The Short Game
If you really want to be successful in fastpitch softball, your offensive team MUST be able to effectively bunt the ball, and your defensive team MUST be able to defend agains the short gamet.
From an offensive standpoint, you must be able to put the ball in play against dominating pitching and you must be able to move runners around the bases.
From a defensive standpoint, you MUST be able to shut down the other team’s short game. Otherwise, that’s all you will see once they determine you can’t defend it.
The Bunting Game
An excellent way to really sharpen your overall short-game offense and defense is to play the bunting game. This will improve your bunting skills, your base running skills, and your defense.
Divide your players into two teams based on their primary and secondary infield positions. Generally we do not use a pitcher in this drill. Position your Louisville Slugger pitching machine on the pitcher’s mound and have a coach operate it. Position the players at first, second, shortstop, third, and catcher. This is essentially a scrimmage with only bunting allowed. You might want to eliminate stealing as well depending on age and ability. The first team bats until they have three outs and then switches to defense. Obviously since the defense knows what is coming the coach must make sure they play their positions as they would in a real game. No cheating up before the pitch is thrown.
From an offensive standpoint, this is going to allow your hitters to see where they need to place the ball to get a hit. The bunting game gives them immediate feedback so they are able to learn and adjust.
This game also provides a great time for working on getting your runner from first to third on a bunt. Let the runners know their goal is to go all the way from first to third. They need to make a hard turn at second and be looking for the coach. I have found bunting to the left side of the infield, to keep the third baseman occupied, offers better results on getting your runner to third.
Obviously on the defensive side, you are practicing having first and third crash the plate, second base is covering first base and the shortstop is covering either second or third depending on the situation. With a runner on first base, if the batter shows bunt, we have our shortstop hold her position until the ball is bunted or missed. If the ball is bunted then she breaks for third base, if the ball is missed she breaks for second base. You are probably scratching your head about that so here is my reasoning. If the ball is put in play, I would NEVER have one of the players attempt to throw out the lead runner at second base. The odds of making that play successfully are probably 1 in 50. So, we send our shortstop to cover third so that runner can’t go from first all the way to third. However, she can NOT cheat on her coverage. She must HOLD her position to see if the ball is missed. If it is missed, she must be breaking to second to cover the steal. If she breaks to third to early, you will have given second up without a challenge. Because the shortstop can’t get a quick break on defending the steal, we generally have her positioned two strides towards second base in this situation to give her a chance at covering the steal. She should still be able to cover third in case of a successful bunt. Fastpitch softball is a speed game. Don't let the other team's speed beat you.
I am always amazed at the amount of runs we score on ourselves when practicing this drill. I usually leave this practice thinking my defense is made up of the keystone cops and that my offense is unstoppable. This drill is about the closest practice you can have as far as putting your players in pressure game-like situations. You should be able to get in an inning about every 8 minutes. No walking off and on the field, the pitcher doesn’t need to warm up, just set up the Louisville Slugger pitching machine and go. We will even leave a catcher behind the plate until the other catcher has time to get her gear on so there is no lost time.
If your team is having problems bunting, or defending the short game, you should run this drill every practice until they have it mastered. Nothing will improve your offense quicker than learning how to execute the short game, and nothing will kill your defense quicker than the other team finding out you can’t defend it. Just a few weeks ago in a game, I had 9 hitters bunt in a row! We scored five runs, left three on base and had one out. Our league plays a 5 runs per inning maximum. The score at the end of the first inning was 5-0 and the game was essentially over and WON. We could do it successfully because we had practiced it. My hitters knew where to place the ball and how to read the defense, and my runners knew what it took to get to the next base.
I think you will also find that your players will love this drill. Let’s face it, most players would rather play than practice, and with this drill they are allowed to play and compete. It’s an awesome exercise for building skills and confidence.