Stepping inside the circle
The pitching circle is the central focus of softball and is where the mechanics of the game break down to the finest detail.With five young pitchers on USF’s softball team, coach Ken Eriksen said they have six pitches to work with on the mound or in the bullpen.
“Pitching is the key to our game, so it’s important for us to be strong,” Eriksen said. “The biggest obstacle we run into is the head coach (himself) is also the pitching coach.”
The six main pitches Eriksen said that can be thrown on the mound are a fast pitch, changeup, rise, curve, drop and screwball.Eriksen said sophomore Corin Tassio probably has the best package of pitches because she has command of all her pitches.
“You can have an array of pitches, but they also need to be effective or they don’t mean anything,” Eriksen said. “She changes speeds very effectively.”
Eriksen said it is a challenge to work individually with pitchers during the season since he is the head coach and the pitching coach, but the best way for pitchers to improve is through self-experimentation in the bullpen.
“You ask all the great pitchers in baseball and fast-pitch softball when did you learn the most … they say it’s not so much when I was with the pitching coach but off on the side experimenting with different pitching grips.”
Visually, the pitching techniques may appear to be all in the arm, but Eriksen said the legs are more important because they add power.
“You have to do more work on the base. That’s where your power and stability come from – establishing the front sides,” Eriksen said. “Fast-pitch and baseball pitching are similar on three things: balance, release and transfer.”
Some of what the girls do on their base are leg exercises with their legs and pole runs after practice where they have to run from foul pole to foul pole in the outfield.
“Your legs are the No. 1 factor in pitching,” Niki Trowell said. “You have to have good drive.”
As much as pitchers’ legs are used, each pitch involves a different amount of power from their legs.
“In a curveball it’s all timing. You have to have good legs, and your hips have to be open,” Trowell said. “With your drop it’s not as much legs, but with your rise it’s all legs. Each pitch is different.”
However, Eriksen said the pitching windup for softball is better mechanically because it’s a natural motion for the arm and helps avoid injuries.
“The biggest injury in fast pitch is a brain spasm more than anything else,” Eriksen said. “Trying to overthink and do things that you’re not capable of doing instead of just staying with what works the most.”
To try to avoid injury the girls designate time during practice to keep their arms and legs in shape.
“(We throw) anywhere between three and four and a half hours a week,” freshman Katie Dugger said.
“We run all the time, and we do poles after practice everyday.”
But in youth softball, Eriksen said pitchers working with inexperienced pitching coaches can injure the rotator cuff or bicep tendon because of improper positioning.
“Hitting, throwing and pitching has to be done from the side with a straight-on approach or you don’t get pivoted or turned, and it stresses the shoulder,” Eriksen said.
In determining who was USF’s all-time best pitcher during his career, Eriksen said it was between Jennifer Thompson and Monica Triner, who both played from 1996-99.
“We just happened to be lucky to have both of them at the same time,” Eriksen said.
But what Thompson had over Triner, Eriksen said, was the ability to change speeds.
“I would bring her in to just thrown one pitch. I would tell her (to) just throw that slow curve.”