The new pitching distance in prep softball wasn’t expected to make too much of a difference for girls who’d already played at the club level in recent offseasons.
For that reason, it hasn’t bothered star pitchers along the Central Coast so far this year.
The National Federation of State High School Associations recently required that all states moved the pitching circle back to 43 feet away from home plate. In California, it had been at 40 feet through last year.
Primarily, the change was mandated to help accommodate better offense, and to make it more difficult for pitchers to single-handedly dominate.
Ten years ago, for example, Fairfield High’s Alicia Hollowell, a future national team player, racked up 61 strikeouts in a 30-inning game — but her team lost, 1-0.
Additionally, the change has streamlined the pitching distances at all levels. Not only was the circle already at 43 feet in college, but it has also been at that distance at the under-18 travel-team level.
San Luis Obispo County, and the PAC 7 in particular, has no shortage of standout pitchers who came into this season with plenty of travel-ball experience, and thus, already-established familiarity with the 43-foot length.
“Most of the girls that play year-round softball who are really dedicated to softball, they’ve already played at 43 feet,” Atascadero coach Kara Ferrell said. “They’re accustomed to it.”
Paso Robles coach Val Reynolds agreed.
“The pitcher does have to work a little harder,” Reynolds said, adding, however, “the girls in our league have all been playing travel ball, so it’s nothing really big for them (to adjust).”
There’s an abundance of proof. As of Monday, no PAC 7 team had a losing nonleague record, totaling to 24-8 overall.
“The pitchers have been pitching so much year-round,” Tigers coach Mike Lee said, the added distance is “something that’s kind of the norm now. They’ve adjusted their pitches.”
Lee, in his 12th year with the Tigers, said that across-the-board, the pitching throughout the PAC 7 is about as strong as he has seen it. “We’re going to see teams going head-to-head with outstanding batteries,” Lee said.
With pitching talent so evenly distributed throughout the league, coaches said it may come down to who has the most consistent, error-free supporting cast.
Atascadero had just one senior star on last year’s team — catcher and current Cuesta College athlete of the month Ashley Dooley. Other than her, though, virtually everyone is back from a team that finished 23-6 overall after winning the PAC 7 title in an 11-1 runaway.
Among those back for the Greyhounds is junior infielder Jessie Hufstetler. After a 34-RBI season in 2010, ranking 17th in the state among sophomores, Hufstetler has 23 RBI and four home runs through the first eight games of this season.
Atascadero isn’t taking the rest of the PAC 7 lightly in its attempt to repeat, though.
The league only got tougher with the addition of St. Joseph, which last year cruised to a Los Padres League title thanks to current Cal Poly freshman Mariah Cochiolo.
“You’re constantly working and pushing yourself,” Ferrell said. “Just because we have a lot of returners doesn’t mean other schools don’t, too. There’s a lot of talent throughout all of the schools.”
A look at the county’s elite pitchers:
Arroyo Grande junior Jillian Compton, a Cal-Hi Sports all-state medium-schools second-team underclass honoree as a sophomore, has also played with the So Cal Pumas club. She had 269 strikeouts for the Eagles a year ago, a total that ranked No. 24 in the state. Compton had a 0.95 ERA in 1402⁄3 innings in 2010.
Already this season, Compton has 44 strikeouts through 22 innings, with a 0.95 ERA. The other ace for the Eagles (5-2), fellow junior Sydney Gouveia, is yet to allow an earned run through 18 innings and has struck out 36 batters.
Atascadero senior Jill Johnson, who’s also a proven threat at the plate, won The Tribune’s county player of the year and PAC 7 Most Valuable Pitcher awards as a junior. Johnson has played for the California Crushers club, and helped lead the program to a runner-up finish at the U18 Central California Championships this past year. Last season for the Greyhounds, she went 16-4, and had a 1.01 ERA with 105 strikeouts in 1382⁄3 innings.
Last week at the Lady Driller Tournament in Bakersfield, Johnson pitched a pair of complete-game shutouts for the Greyhounds (7-1).
San Luis Obispo sophomore Andrea Reynolds came within one out of a perfect game in a win over Mission Prep last year as a freshman and had 15 strikeouts in a 12-inning, 1-0 loss to Arroyo Grande — an epic showdown in which Compton had a school-record 26 strikeouts. Reynolds was also a standout on the club scene this past summer, helping the San Jose Sting to a national title at the U14 level.
In a 4-0 win over Santa Ynez this season, Reynolds fanned 17 batters in a complete game for the Tigers (2-0).
Perhaps the most notable game of all by a local pitcher so far this season has come from Paso Robles sophomore Jenna Wookey.
Wookey, who pitched 37 innings as a freshman for a 2.08 ERA with 31 strikeouts, had a no-hitter with nine strikeouts to lead the Bearcats (3-3) to a 4-0 victory over Lompoc a week ago.
Nipomo, which has joined the LPL, also features a promising underclassman in Courtney Cuzick. She had a 1.41 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 991⁄3 innings as a freshman. Nipomo coach Matt Paradis was also in favor of the added pitching distance, which hasn’t diminished Cuzick’s play thus far.
“It helps many of our higher-level girls play at the next level,” Paradis said. “It gives them extra years of 43-feet preparation.”
The Titans can also turn to Tessa Underwood to pitch. Underwood, a fourth-year varsity leader, is one of the best all-around players in the area, having recently hit for the cycle in a five-inning, 26-0 win over Coast Union.
Morro Bay freshman Marissa Tabares has thrown a one-hitter in a five-inning, 10-0 win over Grace Brethren, and a two-hitter in a 20-1 victory against Bishop Diego.
Another freshman in the LPL, Templeton’s Corinne Barto, held PAC 7 foe Pioneer Valley to three earned runs in her first start last week, a 7-0 loss to the Panthers.