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Unwinding the science of fastpitch in Bremerton and Central Kitsap
She led her team to a third-place finish at state by pitching three shutouts in four games — in one day.
Jessica Cabato remembers quite well that Saturday in 2000, when the Central Kitsap High School fastpitch team registered four consecutive victories on day two of the Class 4A state fastpitch tournament to earn bronze.
Now the head fastpitch coach at Olympic College, Cabato threw hundreds of pitches and more than 20 innings that day. And she could have thrown more.
“Pitchers are pitchers for a reason. They want the ball all the time,” Cabato said. “I always wanted it to be me out there.”
Welcome to the mind of an ace starting pitcher, a position in fastpitch that requires not only mental strength, but physical stamina as well.
Unlike baseball, where pitchers receive four or five days off between starts, the top arms in high school and college fastpitch take the mound daily — and often more than once.
It is not uncommon in fastpitch for pitchers to pitch three, four, five or even six complete games in a single day.
The underhand pitching motion, or windup, doesn’t strain the arm like the overhead toss of baseball, allowing aces like Cabato to anchor the mound for entire days and seasons without much of a break.
“Our motion is a lot more natural,” Cabato said. “There’s not as much torque on the arm as there is in baseball.”
To casual fans the fastpitch motion may appear anything but natural. It involves a stride followed by a quick, circular rotation of the arm, culminating with a follow-through.
But the best pitchers get their speed and power from their lower-body rather than their arm. The spin and movement of pitches come from gripping the ball different ways and snapping the wrist.
The motion begins with the pitcher facing the catcher and batter, their hips pointed toward the batter’s box, at which time they “present” the ball. Then the windup begins, with the pitcher raising their throwing arm as their body turns, toward third base for right-handed pitchers and first base for lefties.
After a pitcher’s throwing arm goes above their head, it drops down to waist level and they release the ball. The follow through pulls the pitcher’s body back toward the plate and they finish the motion in the position they started, on their “power line.”
“I tell my players to think of their hips as a door, and when they are facing the catcher the door is closed,” said Cabato, who became an all-conference player at Bethune-Cookman University in Florida. “You have to turn your hips and open the door to let your arm through.”
But for an ace, that’s only part of the job.
The best pitchers, particularly at the college level, have six-pitch repertoires, including Olympic College ace Jacqui Bushor, a Bremerton High School grad.
Kim Chase, a senior at Central Kitsap who has pitched nearly every inning for the Lady Cougars this season, has five pitches.
She throws a fastball, changeup, drop ball, screw ball and curveball, though she also has variations of them, like the “drop-curve” and a “rising screw.”
Each pitch requires a different grip, and velocity doesn’t necessarily mean the pitches are harder to hit.
“For me, it’s all about hitting my spots and getting spin on the ball,” said Chase, whose father Mike Chase is the fastpitch coach at Bremerton. “Speed is the third part of the equation.”
Chase became Central Kitsap’s full-time starter at the beginning of this season, replacing former standout Carolyn Cross, who threw 1,956 pitches in 109 innings in 2009.
Although coach Bruce Welling hasn’t tracked Chase’s complete pitching stats in 2010, she could end up with a similar final pitch count.
She has been effective in five starts this season, leading Central Kitsap to a 3-2 record. One of the losses came by a 1-0 score against defending Class 3A state champion Bainbridge High School.
“I’ve very pleased with her progress,” Welling said. “If she continues to pitch the way she has, we’ll do quite well.”
Also a select-ball pitcher for the Diamond Dusters, Chase has been pitching since the age of 7. The first pitch she learned to throw was the fastball, and she began to learn more complicated pitches around the age of 12.
The rise ball is the only commonly thrown pitch Chase doesn’t use, but she compensates for that with a variation of a screw ball that rises.
Her velocity varies depending on which pitch is being thrown, Chase said, with her fastball hovering around 55 miles per hour. That translates to slightly less than 90 miles per hour because the distance from the mound to home plate is 43 feet in fastpitch. In baseball, meanwhile, the distance is 60-and-one-half feet.
Lower-body strength is the key to throwing fast. And lower-body conditioning is the key to maintaining accuracy.
“It’s like a boxer in the late rounds,” Welling said. “When their legs go, they can’t knock anybody out.”