High-scoring contests leading to long games in Year 1 of South Dakota high school softball
May 19—MITCHELL — Just a glance at a final score and it'd be relatively easy to mistake a softball score for a football score this season.
Whether it be Oldham-Ramona/Rutland's 35-21 win over Viborg-Hurley, Freeman Academy/Marion's 30-19 triumph against Gayville-Volin, Sioux Falls Roosevelt's 21-17 victory over Aberdeen Central or Castlewood's 22-17 win over Mobridge-Pollock, it's safe to say softball has seen an outburst of offense across South Dakota in the first season as a sanctioned sport.
And it's an outburst that caught some around the sport by surprise.
"I did not anticipate that those scores were going to be as high as they were," South Dakota High School Activities Association Assistant Executive Director Jo Auch said. "We're learning in our first year. I think the teams and coaches are going to learn a lot along the way."
Part of the reason boils down to it being the first season. There are undoubtedly players who are new to the sport or new to a position, which leads to walks in the pitching circle or errors in the field.
On top of that, there's also a skilled crop of hitters across the state, but Wagner coach Samantha Boehmer said there are also players who opted not to play high school so they could instead commit to play with their travel teams. The Red Raiders average over 10 runs per game and are the seventh-highest scoring team in Class A, and Boehmer credited the scoring more to the talent on her team than anything else, though she noted sometimes opponents walking batters does play a factor.
"We have girls when they show up to practice they're ready to go. Hitting is obviously one of their favorite things. They love running the bases, and our stealing percentage is pretty high," she said. "You really need to count on your pitcher to throw strikes. If a pitcher is having an off night and is throwing a lot of balls, the walks tend to up the score as well."
No matter how they're getting scored, though, the runs have been plentiful. Five teams in Class AA average double-digit runs and seven in teams in both Class A and B average 10 or more runs.
At the top, West Central and Dell Rapids both average over 14 runs per game in Class A, with the Quarriers having exploded for 27 runs on April 18 and 23 runs 10 days later.
"A lot of the athletes who are experiencing a higher level of fastpitch for the first time as high school pitchers are learning more about the craft as the season goes on. They are learning more about working on locating pitches, tightening their spins and knowing what hitters to throw different sequences of pitches to," Dell Rapids coach Theresa McMahon said in an email.
"On the flip side of that, I think we have a plethora of talented hitters in the state who play high-level competition as they travel with their club teams in the summer to different states and see lots of different calibers of pitching staffs who have an arsenal of pitches to throw at them," McMahon added.
With the sheer amount of offense being scored, games are taking longer than Auch had originally anticipated. She said she expected games to take about an hour and a half to an hour and 45 minutes but there have been games to run two hours and 15 minutes and beyond.
Auch said the SDHSAA made an adjustment throughout the season to address the time of games, allowing teams to play five innings or 90-minute games at tournaments, which she said seemed to help teams get more games in.
She added that when the softball advisory group meets in September there could be adjustments made for next season to address the length of games that has come with such high-scoring affairs. In instances where the varsity game is played first and there are no lights, it can limit the amount of time available for a second junior-varsity contest.
"We'll kind of talk about what we liked and what we didn't like. I think one of the things that definitely needs adjusting is the timeframe of the game," Auch said. "I think we're probably losing some of our (junior varsity) time if we don't make some adjustments. So we want to make sure the sport grows and the kids have the opportunity to succeed with that."