The game of fast pitch softball is evolving more and more each year. It's because of this that batters are more prepared to hit the pitches that are thrown at them. Since the batters have adjusted to the pitches, our infielders need to be even faster in fielding and throwing the ball. This drills will help your infield become a well rounded defense, making great plays throughout the year.
Fielding Ground Balls. Obviously in the infield, you will be fielding ground balls. How do you get better? You practice. Here are some ways to mix up the routine of hitting and fielding ground balls. Fielding From Your Poistion. You need to get a feel for your position, therefore you need to field ground balls from that spot. Make sure to hit ground balls to each side of the player, as well as hard grounders, soft grounders to make them charge in on, and ones right at them. Making the throw to the right base is crutial too because you could make a great play on the ball, but mes sup the throw and have your awesome play be totally forgotten (or remembered for a bad reason!) To make things even more real, use base runners and different situations. For example, have a runner on 2nd with one out and hit it to your 2nd baseman. This gives your base runners practice and your infield! Fielding From Other Positions. When it really comes down to it, a ground ball is a ground ball. Have your players switch up positions to keep things new and fresh. Plus, it gives them practice at a spot in case you ever need to put them there. Be sure to hit a variety of balls at them at this new spot, just as you did at their old spot. All Infielders Field From One Spot. This changes ground balls up a 3rd way, and allows your catcher to get some ground balls. Start by having a bucket of balls next to you, and an empty bucket out with your infielders. Have your entire infield line up at 3rd base. The first person up will be playing in, just like a 3rd basemen would for a bunt. You will be hitting constant ground balls at them and as they field them, they just toss them off to their right side. You hit the entire bucket at them and then the team helps to pick up the balls and put them in the bucket. The girl that just went runs the full bucket in and takes the empty bucket out. You repeat this until all girls have gone. Next you move to shortstop. Repeat what you did at 3rd base. Then move to 2nd base. Repeat. Finally, 1st base.
Bunt Situation Coverage. Bunt coverage is something that definitely needs to be practiced. The best way I think to do this is to have runners on base. That lets your infield and catcher know how fast they really have to move. Make sure you let your infield know who is covering what base. Generally, with a runner on 1st, our first basemen covers first, 2nd basemen backs it up, short stop has second, 3rd base is in and the pitcher covers the first base side. Depending on what kind of speed you have on the field, your set up may be different. Practice this over and over, and to really keep them on their toes, throw a ground ball in there instead of a bunt to see how they react. It'll keep them ready! Something else that needs to be practiced is the Suicide Squeeze Bunt Coverage. This is when there is a runner on 3rd and the other team bunts. On the pitch, the runner on 3rd is coming in so it's up to the batter to get a bat on the ball somehow someway. In this situation it's important to remind the players to not freak out. Field the ball quickly and get her out at home (if that run means anything). If not, field the ball and throw it to first for the out. Make sure to practice this because it's becoming more prevalent in softball today.
Relay Coverage. What happens when you catch a runner on the other team in a rundown? Your players need to know where to go and what to do to either get that runner back to her base or get her out! You don't want her advancing to the next base. The best way to practice this is with runners. Try to pick your faster ones first. This gives baserunning lessons and infield practice. Here's the situation: There is a rundown between 2nd and 3rd base. Your second basemen has the ball and she's going to throw it to the 3rd basemen. What should happen is your first basemen and center fielder should be sprinting in to get behind the 2nd basemen so there's someone there to back up the throw and catch the next ball. Your left fielder and short stop should be sprinting in behind the 3rd basemen for the same reason. As the throws are being made, the distance between the players and the runner should be getting shorter. This means the defense should be running at the runner! After you run at her and make a throw, you fill in behind the other line. Try to keep the throws to 3 or less! Anything over that is a recipe for disaster. Practice this!
Slap Hitter Coverage. With the game evolving more each year, teams are trying to get more left-handed slap hitters. These are usually very quick runners who can put the ball just over the infields head and get a single everytime. Sometimes they even hit them to an infielder, but they're just so fast they are safe. You need to devise a strategy for playing the slap hitter. I like pulling the outfield in to where the grass meets the infield. Maybe a few steps back. Then I keep my first basemen back, and my 2nd basemen back even farther, almost to my outfielder. This eliminates putting the ball in that hole. I pinch my short stop over towards second just a little bit, and back her up to in line with the basepath. I also move my third basemen off the line a little. The pitcher is responsible for covering the first and third base sides if she bunts or hits a really slow roller. However you have your defense, it needs to be practiced so the girls become familiar with it. I can almost guarantee you'll see a slap hitter during the season!
"No Man's Land" Balls. Ever hear of no man's land? It's the part of the field just between the left fielder and the short stop, the field between the 2nd basemen and right fielder, the space right behind second base, that little area right behind the pitcher, the side of the field behind third base down the line, and the area behind first base down the line. Who gets these balls? Well, it's different in every scenario, depending on exactly where the ball is. It's important for you to assemble your defense and either hit or throw balls to these areas so the fielders become familliar with what they can and cannot get. As a general rule of thumb, outfielders always take balls they know they can get because they're coming in. Short stops usually get the ball behind 3rd base, and 2nd basemen usually get the ball behind first base. This could all change, though, depending where the ball is. Be sure to put different girls in with people they don't normally play with, so they also get the feel of what they can get. For example, put a 2nd string 2nd basemen in with your starting 1st basemen. It's a possible scenario for a game.
Hitting Your Cut Offs. This is an important thing to remember as an outfielder, and for your infielders to be aware of. The infield needs to set themselves up so they can receive the ball from an outfielder and be ready to throw. This means that they should almost be running in the direction the ball is flying (sort of away from it) so they can quickly grab it and they'll already be taking their step to throw. They should not be standing facing the person throwing the ball. This means they will have to turn and then throw the ball, wasting precious seconds. Practice this with both the infield and outfield, and make sure they know who the cut off is for the center fielder.
Hopefully these drills and ideas were helpful. By practicing them, your infield will be sharp as a tack and ready to stop any ball hit at them!