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Coaching Softball - Defending First and Third Situations

By Dick Smith
Head Coach - University of St. Francis

One of the most depressing things to witness on the field of battle is the first and third defensive situation where the defense does nothing after a pitch while the first base runner lopes into second. We often see absolutely no effort to defend the steal to second base. The fact that this situation occurs quite frequently should not be a revelation to coaches. It actually happened at the Big Dance of softball this very year.

Okay, so it’s supposed to be a sucker play. Throw through to second and the third base rabbit scores. Even if the runner is thrown out, there is jubilation in the ranks of the team that scored. Parents and railbirds go nuts with happiness that the ineptitudes on the field of play have allowed a run to score uncontested.

There is more hilarity if the runner is safe at second. Now, not only has there not been an out, but there’s a run in, the runner on second is dancing a jig, and there is glee on the offensive bench.

Those with any kind of experience on the diamond have frequently witnessed the above scenario. Most, if not all, of us have been victims at one time or another. A well-executed double steal is a thing of beauty and kudos should go to the successful team.

The depression referred to above occurs when the team on defense does absolutely nothing while the play is in progress, primarily for fear the third base runner will score if here is a throw through to second.

Like most situations, there are many variations of things that can be done. Let’s look at a few. In the process, let’s develop a plan to at least attempt a defensive maneuver that is viable.


First, we need to look at the score, the inning, the speed of the runners on base, and the team we are up against, along with our defensive capabilities. We have practiced various defensive plays, haven’t we? Here are some scenarios which coaches might want to consider.

1) Our team is reasonably good at handling defensive situations.

A) Score is close and the game is in the first few innings. Throw out the stealing runner at second. If we get the out and if the third base runner scores, it’s only one run in and no one on. If we miss the stealing runner, then we rely on our defense to keep the runner on second from scoring. Even if both runs eventually score, our offense should be capable of overcoming the event. After all, it’s still early in the game.

B) Score is close and game is in the last couple of innings. We need a play to at least try to lure the offense into a trap. We can simply throw back to the pitcher and hope something happens, and if not, rely on our defense. We can try a trick play such as a third base pick-off or perhaps a second baseman cutting off a fake throw to second. Or just fake a throw to third, second or both. There are variations on this. Sometimes they actually work.

C) Score is close with a rabbit on third and a slower runner (slug) on first. Same as A) and B) above.

D) Slug on third, slug on first. Throw through unless in last inning with very close score.

E) Slug on third, rabbit on first. Use variations of B) above.

F) Rabbits on first and third. Pray. Well, not actually, but at least do something like fake a throw to second and maybe a throw to third, or just back to the pitcher.

2) Our team is not very good defensively

G) Options here are not many. But if you practice your squad well, you can at least work some of the plays described in B) above.

H) The worst thing you can do is nothing. At least make some kind of attempt.

By doing nothing you impart to the other team that you are weak defensively and they will take advantage of every situation.

Now there are at least three scenarios regarding the runner stealing second. She may go on a straight steal. She may run a few feet, stop and try to lure a throw so that the other runner can score. She may just lope to second.

Assuming there is a throw through to second or back to the pitcher and the first base runner delays, the defense might use a ruse of its own. The key to the defense in most situations is when a fielder with the ball takes her eye off the base and once the ball handler turns away, she will take off for home. This, of course, can be a key to your defense. For if the ball handler looks away attempting to lure the third base runner into going home, she can then pivot and throw home, hopefully nailing her.

After we have sized up the enemy as to speed, agility, etc., we come up with a plan of attack. It may not work, but at least we tried. Failure is quite common, so don’t get too discouraged. Work harder on your offense to make up for any runs lost.

Keep in mind that you have the same options on offense as you do your opponents. There are many offensive strategies that can be employed with first and third situations. You may be able to think of some. Incidentally, for northern teams, winter practices inside offer excellent opportunities to work on first and third defenses.

Well practiced teams will always have a good defense against our little problem. Their opponents know this and, as a result, hesitate to put on any sort of offensive maneuver. It is wise never to underestimate and opponent’s ability to counter any move you might make. Teams do practice, you know.


 
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