For fastpitch softball pitchers to be solid foundations for their teams, they must have solid foundations with proper mechanics.
Pitchers from 18 high school teams will be attempting to lead a title run this weekend at The Summit of Softball Complex when Ooltewah hosts its 23rd Lady Owls Choo Choo Classic.
The bulk of pool play is scheduled today, although the National Weather Service is reporting that showers are likely with a slight chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. More pool-play games are scheduled Saturday morning starting at 9.
Based on final pool records, teams will be placed in Gold and Silver brackets for single-elimination scheduled to start early in the afternoon.
Marty McDaniel, a former baseball catcher who started playing fastpitch softball when he was 16 and began pitching in his early 20s, has been involved with college coaching for 17 years. He started the program at Armstrong Atlantic State in Savannah, Ga., and was 276-82 in seven seasons there. Since 2005 he's been the pitching coach at currently No. 6-ranked Tennessee (35-6).
"Starting out you've got to be very basic," McDaniel said. "Arm circles are very important, and wrist snaps. Another important thing is leg drive. Your legs have the strongest muscles in your body. They take stress off every other joint.
"Without proper mechanics, on down the road it could lead to injury. Plus without them, it's hard to throw a strike."
Beth Keylon-Randolph is a former standout pitcher at Hixson High School and Tennessee Tech University. This is her 16th season overall as a college coach - she's been head softball coach at Chattanooga State since 2002 - and for 17 years she's instructed at her own academy.
"Fundamentals are the key to everything," said Keylon-Randolph, whose 2011 Lady Tigers are 37-8 and ranked third in NJCAA Division I. "You have to make sure your body is working together - arms and legs."
Release point crucial
Walker Valley is set to take on Arts & Sciences today at 6 p.m. The Lady Mustangs' pitching leader is Sidney Hooper and her CSAS counterpart is another sophomore right-hander, Liana Rodrigues.
Hooper comes at batters with a smooth delivery and relies on ball movement to be successful. Her instructor is former Ooltewah and Lee University pitcher Jalayne Mongar.
"Sidney has great fundamentals," Walker Valley coach Lauren Limburg said. "She's one of those pitchers who's always correcting herself. She's able to do that, I think, because she is so fundamental. She's dedicated to making herself better."
Rodrigues has a windup and delivery more out of the norm and has had it from the time she pitched in 10-under. From address, she brings the ball high over her head, then goes through a few gyrations before striding toward home plate.
"It's normal to me," Rodrigues said. "I didn't have a pitching coach when I was little. I didn't know the difference."
Chip Liner, coach of the Lady Patriots' District 5-A rival Silverdale Baptist, said batters have to try to block out all of her "herky-jerky" motions and concentrate on the area around the right hip where the ball is released. His team went nine up, nine down the first time through the order when the teams played April 7.
Sale Creek first-year coach Mandi Turner has been Rodrigues' instructor since middle school. Rodrigues said she's learned from Turner that timing is important and said Turner has never tried to tinker with her pre-pitch routine.
McDaniel said he doesn't try to adjust pitchers' deliveries at UT so much as "tweak" them when one needs help. He also believes that timing on the delivery has more to do with success than what goes on beforehand. He thinks if you changed the windup someone has grown accustomed to, "they probably couldn't find the plate."
Keylon-Randolph has a diverse pitching staff to work with this spring.
"We have five pitchers and they're all different," she said. "They all get to the release point in a different way. The big key is having a good fundamental motion with a full arm swing, and keep repeating it over and over and over.
"All the stuff you see in the beginning, that's just style points. That's really up to the individual. All you want to do is make sure their arm is on a straight line and that it's in tight."
McDaniel also stresses the importance of keeping the throwing arm close throughout each pitch.
"When the arm gets away from the body and you can see a lot of daylight," he said, "that's not a good thing."
Softball wearing, too
Soddy-Daisy baseball coach Jared Hensley had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder last August. He said he thinks the injury was caused by wear and tear of overhand throwing - about 300 pitches every batting practice without stretching properly.
"Research says that softball is a natural motion," Hensley said. "When you lift your hand up over your shoulder, you can feel the arm tighten up. That's why a baseball pitcher needs four days of rest, whereas in softball a team might play 62 games with one player throwing 58 of them."
Keylon-Randolph said some studies in the last few years have concluded that labral tears and rotator-cuff problems are increasingly prevalent among softball pitchers, too. An October 2006 article at training-conditioning.com cites poor mechanics and overuse as main causes of chronic injuries in softball pitchers. It also points out that the windmill motion provides a comparable strain on the shoulder as the pitching motion in baseball and has a wearing effect on a pitcher's arm.
No one is going to be an effective pitcher without talent. But even with talent, learning to be mechanically sound, warming up properly and resting between pitching outings is necessary to be effective for a long period of time.
"I'm a firm believer in keeping things simple," McDaniel said. "Then I think there's less chance to make mistakes."