Hampshire softball coach Stacey Stepek is used to not having to sweat the outcome of games.
It helps that Stepek’s offense consistently is scoring plenty of runs, enough where the Whip-Purs have played five games that have ended early because of the mercy rule. Through Monday, the Whip-Purs are the area’s highest scoring offense, averaging 10.8 runs a game, with seven games in which they’ve scored 10 or more runs.
“I think, with our conference and the talent we have in our area, there’s a couple dominating pitchers, but for the most part, we have teams that will hit one through nine for most ball games,” Stepek said. “I think the offense will continue.”
Hampshire isn’t alone when it comes to scoring a ton of runs. Area teams are averaging a combined 7.02 runs a game this season, a 1.24-run increase from this point last year. Perhaps most impressive: area teams have scored 10 or more runs 40 times. Last season, through the same stretch, teams combined for 31 double-digit scoring games.
“I’m not really surprised,” Richmond-Burton coach Stephanie Rasmusen said. “The technology with bats is so advanced now that once you get the bat on the ball and pitchers throw so hard that if you make contact it’s going.”
Composite bats and moving the pitcher’s circle back three feet to 43 feet in 2010 certainly have helped the game shift the advantage from pitchers to hitters. Ten of 16 area teams are averaging seven or more runs a game this season, including R-B, which averages 10.7 runs, including three double-digit scoring games.
Stepek said she believes the increase in offense has been aided by more players working with hitting coaches during the year as well as more players focusing only on softball instead of participating in multiple sports.
“[Pitchers] could blow their fastball by people,” Stepek said. “I think a lot of times, when you’re inside, you’re forced to focus on hitting because there isn’t room to practice relays and work on fly balls. I do think that makes a difference.”
The stretch of bad weather has given pitchers a hurdle to overcome. Snow accumulation forced many teams to postpone early season games and many teams weren’t able to practice outside before their first games. Prairie Ridge coach Mike Buck said the colder weather has hurt pitch movement, which can give hitters another advantage.
Area pitchers haven’t consistently been given good support on the field. The lack of outdoor practices has hurt defense overall, leading to more errors and extended innings, creating opportunities for more runs to score.
“We’ve given up a lot of unearned runs,” Rasmusen said. “There will be times we look back at scores and it should have been 3-1 and it became an 8-1 score against Burlington Central. Whether it’s fielding errors or throwing errors, I’ve seen a lot of that by us and other teams.”
The increased offense isn’t benefiting only one team. Compared to a year ago, only three teams are averaging fewer runs this season – Huntley (8.3 runs compared to 7.2 last year), Prairie Ridge (8.7 runs compared to 7.7 last year) and R-B (10.7 runs compared to 11.8 last year).
Many coaches said the high scoring will decrease as the weather warms, but for now, expect to see plenty of runs.
“I think there’s been more focus on hitting and the area lost some of the best pitchers the area has ever seen,” Crystal Lake South coach Scott Busam said. “There aren’t any fireballers left.
“I hope, as the season goes on, we see tighter games and fewer runs allowed,” Busam added. “I don’t think the strikeout is dead. I think it’ll come back as the weather warms up.”