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NCAA Softball Illegal Pitch Rule Explained

By Roshan Khatiwada / 6 June 2023 02:19 AM

The hand of a softball pitcher must be separated while entering the mound
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NCAA Softball Illegal Pitch Rule states that pitchers cannot make a foot move outside the pitching lane. It gives an advantage to the pitcher over the batter.

Pitching is one of the main elements of softball, and delivering a pitch with perfect motion and technique is essential. A pitcher must follow specific pitching rules and regulations while throwing the ball.

The inability to follow the rules can make the pitch illegal. There are many reasons why a ball can be deemed illegal by the match umpire.

Crow hopping, replanting, and stepping out of the lane are common reasons a pitch is illegal.

Rules differ between associations; the little league has different pitching rules than high schools, whereas high schools have different rules than other softball associations. Pitchers need to be aware of the laws of their association, as regulations are often changed or updated.

What Is An Illegal Pitch In Softball?

Illegal pitches in softball is any move made by the pitcher that violates the rules. Overhand pitching and moving back toes off the rubber are some violations.

The umpires are responsible for calling an illegal pitch. If a foul ball is called before the release, a dead-ball signal is given, and the play is stopped.

However, if the pitch is released before calling, the umpires must let the play go on until a non-contacted pitch reaches the plate or the play is completed.

Delivering a foul ball can be costly for the softball pitcher and their team. It can give an advantage to the opposing team or disrupt the pitcher's rhythm.

A catcher should not touch the ground outside the lines of the catcher's box
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Some reasons why a pitch can be called illegal are:

  • Violation of legal pitching position.
  • Moving stride foot back after its initial set.
  • Taking the signal improperly.
  • Both feet not being within the 24-inch length of the pitching mound before pitching.
  • The pivotal foot not being in contact with the mound, and the secondary not being behind the pitcher's box.
  • Violation of the step/stride rule.
  • Violation of the delivery rule.
  • Violation of the windup rule.
  • Not bringing the hands together in view of the umpire before the windup.
  • Dropping, rolling, or bouncing the ball deliberately.
  • Discontinuing the pitch improperly.
  • Throwing to an unoccupied base from the pitcher's plate.

These are all mistakes that can occur from the pitcher's side. Sometimes, a pitch can be called illegal even if the pitcher throws a legitimate ball.

One such instance is when any infielder or outfielder is not inside the fair territory from when the pitcher steps on the mound until the ball is thrown. Another such instance is the catcher touching the ground outside the lines of the catcher's box in the home plate.

Softball pitchers must follow the given rules to avoid illegal pitches
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Further, if the pitcher's feet are not maintained at a specific distance within a lane from the mound, the ball is declared illegal according to the official rule book of the sport. This ensures the pitcher does not step out of the lane while pitching.

If the pitcher makes an extra revolution after releasing a ball or is not thrown underhand with the hand below the hip and the wrist not farther from the body than the elbow, an illegal pitch is called.

In addition, the pitch must be delivered on the side of the throwing arm of the body and not through or behind the back of the legs. Failure to do so will result in an illegal delivery.

Penalty Over Softball Illegal Pitch

Softball illegal pitch penalty depends on the type of play. The batter is given a ball in his count if they cannot hit it.

However, if the batter can hit the ball and reach the first base safely, and the other base runners advance at least a base, the illegal pitch is canceled, and the play stands.

But if the batter does not reach the first base safely or any base runners fail to advance bases, the opposition coach is given two options. First, the coach can accept the result of the play.

The batters are awarded first base if they are hit by an illegal pitch to which they did not swing
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Secondly, the coach can take a ball on the batter's count, and each runner is awarded one base. The illegal pitch is one of only eleven rules in softball that has an option situation for any one of the two playing teams.

If the batter is hit with an unswung pitch, that is called illegal, the batter is awarded first base, and all other base runners are also awarded one base.

All these penalties are in the context of fastpitch softball. In slowpitch softball, if the batter makes any contact with or swings at an illegal pitch, it is nullified, and the play stands.

The batter is awarded a ball if they do not swing at it. 

What Is Crow Hopping In Softball?

Crow hopping in softball is defined as replanting the pivot foot before delivering the ball. It is one of the most common types of illegal pitches.

While delivering a pitch, one foot must remain on the ground, and the pitcher should drag the back foot, not letting it leave the ground.

But when a pitcher crow hops, both feet leave the ground. Pitchers usually do that to gain more speed and power during the throw.

The umpires must look at the location of the pivot foot during the start of the pitch when the hands separate. The umpire must call an illegal pitch if the pivot foot is off and in front of the pitcher's plate before the hands separate.

Crow hopping is one of the most common illegal pitches in college softball
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Some other types of illegal pitches are:

1. Replanting

This is quite similar to crow hopping, but the pitcher stops in the middle of the softball pitch. Replanting occurs when the pitcher starts dragging their foot and then stops and continues dragging.

The pitcher then lifts their foot and plants it on the ground again before throwing the ball. This occurs during the same pitching motion making it difficult for the umpires to detect it.

2. Stepping outside the lane

While delivering a ball, the pitcher must stay within a pitching lane. The lane's width is the same as that of the pitching rubber.

If the pitcher has their foot outside the lane too far, the umpire will call an illegal pitch. These are also hard to reach because no pitching lane is drawn, and umpires are focused on the pitch rather than the lane.

3. Leaping

Leaping mainly occurs when both feet of the pitcher are lifted off the ground. According to the rules, the pivot foot must be in contact with the ground or drag along the rubber while pitching the ball.

The pivot foot must be in contact with the ground while pitching the ball in softball
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Sliding or pushing the pivot foot is legal as long as the foot has contact with the ground. In the Adult male and Jo boys league, pitchers can go airborne if their pivot toe is pointed downwards.

4. Back toe losing contact with the rubber

This happens when pitchers load their legs and their back toe inches backward, losing contact with the rubber. The pitcher must keep both feet in contact until the pitch is delivered.

This type of illegal pitch is called mainly by the first-base umpires as they have the perfect view of the pitcher's toe.

5. Not presenting the hands apart

When a pitcher steps onto the mound, both hands must be separated, irrespective of the fact whether the pitcher has the ball or not. The hands must be separated until they get a signal from the catcher.

After getting the signal, the hand can come together, and the pitcher can start their pitching motion.

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