For many coaches, defending the first and third situation is like letting your 16 year old take the car out for the first time. Odds are, it will go well — but if it goes badly, it can go very badly, very quickly. Handing the keys over to your defense in this situation requires confidence not only from the coach but also from the players.
In the early stages of first and third situations, many coaches just let the player at first steal second to avoid any collateral damage due to a bad decision by the defense. But for the coaches who have decided to take the offensive on the defensive side of the ball, the results not only can lead to outs, but also begin to instill confidence in their players.
While the examples that follow are just some of the ways to defend the first and third situation, these are some methods a team can use to begin to introduce the situation.
The first step is to set up your defense so it reacts in a similar fashion regardless of what play you are calling. For instance, if we’re going to fake a throw to second and fire to third, the shortstop and second baseman must follow the same routine as if the throw is coming down to second, or being cut off by a middle infielder. If they change their positioning for each different reaction, runners can just watch them and react accordingly.
Throw to second; shortstop or second cuts off: This is probably the most important of the plays because it will set the tone for the positions on the field that the shortstop and second baseman will take on every first and third situation. Some coaches prefer to have the shortstop cut in front of second base, somewhere near the top of the pitcher’s circle, closest to second base, while the second baseman covers second. Other coaches like to have the second baseman cut in front of the base, again at the top of the pitcher’s circle near second base, because the second baseman has an easier time looking at third base to see what the runner is doing. Whichever player cuts off the ball, that player then looks to third to see what the runner is doing, firing to third, home or running toward the runner to get the out at third, if possible.
Fake the throw to second; throw to third: In this scenario, the catcher fakes a strong throw to second but holds the ball and then quickly fires to the third baseman. The shortstop and second baseman continue their paths to covering second base or cutting off the throw to second.
Throw to second, pitcher cuts off: This takes practice because the catcher comes up out of the crouch and makes an aggressive throw to second base, with the same speed on the ball as if throwing to second base. The throw needs to be low enough, around the height of the pitchers' shoulder, so the pitcher can cut the ball off. The pitcher then looks at third to see the runner’s reaction.
Throw down to second: This play tends to be used more if there are two outs and there is a chance to just throw the runner out at second. Or if your team has a big lead and the runner at third tends to be inconsequential. It is possible to throw the runner out at second and then throw home to possibly get the runner from third going home.
These are just a few opportunities to defend first and third — share some other methods you have used in the comments area below!
From GameChanger and Bill Kugelberg. Kugelberg is a travel coach for the Naperville Diamonds Softball Association, located in the Chicagoland area.