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Some Notes and Observations from the 48 Annual WIAA State Softball Tournament

06/10/2024, 10:15pm CDT
By Bob Tomlinson

Hello Fastpitch Fans,

Another high school softball season has come to an end with just one school winning back-to-back championships that being Pacelli located in Stevens Point.

A look at the seeds following the sectional finals shows that there is a lot of parity at the top of each of the five divisions. A look at the season-long scores as reported and printed in the State Tournament program indicates that the word parity probably does not fit. 

I am not going to type anything about individual games because you can read all about each game right here on this website by clicking on the game links from each day's action. Those links take you to the official scoring as done from the press box during games. 

The 2024 state tournament provided fans some great moments if they were there for most of or the entire tournament. 

My son Eric and I sat in the front row of bleachers directly behind home plate. I situated myself with my Pocket Radar device so as to be able to view every pitch with my eyes looking directly down the center of the lefthanded batter's box. From there I can check the speed of every pitch to a righthanded batter (lefties is tougher from that vantage point). Sitting next to me on my right were Gilman Head Coach Brian Phelps and his wife Kathy. On Saturday we had the truly great pleasure of being surrounded by collegiate coaches from Division 2 NJCAA schools such as Madison College and Rock Valley College, Allie Taylor the head coach at Edgewood College (and a person I tutored as a pitcher in her young days learning the game), the  new UW-LaCrosse head coach (2024 was her first season), the UW-Green Bay Head Coach and my friend Mike Roberts, the current Badger pitching coach. Mike and I got back quite a ways when I covered the men's fastpitch scene around the world with The Fastpitch Chronicle newspaper. 

On Friday we witnessed many of the fastest pitches we have ever seen pop up on any of our radar devices (I actually own five of them). At least three of the Division 1 pitchers were consistently offering batters a chance to try their hitting prowess against pitches traveled as fast as 68 mph. There were a lot of pitchers who were topping out in the mid 60s and others in the low 60s. On Friday there were only two or three games where pitchers were topping out at 56-58. So 2024 was the fastest tournament ever in terms of hits. 

The number of strikeouts however indicate that batters catch up those slants pretty well. Gwen Baker of Milton struck out the most batters in any one game when she sent 18 New Richmond batters carrying their own bats back to the dugout bat rack. The next highest strikeout total by a pitcher in any one game was 13 by Karly Meredith of Kaukauna (a Virginia commit) against Hamilton. In Division 2 there was one pitcher who entered the tourney with 171 strikeouts while her opponents had combined for 179. Ava Busse struck out just 2 Lake Mills batters while the two L-Cats pitchers combined to get 5 Indians to go down via a strikeout. In Game 2 in Division 2 Waupun pitcher Addison Braun recorded 9 strikeouts while her teammates carried their own bats back to the dugout just 5 times having been taken down by Ike's pitcher Ashley Bonin. In Division 3 winning pitcher Addison Mauer got 7 Mishicot batters on strikeouts while the Indian's pitcher fanned Kiran Sanford totaled 10. In the other Division 3 semi-final there were 13 strikeouts, 9 by Brodhead's Ava Risum and 4 by Prescott's Ella Stewart. There were just 6 strikeouts in the D-3 championship game. Addison Mauer got 2 and Stewart got four more. In Division 3 the losing pitchers struck out 21 while the winner's struck out 15.

There were 34 total strikeouts in the three Division 4 games and the three losers struck out four more than the three winners (19-15) In Division 5 there were 28 total strikeouts in three games. Stevens Point Pacelli pitcher Payton Manci fanned 10 Wisconsin Rapids Assumption batters and 11 Oakfield Oaks batters. All-in-all in D-5 the winners, bolstered by Manci struck out 26 and the losers got 12.

I believe I watched a game that had the tightest strike zone of any state tournament game I have ever watched or coached in. That strike zone resulted in 19 total runs and 31 hits. Lake Mills tied the state tournament Division 2 record for most hits by a losing team with 14 while the winner, Mosinee tallied 17 including an rare inside-the-park home run to the leftcenter field gap by Mosinee sophomore shortstop Taelyn Jirschele who was just a triple away from hitting for the cycle while going 3x5 with 7 total bases. I can guarantee you there were no "rivers" in that game.  The pitcher really had to have nearly the entire diameter of that optic yellow sphere over the plate and when they did - POW! the batter's hit them. The interesting part of the deal is this -- the batters from both teams figured out that zone in a hurry and did not bite on very much that didn't fit into that game's strike zone. That's a credit them. If you have to pitch to a zone like that you'd better have a great lifter and a great downer to hold off the hitters and there weren't many really good lifters to be found.

I also watched some games with strikezones that included pitches on the bank of the rivers opposite the batter's chosen side to set up in. There is the river, then there is the white chalk line marking the inside of the opposite batter's box. I call that the bank or shoreline of the river. Then beyond that is land. Most of the strike zones include balls that are clearly off the plate but in the six inch river. The diameter of a 12" softball is 3.8 inches. The river is supposed to be six inches wide. If the center of the ball is in the middle of the river that means that the inside of edges of the ball are very close one quarter of an inch from the white of home plate and the white chalk line for the opposite batter's box. Balls whose centers are over the center of a 4" chalk line depicting the batter's box are nearly covering that entire four inch line. A strikezone with a ball right over that chalk line is a very wide zone and those pitches are tough to get to -- resulting in the lows scoring games. If batter's do not adjust closer to plate and take their chances on the tight ones on the inside the good pitchers' batting average against will be remarkably low.

One of my tenets of pitching is: Pitch to this umpire's strike zone so adjust where needed to retire batters. Like I said before the best way to control batters when a tight zone is in effect is be able to make a ball move sharply up and down, not across or across and down or across and up at the same time. 

Home Runs? There were four of them. Three cleared the fence with two going over the 218 sign in the right center gap and Jirschele's inside-the-park homer against Lake Mills.

Automatic home runs are rare during the high school tournaments because the Dudley SB12 is a cork center ball and say what they might the compression surely doesn't exceed the .375 compression label in the cover. But the rule is that the ball can't exceed that number but the ball doesn't test that high. Same for the COR of .47. The rule says a ball shall not exceed .47. The ball used in the WIAA tournament series doesn't test that high a the testing lab so it is legal because it's lower than .47 and more like about .42.

Balls fly out of collegiate stadiums such as Goodman Diamond because the balls they use fly faster and farther. In 2025 the ball limits are new at .325 and will be slightly larger in circumference (about 1/4"). Short fingers? Those pitcher might notice a difference. Long fingers? Not so much. 

When Westosha Central and Wisconsin standout Kayla Konwent was a freshman someone inserted a polycore ball into a game. Kayla sent a ball over our 200' outfield fence and nearly put it on the dirt infield our our JV field which shares the outfield fence which is in leftfield on the varsity field and right field on the JV field. That ball hit just short of the infield dirt on the JV field sailing over the right fielder and hutting the earth just shy of the second sacker standing at her position.

Way, way back in the early 1990s our team played a an opponent that was using a polycore ball throughout the season. The softballs were white in those days. Those balls were really zipping past the infielders. I told the coach that somebody was going to get hurt using those balls. Later in the season someone on the team using those balls got hit severely.

Get your self a Dudley Thunder. It has the same numbers on the cover at .374 and .47. Now have someone toss you some batting practice and watch what happens. POW!!! Those spheres really sail.

Here is a press release from 2021 about the softball required for 2025 and beyond in high school softball.

I also wonder if bat testing will ever be part of the state tournament series. 

Crowd Sizes

I do not have any numbers but I believe the crowd sizes and numbers were the largest I have ever seen at the WIAA state tournament. In the past the crowds on Thursday morning have been paltry. When a school close to Madison makes it the D1 Crowds have always bene a bit better. This year though, the stands were packed pretty well for most of the D1 games. Once the D5s, D4s, D3s and D2s started playing the place was packed to the gills for every game but a couple. 
I really enjoyed myself. I was with my son most of the time but was able to get up and move around and talk to some other great softball people whom are too numerous to mention in this diatribe without forgetting someone. 

Have a great summer. 





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