Taking Charge of the Rundown

Written By Lisa Iancin

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Taking Charge of the Rundown

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I watch so many youth defensive teams get caught up “in a pickle” over a situation that is considered a base-running mistake. A Rundown situation should be taken literally, “run her down!” If a base runner is caught off the bases from either an accidental pickoff or an intentional first and third play, the defense needs to predetermine that runner as an out expected to happen. Over our articles on Game Speed Defense we talk about a proactive defense versus a reactive defense. Let's go over the common areas of mistake for reactive defensive teams in order to make adjustments needed to take charge of the rundown situation.

Do you ever see a runner go back before a base and stop, just to watch the player chasing her with the ball slow down and also come to a stop?

Why does that always happen? If the base runner slows down, that is the very moment the player holding the ball should speed up to make the tag. It seems like common sense, yet I realize that everything in this game of softball is a mass of common sense lessons that have been taught to us by the right coaches. Yet I believe there is something about the rundown play that brings confusion and unpredictability in which the defense begins to think too long and forgets the common sense elements of the game. In fastpitch softball we are taught to be quick. Everything happens so fast in this game. Ball one, strike two, line out, you're out, well at least I didn't have time to think about it. When our minds and body movements get used to operating within the frame of milliseconds, I suppose having time to think can get in the way. Therefore, let's first talk about the mental approach to a rundown situation so that our pre-planning can help us execute the out.

Anytime the runner is stranded between the base path, have the understanding that she has made a base running mistake and as a defense, we will get her out. Next, let's plan to get the runner out closer to the smaller bag versus the bigger bag, if we must choose. For example, if the catcher with the ball sees a runner stranded right between first and second base, the catcher should run at her at an angle so that she pushes her back to first base. If the runner somehow comes away safe at first base, technically no error counts towards the defense for pushing the runner back to where she came from.

When it comes to timing of throws, let's cut the 60 feet base path into quarters and go back to our scenario between first and second base. If the runner is stranded right in the middle of the two bases, the catcher should charge the runner to push her back towards first. After the runner commits her direction and momentum, the catcher should wait for the first basemen to call for the ball “now” and then make the throw. Communication is key to a solid defense, so let's talk instead of making fake pump throws that confuse the runner and your own teammate while you're at it. The receiver at first base should call “now” for ·the ball just in time to make one pinch step in and drop a solid two hand tag down on the runner. This is a bang bang play close to first base because we prefer to make the out at the lesser base. We want to call for the ball “now” later near the lesser base and earlier near the bigger base to be sure the runner doesn't advance or score on a possible overthrow or missed tag.

As far as the throw is concerned, keep in mind that you are throwing on the run. Account for the momentum of your body running forward as your throwing length is shortening. Many overthrows occur because the receiver says “now” and the throw buzzes passed them and out of play. The throws are too hard, therefore be sure to charge at the runner with your elbow shoulder height and facing your target similar to how you would throw a dart. A dart throw only uses the small joints and muscles in the wrist and forearms which is all you need to get the ball there since your momentum is already doing most of the work. Pointing the elbow towards your target as you run may seem awkward, however it takes away the overpowering muscles surrounding the shoulder complex. This can prevent many overthrows as you can rely on the speed of your run versus the overbearing strength of your throw. In rundown situation, run hard, throw soft.

To be sure the rundown throws do not hit the base runner, let's all get on the same page and elect the receiver to side step and create a throwing lane with the player holding the ball. After making an accurate throw with finesse, clear out of the running lane and cover the back-up position of the base you are moving to.

This way the runner will not collide into you and you can contribute to the Rule of the 3 B's: Ball, Base, and Back-up. An efficient defensive team executes the rundown in minimal throws. More than two throws increases the risk of overthrow when the rundown is more about timing of throws, communication, and running hard.

Once you make an out, don't settle .. .let's get the trail runner!

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Lisa Iancin: Lisa Iancin “LI” competed professionally in the (NPF) for 5 seasons, gathering a national championship in 2004 with the New York/New Jersey Juggernaut and in 2006 with the New England Riptide. In 2005, Iancin was named the NPF Defensive Player of the Year. Among her college accolades at Cal are First Team AII-Pac 10 and back-to-back appearances at the Women's College World Series in 1999 and 2000. Internationally, Iancin played for Team Bussolengo, Italy in 2001. Iancin was the Assistant General Manager of the Tennessee Diamonds for the 2010 (NPF) season. To find out more about LI go to LISoftballAcademy.com

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