The 2013 Women's College World Series Champion, Coach Patty Gasso, was speechless after Game 1 of the Championship Series in Oklahoma City. In a marathon game, both Tennessee and Oklahoma remained scoreless through 10 complete innings.
The game was an epic pitchers' duel until the top of the 11th, Tennessee generated 3 runs to almost certainly ensure the win. Yet, #1 ranked Oklahoma had the final say after mounting an unlikely comeback for a 5-3 victory over Tennessee.
Lauren Chamberlain hit the 2-run, walk-off bomb to end the game in the bottom of the 12th inning. In the post-game press conference Chamberlain was asked about her approach going into the at-bat. She briefly answered the question followed immediately by the words, “I'm so proud of my team. I can't even talk about myself right now. I ‘ m so proud of my team.”
This is a girl who gets it! Apparently the entire OU program truly understands the team mentality. This group of young women played as a unit, and their team approach was absolutely unstoppable.
Coach Gasso said the hitters were just following instructions to, “find your way on.” The OU offensive philosophy in a nutshell: selflessness. No one player was expected to be the hero or win the game by herself. The goal was clear. Get on base. Whatever it takes . . . find your way on!
Executing Oklahoma's offensive approach is not necessarily easy, but it is fairly simple. Hitters throughout the entire lineup should strive to produce good at-bats. They are not to swing for the fence every AB. Hitters should swing at good pitches, take strong confident hacks and find a way on base.
A solid understanding of hitting counts will allow a hitter to follow Coach Gasso's instructions to “find [her] way on”. The hitter is not expected to change her swing according to different counts, but producing good at-bats requires that she change her approach.
To begin, the count is the total number of balls and the total number of strikes thrown at any given time during an at -bat. If the first pitch thrown to a batter is a ball, the count is 1 -0. If the pitcher throws another ball, the count becomes 2-0. If the hitter swings and misses or watches the next pitch for a called strike, the count is then 2-1 .
Four balls in an at-bat, of course, earn a hitter the Walk. Three strikes will send the hitter back to dugout with a big, fat K. Striking out is not a fun experience, but we do survive!
Now, let's think in more advanced terms. To be most effective at producing good at-bats and finding a way on, it is imperative to understand the concepts of early versus late in an at-bat as well as ahead and behind in the count.
Early in the count means during an at-bat, few pitches have been thrown to the hitter. Typically counts with less than 3 balls and less than 2 strikes at the same time, would be situations tabbed early in the count. Example: 2 balls, 1 strike.
Late in the count, is clearly the opposite situation. More pitches have been thrown in the at-bat. Usually the count stands at more than 2 balls or more than 1 strike. Example: 3 balls, 2 strikes or 3 balls, 1 strike.
To be ahead in the count, as a hitter, means the hitter has earned more balls than strikes. Example: 3 balls, 0 strikes or 3 balls, 1 strike.
When hitters are behind in the count, they typically have been awarded more strikes than balls so far in the AB. Examples: 0 balls, 2 strikes or 1 ball, 2 strikes.
Without a proper understanding of counts, batters take the same approach through an entire AB. Some swing out of their shoes every pitch, while others are constantly timid and bent toward second-guessing themselves. Neither of these methods provides a clear game plan for success and neither will increase a hitter's chances of getting on base.
To make the transition from batter to hitter, understanding counts is vital. What is the right approach, and when is it to be used? Here are some quick tips:
Early in the count the hitter should look for her pitch. This does not mean she should only swing at perfect pitches. The hitter should, however, pick pitches she is confident she can hit well.
Hitters are given three strikes for a reason. Early in the count, be more selective. Great hitters do not give away at-bats by unnecessarily swinging early in the at-bat at pitches that do not typically produce good results.
Late in an at-bat, the hitter will find herself either ahead or behind in the count. When ahead, a hitter should keep the same focused and selective approach as when she began her at-bat.
If she finds herself with three balls, she must stay prepared to swing. When the hitter is ahead, she will usually see better pitches to hit, so she must stay ready to pull the trigger. At the same time, however, she must be willing to take ball 4. A walk is a way to get on, so take it!
If the hitter falls behind in the count, she will need to widen her strike zone and hit pitches that may not be her favorite. She will be less selective and more aggressive. Even when behind in the count, the hitter should avoid swinging at junk pitches. Junk pitches are only considered strikes if the hitter swings and misses. They would not be called strikes without a missed swing.
With two strikes, be sure to protect the plate. Never go down looking! If the pitch is close enough to be called a strike, the hitter should be taking a swing. In a two-strike situation, the hitter should stay under control, but she should never slow her swing to try and make contact. Slowing the swing changes timing and mechanics and does not increase the chances of solid contact.
If each hitter does her part, then the team can be successful. If she is only focused on herself … getting a hit . . . hitting a homerun … or making herself look good, then she does not understand the Oklahoma approach. Her team will not be its best, and she will not maximize her potential.
Learn from Lauren Chamberlain, two-time All-American, two-Time WCWS All-Tournament Team Selection, Member of Team USA and College World Series National Champion. Be focused on your team. With team success comes individual success.
Find a way. Find a way to produce great at-bats. Find a way to play for team over self. Understand counts, and find a way to get the job done!
Charity Butler is respected nationally & internationally as a pro athlete, writer, speaker, collegiate coach, hitting instructor and Certified Intrinsic Life Coach®.Currently, as a Pro Speaker for Sports World, Inc, Charity travels the country speaking to more than 40,000 people annually. As a recognized expert in confidence training, she also presents at various conferences, colleges & universities.Charity is the founder of Exceed Sports, LLC, and of the I Heart Fastpitch Campaign Join Charity On: Twitter, and on Instagram
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