Following a successful spring campaign, Lutz Softball is gearing up for another season of fastpitch softball next month — with a number of recent additions and upgrades.
Formerly known as the Lutz Leaguerettes, the ages 4 to 18 recreational girls softball organization has expanded its fastpitch offerings since scrapping slowpitch play altogether a few years ago.
The league has introduced a five-on-five, infield-only 6U division to guide younger players through basic fundamentals, including the shift from T-ball to coaches’ fastpitch.
The new division had a test run last year for the first time — to beneficial results, said Jennifer Parry, league president.
“It’s been pretty successful, so we’re going to do it again this season,” she said. “The girls that maybe have a shorter attention span, they stay more involved, they learn the basics of the game and hitting.”
The league also is finding ways to cater to more experienced players.
Lutz Softball implemented Xtreme Fastpitch divisions in conjunction with its parent program, Babe Ruth League, which is designed for higher-level players to have more organized competitive play against other Babe Ruth teams throughout Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.
Parry said the Xtreme league “is for the girls that are either trying to get a little better for high school or that just are a little better than most, they can play there and kind of fine-tune some of those skills that they may not get to practice on a regular rec league.”
Introduced last year, Xtreme Fastpitch has helped “bridge the gap” between recreational and travel ball play as a more affordable option for families, the league president said.
She noted some former Lutz Softball players who previously left for travel leagues have since returned to participate in the league’s Xtreme divisions.
“It’s been pretty successful,” Parry said. “Travel ball really decimates rec ball, so it’s really kind of a step in the right direction to kind of keep girls locally, playing with the girls they go to school with and not put so much pressure on the parents to travel all over.
“We’ve had some girls that went to travel and where they might be girls that get more play in our Xtreme division, (but) in their travel team they don’t play or they maybe play one inning. “They’re all good players, but there’s just a difference in playing time and the community and who you’re playing with, friends with school,” she said.
Lutz Softball transitioned solely to fastpitch play in 2016. Dwindling registration figures forced the league to drop slowpitch, after 37 years. They were the last recreational league in the county to offer that style of the sport.
Parry acknowledged the drastic move to fastpitch has been challenging, particularly in terms of training players the methods of pitching and catching.
So, this season the league is offering free pitching lessons to all registered players, including clinics for beginners and advanced.
Parry put it like this: “It was a big change, especially for some of our older girls who had been pitching for a couple of years because the motion is different, and so we’re still trying to get through that transition. …I think still our biggest hurdle is just getting those girls trained in that area, because when you don’t have a pitcher or a catcher, those games can get really rough, because they’re just walking girls around. It was our biggest struggle in the transition and continues to be our biggest struggle.”
That aside, Parry said Lutz Softball’s registration numbers have been on the increase since the move to exclusively fastpitch.
The league is believed to be the county’s second-largest girls recreation softball league, behind FishHawk .
The Lutz league featured about 200 players and 17 teams in the spring — up from about 160 players a few years ago. Parry expects those numbers to remain steady for the upcoming fall season then “go up a little bit” next spring.
To generate more interest this season, the league is offering a $50 registration discount to families that bring new families and players to the league.
Said Parry, “We’re just trying to get some new families to our parks. We find that once they get there, they really enjoy it. We have a very family like atmosphere and try to include everybody.”
Performance-wise, Lutz Softball is coming off a spring season that saw three of its all-star teams compile strong showings in postseason play.
Its 8U team finished second in districts, third in regionals and fifth in states; 12U placed second at a Babe Ruth all-star warm-up tournament in FishHawk; and 16U won the FishHawk warm-up tournament and finished second at districts.
Besides on-the-field play, the league’s home base at Oscar Cooler Sports Complex in Lutz is witnessing a makeover. The county’s parks and recreation department recently leveled and re-sodded the complex’s three softball fields with Bermuda grass; side field bullpens, parking lights and a new playground are some other additions.
Said Parry, “This will be our first season playing on the new sod. It’s looking good. Gone are the days of dirt patches and things like that.”
Player registration closes Aug. 24 for the fall season. The season runs from September through November.
For more information, visit LutzSoftball.com, or email .
Published August 21, 2019