitchers in Emily Crow and Shelby Hanson. Kendra Barnes and Hanson, who each hit seven home runs last season, lead the offensive attack.

Delta

Coach: Matt Hall (4th year)

Record: 14-8, 6-0

League: 4A Western Slope

Top players: Tiffany Schaaf (Sr., P), Sam Holm (Sr., 2B), Kaitlyn Johnson (Jr., SS), Maria Mendoza (Sr., OF), April Easter (Jr., C).

Outlook: The Panthers lost some of their power at the plate, but have enough experience back to challenge for a high playoff seed.

Montrose

Coach: Joe Bollinger (5th year)

Record: 6-15-1, 2-8

League: 4A Southwestern

Top players: Hannah Etchart (Sr., SS), Connor Culver (Sr., 1B), Laura Ammermann (Soph., P).

Outlook: With seven returning starters and an experienced bench, the Indians expect to challenge for the league title.

Cedaredge

Coach: Angela Morgan (1st year)

Record: 4-8, 2-4

League: 3A District 3

Top players: Amber Farr (Sr., C), Brianna Henrie (Jr., P), Hope Shaw (Jr., P).

Outlook: The Bruins have a shot at qualifying for regionals for the first time in five years with seven returning varsity players.

Grand Valley

Coach: Brooke Whitman (2nd year)

Record: 11-4

League: 3A District 3

Top players: Shawnee Young (Sr., P), Sidney Drinkhouse (Sr., C), Brooke Ward (Sr., 3B), Kendra Hill (Sr., 1B), Taylor Conrad (Sr., 2B).

Outlook: The Cardinals had a successful trial season last year and believe they can contend for a district playoff spot in their first varsity season.

Rifle

Coach: Cindy Skinner (13th year)

Record: 10-9, 3-5 (4A WSL)

League: 3A District 3

Top players: Cortney Cordova (Sr., 2B/P), Makayla Wilkins (Sr., SS/OF), Vanessa Herrera (Sr., 3B), Shantel Leyba (Sr., 2B/OF), Emma Speer (Fr., SS).

Outlook: The Bears lost three players to graduation and three other starters moved out of state, leaving Skinner to fill some holes, but moving down to 3A should help them be competitive.



Mikayla Duffy can’t rely on zipping a fastball by hitters anymore.

The Central High School senior pitcher will need to mix it up more this softball season, with the pitching rubber moving back three feet to 43 feet from home plate.

Duffy, who has verbally committed to the University of Northern Colorado, realizes it will be tougher to strike out batters and limit opponents to two runs or fewer like she did last year. Duffy struck out 136 batters as a junior and had a 1.52 ERA, going 18-1.

“Being at 43, I like it a lot more because I’ll have more movement and more spin on the ball instead of just straight speed,” Duffy said. “It will give the batters a longer chance to see the ball, but I think it will make the team and me better, knowing I have to move the ball more.”

The National Federation of State High School Associations rule change will give hitters a longer look at pitches, giving them more opportunity to put the ball in play.

“It will become more of a hitter’s game,” Fruita Monument coach Jamie Dunn said. “We’ll have to play better defense. You can’t rely on a good pitcher anymore. You have to have a good defense to back them up. It will hurt pitchers without a lot of movement on the ball.”

It could also affect the running game.

“I think it will help us,” Central coach Scott Else said. “We have good team speed at the top of the order. I think it will play to our advantage.”

That, in turn, could lead to more runs being scored.

“I think most good teams will average six or seven runs,” Else said. “Girls now are so big and strong. They can hit the ball out at Mesa State.”

The rule change will help protect pitchers from line drives.

“I think the safety concern was a big issue,” Grand Junction coach Adam Diaz said. “By the time the pitcher was lunging and taking a step after the pitch, they were 38 feet from home plate and the ball was coming at them fast.”

Many of the high school softball players have already played two summers with the pitching rubber at 43 feet, and Central catcher Danielle Romine has seen a difference.

“It will give the pitches a longer time to break, so you’ll see more movement than you would at 40 feet,” Romine said. “You’ve got to be ready for a rise ball or curveball because it gives it a longer time to break.

“We saw in the summer a lot of pitchers you could tell worked on their change-ups. The pitcher is not always going to be able to throw it past the hitter.”

Although the pitchers will be challenged with the rule change, Else said it will make the game better.

“Softball has been such a pitching-dominant game for so long,” he said. “This will improve safety and make it a more competitive game. Now, it will take a more well-rounded, balanced team.”


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