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Huntington North’s Erin Rethlake, a sophomore, is 16-0 and pitched a near perfect game Friday night against Homestead.

Pitching rules playoffs

NE Indiana features talented arms heading into sectionals

Pitching in the softball postseason is a vital ingredient in making a long postseason run, and northeast Indiana is blessed with some talented arms that can be difference-makers.

There may not be an excess of the dominant pitchers of the past, but efficiency and effectiveness can’t be overlooked, and this area’s hurlers have plenty of both.

“Every once in a while, the area just has a group of high-quality pitchers come through, and I think it’s all a matter of luck for some teams and unluckiness for the teams they play,” Leo coach Ben Shappell said.

Their names have been around of years and are household names in softball circles, like Huntington North’s Erin Rethlake (16-0, 0.14 ERA, 216 strikeouts), Woodlan’s Hannah Robbins (12-1, 0.26 ERA, 132 strikeouts), Leo’s Jessica Claxton (11-1, 0.17 ERA, 148 strikeouts) and Lakewood Park’s Mikela Boroff (18-2, 1.11 ERA, 199 strikeouts).

“Good pitching can beat hitting as the saying goes, and it certainly is true in fast pitch,” Woodlan coach Barry Ehle said.

“A good pitcher can keep you in the game with the hopes of winning it at the end.”

Other standouts include Carroll’s Katy Guebhard (14-3, 1.29 ERA, 153 strikeouts), Bishop Dwenger’s Jordan Schneider (11-2, 1.50 ERA) and Concordia’s Anna Schillinger (17-5, 1.41 ERA, 120 strikeouts).

The development of top-flight pitchers over the last decade or so has been accelerated with the availability of different tools such as online instructional videos, private pitching coaches and facilities, and the increase in travel softball opportunities.

“Players are doing more in the offseason to improve now than they used to,” Shappell said. “As players see others are improving due to intense offseason workouts and college camp attendance, other players start to do the same things so they can keep up.”

The progression of the pitchers has come out of necessity. Just a few years ago, the mound in softball was moved from 40 feet to 43 feet away from home plate.

Hitters were getting an advantage, so pitchers had to compensate.

“I think the reason for more pitchers excelling is the move from 40 feet to 43 feet caused pitchers and coaches to work more on ball movement,” Huntington North coach Paris Seibold said.

“At 40 feet, a pitcher could throw a fastball and changeup and get by. At 43 feet, a pitcher needs ball movement, which has made the current pitchers more effective.”

There’s also the theory that the two parts of Indiana – northern and southern – seemed to be in competition to develop the best softball players in the state.

“I believe in the last five to 10 years we heard more about the southern part of the state,” Lakewood Park Dave Carnahan said. “I believe at that time there was an intentional decision to take the game to a higher level in the northern part of the state.

“It was obvious that that needed to start with pitching.”

Whatever the reason, pitching is northeast Indiana seems to be enjoying a recent renaissance, and it should be in plain view when the postseason begins with next week’s sectionals.

“Pitching is important throughout the tournament,” Bishop Dwenger coach Dave Moyer said. “But teams that rely on their pitcher to get most of their outs by strikeout usually fall as their defense is not ready or sure to make the plays.”

gjones@jg.net

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