Back Away from the Mound...

Published in the March 26, 2008 issue of Stow Independent

By Jordana Bieze Foster

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Softball pitchers throughout the state will be taking a giant step back this season, which could prove to be a step in the right direction for this year's Nashoba Regional squad.

Last fall, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Council voted to move the pitching rubber back three feet, to 43 feet from home plate, in the interest of adding offensive punch to a game that had become dominated by pitching. Giving hitters a fraction of a second longer to anticipate a pitch is expected to put more runners on base and create more scoring opportunities.

“I'm hoping it brings a little more offense back to the game,” said longtime Chieftains head coach Mike Allard, who has said this will be his final season of coaching. “I think you'll still see your share of strikeouts, but probably not as many twelve, thirteen, fourteen-strikeout games that have become common in the last few years, which will be a good thing. You'd like to see some other people make some outs defensively. It's kind of a boring game to watch players go up, strike out, and go back to the bench.”

Of course, boring is relative when your team is the one with the dominant pitcher, as was the case last season for the 15-7 Chieftains and ace Courtney Collier—she of the perfect game and the microscopic earned run average. But Collier will be pitching for Wheaton College this spring, which means the rule change couldn't have come at a better time for the Chieftains.

This year's pitching staff, led by Hudson senior co-captain Rosie Manzo, may not be overwhelming, but Allard is confident that they'll be able to keep the team in games. And the Chieftains should have the offensive guns to take advantage of power pitchers who have trouble adjusting to the new distance.

“If pitching becomes less of a dominant factor, that could actually help us this year because we don't have one of the dominant pitchers,” Allard said. “We have a solid defense and some girls who can swing the bat pretty well, so maybe it will put us in a better position than if the mound was at 40 feet.”

Bunting, which Allard says has always been an area of emphasis for Nashoba, should also take on more importance under the new rule.

“With the pitcher farther back, there'll be a split second longer for them to get to the ball,” he said. “But that's a big part of our game. I think in high school if a team wants to be successful, they have to have a good bunting offense and defense. If they don't, then against the upper echelon teams they're going to be in big trouble.”

Defensively, the Chieftains should be strong in the middle infield, where they bring back senior co-captain Hannah Pirez at shortstop and junior Laura Millett at second base, though Millett will also assume some pitching duties this season. Stow senior and co-captain Jessica Ray will anchor what should be a solid outfield, which will also see contributions from juniors Janelle MacLaughlin, Kelly Macko and Erin Mannion, Stow sophomore Chelsea Koch and freshman Hannah Collins. And last year's freshman phenom, Stef Martinek, returns behind the plate.

The biggest question marks for the Chieftains will be at the corner positions, with first baseman Betsy Hagermoser lost to graduation and Manzo vacating third base to spend more time on the mound. Stow junior Allison Wyand, who played third base for the junior varsity squad last season, should be in the mix at that position along with sophomore Kelsey O'Donnell. Juniors MacLaughlin and Colleen Frost will compete for time at first.

As usual, the Chieftains' schedule starts out tough, with a home game against Milford on April 4, and gets even tougher. In all, they'll play 12 games against teams that made the playoffs last season, including three against 2007 Central Division 1 champion Gardner and two against Division 2 champion Hudson.

“To win 10 games with a schedule like that is not an easy task,” Allard said.

Copyright 2008 Jordana Foster – 24 Kirkland Dr, Stow, MA – Email: – Fax: (815) 346-5239