Hornet softball pitchers explain the art of the riseball

Clifton Jones

The art of pitching has changed over the years in both softball and baseball. Both have different styles of pitching. However, softball has one unique style of pitch known as the riseball.

Softball pitchers use the riseball to change elevations on the batter, to keep the batters off balance. Sacramento State softball pitchers all have the riseball in their arsenal of pitches- some use it more than others depending on how well they control the pitch.

Out of the four Hornet pitchers, there are only two pitchers that use the riseball more than 40 percent of the time in games. Sophomore Caitlin Brooks and junior Taylor Stroud are the two pitchers that pitching coach Lori Perez relies on the most due to their riseball pitching skills.

Like baseball’s two-seam fastball or a four-seam fastball, softball uses its riseball in the same fashion in which the pitches break or don’t break at all.

Baseball and softball have similar pitches but are used differently because baseball and softball have different pitching motions. Both, grip the ball the same way for the four-seam and two-seam riseball or fastball.

The pitchers for both softball and baseball grip the seams of the ball horizontally and the two-seam fastball the pitchers grip the ball with seams vertically.

The four-seam riseball is different than the four-seam fastball in that it breaks upwards towards the hands of the batters. Unlike the riseball, the fastball does not break in an upward direction toward the batter’s hands but it doesn’t break at all and it is pitched downwards.

However, the four-seam fastball and riseball are similar in that it doesn’t break at all like the two-seam fastball and riseball does.

The two-seam riseball is the same to a two-seam fastball because not only does the riseball rise but it also tails in a different direction like in baseball. However, the two-seam fastball breaks downwards on a batter instead of up like softball. 

Brooks says riseball pitch style depends on the way a pitcher learned it from previous coaches.

“We (Taylor and I) had different pitching coaches growing up so we have totally different riseballs, which is cool to see,” Brooks said. “It just depends on our pitching coaches when growing up and their style of coaching.”

For instance, Brooks’ and Stroud’s riseball is usually their bread and butter pitch. That is because Perez has the confidence either pitcher can throw a riseball in a 3-2 count.

“It helps that the coaches have the confidence in our pitches especially our riseballs, because it helps build our confidence in tight situations of the game,” Stroud said.

It takes time to learn and perfect the riseball pitch, for instance pitchers start young around the age of 12 years old. Perez said it takes about three years to master a riseball pitch.

It can take that long because the pitcher must learn to control the way the ball rises or falls when they pitch it. The pitcher must learn how the pitch works for them, so when they do pitch the riseball they are confident in order to pitch it well in a game situation.

“I started throwing the riseball around the age of 13, but it took me at least two years to get the rise ball where I wanted it,” Perez said.

Beyond pitcher control, the key to any good pitch in softball is the communication between pitching coach, catcher and pitcher. Without this vital communication, Perez said a coach can’t call the pitches needed to induce outs for the defense.

“We usually use hand signals during the games whether or not the batter has moved off the plate or in on the plate,” Perez said. “Our catchers are really good at telling me where the batters are lined up in respect to what we would like to accomplish with our pitches.”

Perez usually helps her pitchers, especially the new pitchers, by breaking down pitching into four quadrants with the first three being the most important.

The first quadrant shows how the ball looks coming out of the pitcher’s hand. The riseball is supposed to look like any other pitch a pitcher throws with the same arm movement until the arm arrives at the hips.

A pitcher who pitches the riseball well has the arm stay inside at the elbow as the hand comes over the ball ensuring the maximum backspin.

The second quadrant occurs as the ball flies toward the batter. Perez said that really good pitchers usually have no movement at all in their pitch because it just flies flat.

The third and most important part of the riseball pitch is where the ‘magic is supposed to happen’. The magic is the break on the ball as it rises at the end of the pitch in an upward motion to the batter’s hands.

This ‘magic’ motion at the end has helped the Hornet pitchers deliver four strikeouts in the last two games occurring last Wednesday, with all four strikeouts coming by Brooks and Stroud. One exception to this seemingly unhittable pitch was when Cal blasted a solo home run off Brooks on March 30.

Sac State’s pitching dominance this season is directly linked to its best pitch: the riseball. 


Clifton can be reached on Twitter at @jonesSHsports