The 2017 WCWS (Women’s College World Series) has had it all! Terrific pitching, powerhouse hitting, extra-inning games, collisions at home plate, and even a ejection of a 3 time gold medalist! Wow! The level of competition has been nothing short of phenomenal! Throughout the course of the 2017 WCWS we’ve seen it all, the good, the bad and ugly (but mostly AWESOME)!
Desire to Compete
I’ve heard coaches at ALL levels in ALL sports say they want athletes who are going to COMPETE! And compete is what these young ladies did! Of course it can’t go without mentioning the terrific job Oklahoma and Florida pitchers did in that epic 17 inning marathon game in Game 1 of the final series. One pitch, one mistake could have lost that game at any given moment. To have enough fortitude and mental strength to keep it together for 17 innings (over 5 hours) shows a competitive spirit second to none.
It wasn’t just in the final match-up that we saw that desire to win. It never fails that UCLA pitchers are always compared to UCLA Assistant Coach and former player Lisa-Fernandez, and this year was no different. However, in this case, the comparison might have been justified. Rachel Garcia kept opponents to a batting average of less than .100 with runners in scoring position. That shows that when things get tough, she buckles down even more and finds a way to get the job done.
Ultimately, UCLA fell to Washington, where another highly competitive pitcher, Taran Avelo time and time again kept runners on third from scoring with less than 2 outs. Even, throwing the change on a 3-2 count and runner on third at one point. Some would say that’s risky. Others would call it gutsy. I would call it attacking! She’s doing what she needs to do in that moment to beat the hitter and win the game.
SEVENTY-FIVE!!! A new WCWS record! The fastest pitch ever recorded is 77mph, by Monica Abbott. She didn’t do that until she was playing in the pro-leagues five years AFTER finishing her college career. Paige Lowary from University of Oklahoma was consistently over 70mph, hitting 74 many times, and 75mph a few times. The scary thing is she’s only a JUNIOR pushing these limits and breaking barriers!
Paige Lowary was not the only speedster we saw this year. Kelly Barnhill, the NCAA Softball Player of the Year, from Florida was in the low 70s much of the time, and several pitchers at the WCWS from various teams were able to hit that 70 mark. Pitchers throwing 70 used to be a thing of rarity, but now with better understanding of training techniques and proper mechanics, we’re seeing higher speeds all the more often. More incentive for pitchers to get their speedwork in during their practices.
Masks on Pitchers in Final Series
Both Barnhill (Florida) and Lowary (Oklahoma) started Game 1 of the final series, and BOTH wore face masks. I think this is great for so many reasons. First, it encourages younger generations of pitchers to wear the masks, which will result in fewer serious injuries to pitchers. Also, it shows that pitchers can still get recruited by top programs even though they wear a mask. In the past, this has been one reason pitchers have chosen NOT to wear the mask. Lastly, and what I consider an important reason to wear a mask is for CONFIDENCE! We don’t want pitchers aiming the ball. She needs to trust her speed and her spin. If wearing a mask makes her less likely to be timid, then go for it!
Lots of Changeups
Pitchers threw a lot of changeups during the 2017 WCWS, which was fantastic to see! The changeup appeared to be used minimally at the 2016 WCWS, so it was refreshing to see it make a resurgence this year! One of the toughest things to get pitchers to understand about the changeup is that it can be very effective even when it’s not a strike. Pitchers frequently stop throwing their changeup when they struggle to get it in the strike zone.
In our previous article “Team Rita’s Favorite 3 tips from the 2016 Pitching Summit” we wrote that “pitchers need to throw changeups frequently enough that it messes up a hitter’s timing, and their mindset. If there is no threat of a change of speed, batters can sit on the faster pitches. Throw your changeup early and often, even if it’s not a perfected pitch. The batter will know that you could make them look foolish at any time if they know you can change speeds on any count.” That was exactly what Delanie Gourley from Florida did to Oklahoma batters. She made them look silly on the changeup when getting them to chase pitches thrown in the dirt and way off the plate.
The Bad & Ugly
Let’s face it. There really wasn’t a lot of bad (or ugly for that matter) in the WCWS. However, just like anything else, there’s always room for improvement. Here’s a couple of things we’d like to see less of at next year’s WCWS.
Location is not the same thing as movement. Even the announcers can be tricked into thinking a ball is moving a certain way because of where the catcher caught it,or how it crossed the plate. Not every outside pitch is a curve, and not every high pitch is a rise. In fact, for a rise to really rise, or a curve to truly curve, it must spin a specific way. Bullet spin (looks like a corkscrew) is NOT going to make a pitch rise, curve, or drop for that matter, and unfortunately, there was a lot of praise for bullet spin this weekend.
That is not to say that all the pitches had bullet spin. Here’s an example of a rise ball with back spin, which is what we want to see on this pitch!
High Drop back
We teach our beginning pitchers that a high drop back serves very little (if any) purpose. In fact, we’ve found it’s often hurts a pitcher more than it helps her. Dropping back high in the motion can wreck a pitcher’s timing, create an off-plane arm circle, and can even hinder speed. However, when young, new pitchers see the “big girls” do it, they don’t understand why that’s not the most important part of the pitch.
There were several pitchers with high drop backs at the WCWS this year. While it may not hinder these more skilled pitchers the way it would a less experienced pitcher, it certainly didn’t do anything to make them any better. Just going to mention here that Paige Lowary from Univ. of Oklahoma had no drop back in her motion at all, yet still threw the fastest pitches all weekend.
2017 WCWS Final Score
In each WCWS we see the evolution of the sport when previously set records get smashed and discussions are had about subjective rulings on the field. Thanks to the amount of coverage it receives, the WCWS welcomes new fans of all ages into the sport of softball, and maybe even inspires new players. This year was no exception. The 2017 WCWS gave us much to talk about for years to come. Who knows what records we’ll see smashed in next year’s WCWS, or which of this year’s players we’ll see playing again someday on an even bigger stage (Olympics)? Your guess is as good as mine.
Thank you to all the teams and coaches for making this such an exciting WCWS to watch. Congratulations to the 2017 Champs – Oklahoma Sooners!
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