Fastpitch Softball Bunt Coverage
Improving Your League
To be a solid fastpitch softball defensive team, your team must be well-drilled in fastpitch softball bunt coverage. This article will discuss the standard scheme that works best for your base defense. Moreso than other softball skills, practice and repetition will be paramount in executing bunt coverage, as this play requires an inordinate amount of team chemistry.
The typical layout of your defensive unit should have the 1st baseman playing in towards home about 3-5 feet. The 2nd baseman and Shortstop should be positioned somewhere behind the baseline (depending on the age and level of competition). The 3rd baseman should be positioned about 10-12 feet inside the bag towards home plate. This base positioning dictates that the 3rd baseman, 1st baseman, pitcher and catcher are the four players in position to field the ball. The ideal player to field the ball is the 3rd baseman. She needs to be the General on the field on bunt coverage plays as she is the player moving towards the play at 1st base and she should have the best vision of the entire play. As she is charging the ball, she needs to make the call as to who will field the ball. How many times have we seen 2 or more players converge on the ball and think the other player will make the play only to make no play at all? Too many! The 3rd baseman should be charging the ball and call the position of the player that is in the best position to make the play.
Probably the hardest bunt to field is the ball placed about 6 feet in front of home plate and down the 1st baseline. This is a prime example where team chemistry will come in to play. The 3rd baseman will have to quickly assess who has the best play on the ball. Typically, the catcher would be the preferred choice since her momentum is headed towards 1st base; however, she may have been slow getting out of her position.
Softball Bunt Coverage - No Runners on Base
With no runners on base, 1st, Pitcher, Catcher, and 3rd are going to crash the ball. The 2nd baseman has the responsibility to cover 1st base and receive the throw. The rightfielder should take an angle to about 20 - 30 feet behind 1st base and near the foul line to cut off any errant throws. It's critical for the rightfielder to maintain a safe distance behind 1st base otherwise the errant throw to 1st base could well end up in the right field corner for a homerun. The centerfielder should take an angle to be positioned behind the rightfielder to help with retrieving an errant throw. The shortstop should head to 2nd base in case of an error at 1st base. The leftfielder should take an angle to position herself behind the shortstop.
Softball Bunt Coverage - Runner on 1st Base
TAKE THE OUT AT 1ST BASE!!! Don't even consider going for the lead runner and trying to get the out at 2nd base. It's fools gold and you would be lucky to make that play 10% of the time. All of the player's positioning is the same except for the shortstop and leftfielder. This is the MOST DISCIPLINED PLAY the shortstop will have to make. Her instinct is to cover 2nd base for a steal, however, if she does that and the bunt is put in play, it will turn into a foot race between her and the runner to get to 3rd base (If the runner on 1st sees the shortstop at 2nd, she just continues running to 3rd knowing it's going to be a very difficult play for shortstop to run from 2nd to 3rd and be in position to make a catch and tag). To play this correctly, position the shortstop 5 feet closer to 2nd base so she is in position to cover the steal without having to break to the base prior to knowing if the ball is successfully bunted. If the ball is not bunted, she covers 2nd base for the steal. If the ball is successfully bunted she covers 3rd base. She can't cheat to cover 3rd base either, or if the runner on 1st is stealing the shortstop will be out of position to take the throw. The leftfielder will take an angle to be about 20 - 30 feet behind 3rd base and on the left field foul line to back up an errant throw.
Softball Bunt Coverage - Runners on 1st and 2nd Base
Again, TAKE THE OUT AT 1ST BASE!!! Depending on the age and skill level of your team, it may be possible to get the lead runner at 3rd base. If the bunt is very short so the catcher can make a quick play, of if the bunt is too hard and the pitcher or 1st baseman can make a quick play, it COULD be possible to get the runner out at 3rd base. However, the odds are certainly not in your favor, and if the play is unsuccessful the result is having the bases loaded. Coverage on this play is the same as the coverage for a runner on 1st base coverage. The noted exception is the rightfielder needs to know on an overthrow she should be prepared to throw the ball home. Also, the leftfielder needs to take her backup position behind 3rd base in case the play is attempted at 3rd base.
Softball Bunt Coverage - Bases Loaded
The unique thing about this play is that either 1st base or Catcher needs to make the call as to where to throw the ball. The 3rd baseman and pitcher have a much more difficult time knowing how close the runner is to home plate. Also unique for this play, is that the catcher needs more discipline. She must immediately determine if another fielder can play the ball and toss it to her for the force out at home. If this is the case, she needs to take a 1st baseman's stance at the plate and be prepared to receive the throw and then throw to 1st base for a double play. She must also determine if she is the only player that can make a play on the ball and get the out at either home or 1st base. This is a pressure play on the defense, but with a fair amount of practice should be able to make the play at home on a fairly routine basis. If there is ever ANY DOUBT about making the out at home, the fielders must take the out at 1st base.
Softball Bunt Coverage - Look for the Double Play
When runners are on base and the bunt play is on, this is an ideal time to look for the double play. Typically the runners, especially a trailing runner, will take sizeable leadoffs on when the bunt is on. Train your players to react to a bunt that is popped up in the air. The easiest runner to double up is generally a runner on 1st base. Catch the pop up and fire the ball to 1st base for the force out. The lead runner is usually in a good enough position to be able to return to her base safely, however she probably is out of position to be able to advance when you throw to 1st for the double play.
Softball Bunt Coverage - Take the Out
Almost without exception, your team is far better off taking the out at 1st base. Considering the difficulty of getting the lead runner and the position you leave yourself in if the play is not successful, it's hardly ever worth the risk of going for the lead runner. I would submit the only time when it is imperative to get the lead runner is when the game-winning run is on 3rd base. Even if it is the game tying run on 3rd base, I would strongly consider taking the out at 1st base and allowing the runner on 3rd to score. If you go for the out at home and are unsuccessful, you have allowed the game to be tied and allowed the winning run on base or advance on the bases without getting an out. As a coach, you are finding a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and that's not a good thing.
Remember that the key to having a successful fastpitch defense is to make a very high percentage of easy outs. You must avoid giving up big innings to your opponent. In fastpitch softball, one big offensive inning can very easily decide the game. If you repeatedly play for the lead runner, you will consistently give up big innings. Further, if you can NOT shut down your opponents bunting game, you don't have much of a chance to win. In another article on this site, I tell the story of bunting 10 batters in a row one inning. Trust me, you don't want to be the team that sees 10 bunts in a row. That means your team can't cover the bunt, and you can't win the game. For the best way to practice your softball bunt coverage scheme please refer to the article
The Bunting Game.
Now, Go get ‘em coach!
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