On Monday, Old Town High School senior righthander Rachel Martin pitched a complete-game 6-2 win over Mount Desert Island.
The next day, she went the distance again to beat defending state champ Hermon 4-1. Martin threw 124 pitches and struck out 15.
She stands just 5-foot-2.
A softball team can go a long way on the arm of just one pitcher.
There are no limitations on innings pitched in high school softball as there are in baseball.
In Maine, baseball pitchers have to have a full day’s rest from pitching if they pitch between one to three innings. Even if a pitcher throws just one pitch, he is considered to have pitched a full inning.
If they pitch more than three innings, they must have three calendar days of rest before they pitch again.
And Mike Burnham, assistant executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association, said the MPA’s Sports Medicine committee is exploring the possibility of implementing a pitch count system similar to Little League.
A softball pitcher can pitch every day and can even do both ends of a doubleheader in some instances, though it is ultimately a coach’s decision.
The windmill delivery used by softball pitchers is much easier on the arm than baseball pitchers’ overhand, three-quarter arm or sidearm deliveries.
“I’ve never had many problems with arms in softball,” Phil Mateja, who has been an athletic trainer for 41 years and is the trainer at Hampden Academy, said.
“You don’t put the strain on shoulders and elbows that you do in baseball,” he said.
Softball pitchers aren’t as susceptible to rotator cuff impingements as baseball pitchers, according to University of Maine athletic trainer Paul Culina.
“When you cock your arm way up over your head to throw a pitch in baseball, that leaves a very narrow passage for tendons to travel through. That’s where you get a lot of rotator cuff problems,” Culina said. “The impingements occur to the tendons from the narrow openings.”
The rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles in the shoulder that connect the upper arm to the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff tendons supply stability to the shoulder and allow the shoulder to rotate.
Culina said the elbow also is susceptible to injury because there is an internal rotation when the arm comes around and it puts “a lot of high-velocity stress on the ulnar collateral ligament on the inside of the elbow.”
The softball windmill delivery is a “natural motion,” according to long-time Bucksport High School coach Mike Carrier, who noted his pitchers get stronger with more use during the season.
“I’ve heard some coaches say they need to use more than one pitcher because they’re tired at the end of the year. I’ve never found that. My kids get stronger and better as the year goes along,” Carrier said.
Martin is able to throw every day thanks to her pitching mechanics. Her delivery involves an active lower body and exceptional leg drive to the plate.
“I was taught that I was too small to just use my arm. I had to use my body,” Martin explained.
She said she hasn’t experienced any arm problems but admitted “if I throw too much, my arm goes dead” and she doesn’t have her normal zip on the ball.
“I ice my arm and try to rest it when I can,” Martin said. “And I check in with the coach [Jenn Plourde] and she checks in with me.”
Plourde regularly sends text messages to Martin to check on her arm and said she will use another pitcher from time to time, particularly against a lesser opponent, to make sure Martin is “healthy at the end of the season.”
“It’s more of a stamina thing (if I pitch a lot); it’s not a shoulder issue,” Hermon standout junior pitcher Karli Theberge said.
Husson University ace Kayla Merrill said she pitched every game her junior and seniors years at Telstar High School in Bethel and never developed a sore arm.
University of Maine ace Alexis Bogdanovich, a former Miss Maine Softball when she pitched at South Portland High, admitted her arm will get sore after a full weekend of pitching, “but it goes away in a couple of days. I’m used to it. I’ve pitched a lot my whole life.”
Many softball pitchers have grown up throwing two or three games per day during their Amateur Softball Association (ASA) days. Several of them pitch year-round and have a pitching instructor.
Coaches have their own philosophies concerning their pitchers.
“We have our pitchers do a series of exercises with elastic bands,” Bangor coach Don Stanhope said.
The elastic bands are used for strengthening the rotator cuff.
Stanhope also believes in having at least two pitchers he can rely on to save any potential arm problems and to keep his pitchers’ arms fresh.
Carrier said he has his pitchers undertake a weight training regimen to make sure their rotator cuff muscles are “nice and strong.”
Brewer coach Skip Estey said he concentrates on building up their legs and core to take strain off the arm.
“If their legs and core aren’t strong, they could develop arm troubles,” Mateja said.
Estey said poor pitching mechanics also can lead to problems.
“Sometimes pitchers will drop their elbows, [and that can be problematic],” he said.
Estey, who also coaches in ASA, said he gets irritated when he sees pitchers 14 years old or younger throw a lot of innings.
That can lead to problems, he said.
Oceanside of Rockland/Thomaston coach Rusty Worcester said it is easier for a pitcher to stay loose in warmer weather. Cold weather can be difficult because pitchers can’t get a good grip on the cold ball.
He believes in having his pitchers as well as his non-pitchers ice their arms, “especially early in the season,” and he stresses leg drive.
Worcester also said arm fatigue becomes noticeable during the course of a game.
“The pitcher loses command of her pitches. She walks more people and maybe her speed decreases,” Worcester said.
Mateja said pitchers who pitch year-round and who work with their pitching coaches Sundays during the season can be victims of “overuse,” but it is rare.
“It is such a different motion than baseball pitchers. They can go on forever,” Mateja said.