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Defending Against Continuation

by Dave
Thursday, April 12, 2007

We've all seen this too many times to count.   It gets on my nerves to no end.   With a runner on third, the batter draws a walk, trots to first and then continues to second.   If the ball gets thrown to second, the runner from third breaks for home and usually scores.   If the defensive team is lucky, the runner at second is out and the trade has been made - a run for an out.   More often, the defensive team just lets the batter/runner go to second.   Sometimes the defense completely breaks down, throwing to second and then before the batter/runner is out at second, the throw comes too late to home.   The result is a run plus a runner on second with nobody out.   This can completely unnerve the defensive team and there's no reason it should happen.   The answer to this dilemma is practice, practice, practice.

The so-called continuation play can actually be an effective weapon for the offensive team.   This beast usually rears its ugly head in 10U all-star level play.   It is common in 10U tournaments.   It is often used in 12U tournament play.   A few 12U teams can defend against it properly.   Most reasonably good 14U teams don't have much trouble with it.   Yet I've seen this play blown in high school games, resulting in a run which comes back to be the winning score.

The vast majority of 10U teams cannot deal with this well because the players' throwing arms are not strong nor accurate enough.   Most 12U teams have the physical capability to effectively deal with this but they haven't practiced it enough to be efficient.   14U teams definitely have the capability and most decent ones have some way of preventing a team from taking advantage of them in this fashion.   But those 12U and up teams which cannot, fail because they failed to plan and practice the proper execution against it.   Here's my suggestion of a step by step approach with explanations:

Step 1 - The catcher must catch ball four and immediately throw the ball back to the pitcher in the circle.   if she misses it, she should run it down like any passed ball and immediately throw back to the pitcher unless the runner at third has already broken for home.   The idea is to get the ball back to the pitcher as quickly as possible.   This invokes the "look back" rule which forces the runner on third back to base, assuming the pitcher does not immediately make a play or fake a play on any of the runners.

So step one is to force the runner at third's hand - to force her back to base.   If the runner on third stays off the base, the ump should call her out for failing to obey the rules concerning runners when the pitcher is in the circle with the ball.   Coaches who witness such an action, should call time out after the play is dead and then speak to the umpire about his or her failure to invoke the look back rule.   If the ump says your pitcher was making a play, clarify with the ump what they consider making a play and instruct your pitcher on the results of that conversation so it can be avoided.   Generally, a pitcher has to make an affirmative action like raising the ball in her throwing hand in order to turn look back off.

Step 2 - The pitcher, now with the ball, must take up a position whereby she can make a quick, accurate throw to second.   That position should probably be right behind the rubber, with her back to her catcher, watching both runners.   She doesn't really need to watch the runner at third per se since she is required to be back on the bag and because the catcher should be able to tell her if she breaks for home.   Her primary focus is the runner rounding first.

If the runner at first does not immediately continue, the pitcher can turn her back on second base and proceed to the next pitch.   If the runner from first suddenly gets religion and begins to run towards second, the ump should call her out.   You aren't allowed to run to first, stop, and then start toward second.   If this happens and the ump doesn't call the runner at first out, again, you need to have a conversation.   This is improper.

Step 3 - Every other fielder needs to be ready for the next actions.   Your catcher should have her mask off and thrown to the side and be standing in front of the plate, ready to catch a throw to nail the runner from third.   The third baseman should be back ready to catch a throw there should it become necessary.   SS takes the bag at second.   2B is backing her up.   1B is at her bag.   CF is backing up second.   LF is backing up third but looking for a potential throw from SS so all the way over the line and closer to third than usual.   RF is backing up first in the unlikely event the runner gets pickled there.

Step 4 - The pitcher sees the runner from first turn and head for second.   She needn't be in any sort of a rush.   The runner from first is going to take several seconds to get to second base.   Every moment that the pitcher keeps her cool and does not engage, the runner from third is prevented from leaving the bag.   She waits until the runner is close enough for the SS to be able to tag her out quickly when she gets the throw from the pitcher.   Then and only then she makes a short, crisp, accurate throw to the SS.

Step 5 - At this moment, the runner from third will come off the base and perhaps break for home.   The SS needs to make a split-second decision about how quickly she can tag the runner from first out.   An experienced runner will slow down, stop, or reverse.   An inexperienced runner will just run right into the tag and most likely give the SS time to throw the runner out at home.

Step 6 - If the SS sees that the runner from first is experienced enough to make the play difficult and the runner from third is in an all out run to home, she turns and throws to home to prevent the run from scoring.   The result is either an out at home or, if the runner returns to third, the defensive team is no worse off than they would have been just letting the runner go through free and clear to second.

Alternately, if the runner from third is inexperienced, she may hesitate, perhaps not even proceed to home.   If she's far enough off the base to be caught napping, the SS should immediately throw to third to try to nail her.   If she's half way and not proceeding to home, rather than take the risk of making a throw, the SS should grab the ball in her throwing hand and run at medium pace at the runner.   The runner should break in one direction or the other, but if she does not, the SS should continue to trot at the runner while maintaining good body position to make a throw quickly.   The primary object is not to force the runner into breaking for home.   At this stage of the game, you want her either out or back on third.   You do not want to coax her into running home where anything can and does happen.

As an aside, the "continuation play usually occurs with no or one outs.   Offensive teams shouldn't employ this with two outs since the tagged runner at second ends the inning before the run crosses the plate.   But you'll probably see this happen anyways either because the offensive team forgets about the outs or, in a close game, the runner from first will attempt to initiate a pickle and, thereby, allow the run to score before the tag out.   You must discuss this possibility with your team.   You must make sure they know how many outs there are in game situations and that they understand the ramifications of the pickle with two outs.   You should employ "inning situational considerations" into your drills so the players understand what is going on come game time.

OK, so that's it.   You can break this down anyway you like and number the steps anyway you want.   The bottom line here is you should not just let a team walk all over you.   You should detail this defense strategy out for your team in practice and then drill it over and over again until you think they have it right.   Once you've accomplished that, do it another 100 times so there can be no mistake and the whole thing becomes automatic.

The key to this strategy is getting the ball immediately back to the pitcher before the batter has time to drop her bat.   You do that and the runner at third goes back and has to stand in place, waiting for the play to develop.   She gets flat-footed and looses any advantage she may have had a moment ago.   Too often I see catchers recognize what is going to happen next who hold onto the ball and then either throw it back to the pitcher or down to second while the runner at third is 15 feet off the base.   This starts the whole process off as advantage girl at third.   So I cannot emphasize enough the need to get the ball back to the pitcher who is calmly standing within the circle - not making a play on anyone, apparently just thinking about her next pitch.

After you have done that, the next thing which keys this play is the judgment of your SS.   She's supposed to be the most heads up ball player on the field anyways.   She can handle this.   But you must do two things.   You must constantly talk this over with her so she makes an informed judgment.   And you must provide her with plenty of opportunity to practice making tags on incoming runners on this play, making the throw to home, and dealing with a noncommittal runner at third.   This is a nice thing to do at practice right after bunt defense and before you get into pickle practice.

There you have it.   The continuation play need not put a runner on second every time you walk a batter with a runner on third.   If you pull this off often enough, word is going to get around that you are a heads up team.   Teams are going to hesitate to go running on you.   You get a couple outs on these plays in a game and chances are pretty good that you'll completely demoralize your opponent.   They'll be a little intimidated by your defensive prowess.   They won't be able to play in the style to which they've become accustomed.   You may win a game with a single out on this play!   Get a double play on this, and the ball game's pretty much over!!

Whatever you do, do not just teach this with a quick discussion and / or just a few rep.s.   This is a moderately complex play which can fall apart when players are over adrenalized.   This has to be as automatic as the throw back from catcher to pitcher.   This play makes the difference between good and average teams and is repetition dependent.

Comment:

Brad from the River City Traders adds the following:

"We have the second baseman step into the baseline from their second base position.   The catcher quickly throws the ball back to the pitcher as you stated, but when the runner going to first clears first base and continues the pitcher throws to second baseman standing in baseline and tags her out.   She is closer to home than being on second base. (12U) We practice this a lot to make sure the throws are crisp and the basemen and pitchers are aware of what needs to be done.   On the look back rule, a lot of times the umpire is not watching and won't make the call.   But, hopefully after bringing it to their attention they will make the call."

Brad, I agree with your strategy.   We use the SS because, at least on our team, she has a much better arm than the second baseman.   But your approach has advantages since you can tag the runner out halfway to second and that should give you time to easily get the runner from third should she dare to try for home.

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