A successful fastpitch softball team applies constant pressure on opposing defenses. This is true at the lower levels of the sport, where opponents may lack defensive polish, and at the highest end, where offenses must create opportunities against overpowering pitching. This article will walk you through some useful tactics.
Things You'll Need
- A sliding mat, if you must teach some of your players to slide correctly.
Teach every runner, however slow, the proper push off from the base. This more resembles a track takeoff than the traditional baseball position. This is critical, since the runner cannot leave the base until the pitch is released. The runner faces the base she is headed toward, not the batter. Her left foot is touching the inside edge of the base she is on. Her right leg is behind. Her arms are cocked. She rocks back as the pitcher winds up and starts forward with her right leg as the pitcher's arm starts forward. When timed properly, the runner gets a one-stride start toward the next base. She doesn't lift her left foot off the base until the pitch is released. Many managers teach their runners to leave a bit early on stolen base attempts until the umpire calls somebody on it. Runners who aren't too obvious usually get away with it.
Use the sacrifice bunt with a runner at first base, nobody out, a weaker hitter up and good hitters on deck. It may take two hits to score a runner from second, but sacrificing with a lesser hitter is always a good call. Also use the sacrifice bunt with runners on first and second and nobody out. If you can get runners to second and third with one out, you put great pressure on the defense. The infield has to move in if the game is close, creating a better opportunity to push a hit through. Also, this bunt play will produce a run if the fielder throws the ball away.
Use the bunt-and-run with a good runner at first, nobody out and a good bunter at the plate. Send the runner, forcing the defense to throw to first base on the bunt. When that throw is made, the runner races to third. With the third baseman in and the shortstop likely covering second base, a bunt to the left side would force the left fielder to race in and cover third. This puts great pressure on the defense.
Use the safety squeeze bunt with a fast runner on third and less than two outs. The runner gets a good jump off the base, then comes in to score if the fielder throws the ball to first. Or use the suicide squeeze with a runner on third, a reliable bunter at the plate and less than two outs. Send the runner sprinting home while counting on the hitter to get the bunt down and away from the catcher. By coming full speed, the runner should beat the throw home.
Stealing second base is much easier in the younger age brackets, since there aren't as many strong catchers. Also, stealing third base is easier since young teams often struggle with covering that back -- since the third baseman typically plays in to defend the bunt, leaving the shortstop to cover and the catcher to hit a moving target. Older teams must pick their spots. Even fast runners must be alert runners, getting good jumps on every pitch and taking off on change-ups or pitches in the dirt.
The fake-bunt-slap play can effectively mess up a defense in a normal bunt situation. The batter shows bunt, then pulls her bat back as the pitcher starts her delivery. The batter doesn't pull her bat all the way back and attempt a full swing; there isn't time for that. Rather, she pulls it back just enough to slap the ball through the bunt defense. With the corner infielders charging and both the shortstop and second baseman covering bases, there a big holes for the ball to find.
The straight hit-and-run play can also work in bunt situations. With a fast runner at first and a contact hitter at the plate, send the runner and have the batter swing away. If the batter swings and misses, she at least makes it more difficult for the catcher to throw out the runner at attempting to steal. With runners at first and second, a hit-and-run play can catch the shortstop evacuating her position to cover third base on the steal. Only use this tactic with reliable contact hitters.
If a batter draws a walk with a runner at third base and less then two outs, have her round first base and head toward second. Once the catcher returns the ball to the pitcher in the circle, the runner must, by rule, continue toward second base. If the pitcher throws the ball to a fielder covering second base, the runner coming from first stops and forces a rundown while the runner at third comes home. (The runner coming around first on this play can only stop and reverse course once the pitcher makes an attempt to get her out.)
With runners at first and third and less than two outs, send the runner from first regardless of how fast she is. If the catcher throws the ball to second base, the runner coming from first stops and forces a rundown while the runner at third scores. The runner from third must be ready to stop, however, if the defense concedes the steal of second by having the second baseman or shortstop cut off the catcher's throw behind second. Lesser opponents may not contest the steal of second base at all in this scenario, but the runner coming from first can't take it for granted.
With a fast runner at first base, the delayed steal can be effective. The runner takes four or five steps off first base and stops. If the catcher throws the ball to first base with coming out from behind the plate to freeze her, the runner can take off for second and beat the relay.
With a fast runner at third, the delayed steal of home can catch the opponent napping. If the catcher returns the ball to the pitcher without looking the runner back to the third base, the runner can get a huge jump off the base and race home as the catcher releases the ball.
Tips & Warnings
- Know your opponent well. Learn their defensive weaknesses and exploit them. When you face unfamiliar teams in a tourney setting, scout them as thoroughly as possible.
- Put whatever speed you have at the top and bottom of the batting order. Obviously you want to get your faster runners into scoring position for your stronger hitters.
- Stress bunting with every player, even your sluggers. You always want the bunt option, especially when you get into a tiebreaker scenario.
- Stress hitting behind the runner. Following a leadoff double, a grounder to second base is as good as a bunt. With a runner at third base and less than two out, a grounder to second can get the run home. Odds are, the second baseman won't have the strongest arm in the infield.
- Stress alert, aggressive running with every player, even the slower ones. Alert runners get a lot of extra bases.
- Make sure all of your players know how to slide safely and effectively. This is not an optional skill.
- Teach the back-door slide, where the runner actually slides behind the bases and reaches in with her arms (to grab second or third base) or hand (to touch home on the way past.) You don't want your runners sliding right into easy outs.
- Don't force a lot of rundowns until all of your runners really get what they are doing. They can never, EVER just run into an easy out. The more throws they can force, the more likely they force a mistake.
- Photo Credit The Softball Channel
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