When Buchanan High faced a Top 25 softball showdown in Arizona two weekends ago, Bears coach Dean Gregory was braced for an offensive showcase.
After all, Red Mountain High of Mesa, Ariz., entered as the No. 15 team in MaxPrep's national Xcellent Top 25 rankings with a returning all-state outfielder and two other honorable mention all-state players headlining the defending Arizona 5A state champions.
Buchanan entered No. 24 in the same ranking, bolstered by a trio of returning All-Bee selections in Player of the Year first baseman Kelsey Dodd, outfielder/pitcher Amani Proctor and shortstop Bailey O'Dell from a team that lost a 1-0, 15-inning heartbreaker to Stockdale in the Central Section Division I final last season.
And, it would be the Bears' first tournament facing pitching from 43 feet. Schools all around the country this season were forced to officially implement a 2009-10 National Federation of State High School Associations rules change that pushed the pitcher's rubber back from 40 feet. The national body gave state high school governing bodies – such as the California Interscholastic Federation – a year's grace period to make the switch.
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But the offensive fireworks Gregory expected didn't materialize.
Buchanan beat Red Mountain twice, with ace pitcher Natalie Rendon tossing a three-hitter in a 2-0 win and Proctor pitching a seven-hitter in a 2-1 win.
"I thought it would make a big impact," Gregory said. "I expected us to pound the ball, but when we faced the better teams, I don't want to say the pitching dominated, but it was typical low-scoring softball games where the first team to blink lost."
Gregory wasn't alone in his preseason sense. Several area coaches who were questioned about the change had predicted that offense would be on the rise overall.
But they also said most of the best players in the section play travel ball, and those teams have been pitching from 43 feet for most of the past two seasons. So many of the best pitchers around already have made the adjustment.
"I'm excited about it. I think it will add to our game and make it more exciting," Clovis coach Mike Noel said.
"I think it will help some pitchers and hinder some. For the girls who move the ball, it will allow them to move it even more. But it will also allow the hitters to put it in play more and give defenders more of a chance."
The switch was made in part to add offense – and place a higher premium on good defense – to a game that traditionally has been ruled by dominant pitchers.
"Definitely the 3 feet helps the hitter," Hanford West coach Jeff Harger said. "You hear things about it helps a pitcher's movement, but the hitters have more time. It's going to be harder for [El Diamante's Sierra] Hyland or [Stockdale's Justine] Vela to throw it by a hitter.
"I think it's better for us. We have a good defense and our pitchers don't really strike people out anyways."