Sometimes you can outsmart yourself with changes
This afternoon I had the opportunity to watch the University of Arizona v. UCLA softball game. It was the second game of their three-game series and a lot of fun to watch.
U of A was behind for most of the game. Despite all the offense they’ve been putting up against non-Pac 12 teams, they seemed to struggle against UCLA. They were shut out in yesterday’s game, and were down 3-1 until the top of the seventh.
The Wildcats had a runner on first and no outs when one of their hitters hit a comebacker to pitcher Jessica Hall. She wheeled around to throw to second and — threw the ball away. Runners were safe at first and second. At that point, despite the fact that Hall had been pitching lights-out, Coach Inouye-Perez decided to make a pitching change, bringing in Ally Carda who had shut U of A out the day before. (Carda and Hall switched positions.) After a sac bunt to waste an out, Kellie Fox hit a three-run home run to put Arizona up 4-3. They were three outs from evening the series at 1-1.
SPOILER ALERT: If you have the game on DVR stop reading here until you’ve watched it.
Ok, everybody else. In the bottom of the seventh, Coach Candrea decided to replace Kenzie Fowler, who had had some troubles but pitched her way out of them, with Estella Pinon. She immediately got into trouble, giving up a solo homer to leadoff hitter Mysha Sataraka. She then walked two batters and hit one to load the bases. At that point she appeared to have heat exhaustion and was lifted in favor of Nancy Bowling. Bowling promptly surrendered a walk off grand slam homer to Gracie Gould.
Knowing when to replace a pitcher is always a tough call. There may have been factors influencing things that we TV viewers don’t know. But from the outside it sure appears both coaches may have outsmarted themselves, and one wound up paying for it.
For those of us coaching on lesser stages there are a couple of lessons to be learned here. First is that even the highest-level coaches can make mistakes, or at least decisions they regret later. So when you do it – and we all do – don’t beat yourself up too badly.
The second lesson, in my opinion, is when you have a pitcher on a roll, go with it. Wait until she shows she can’t handle things before you decide to take her out. She may not be on top of her game, but she has a feel for what’s going on. Unless you have a pitcher whose actual role is to be a closer – and softball teams rarely do — it’s tough to come in cold. You may be better off sticking with what you’ve got rather than taking a chance with someone new. Better the devil you know!
What’s your story? Have you ever taken out a pitcher based on what you thought what might happen only to have it blow up in your face? I sure have! Share your stories in the comments.
NOTE: Edited to reflect what actually happened.