Earlier this season, Whiteland pulled off a textbook suicide squeeze to score the winning run in a baseball game against Plainfield.
Time will tell if it’s the only one Warriors coach Scott Sherry attempts this season.
Suicide squeezes in baseball are conducted when a batter sacrifice bunts the ball in an attempt to score a runner from third base — usually with one or no outs. The runner takes off for home plate the instant before the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand.
In effect, a suicide squeeze means the prospect of trading an out for a run. However, indecision or an errant throw by an opposing pitcher, catcher or infielder after picking up the ball can result in both runners being safe.
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A mixture of factors — the right pitch count, a perfectly-placed bunt, a smart base runner and the element of surprise — must occur for success to be ensured.
It’s also considered easier to execute a successful squeeze play against a left-handed pitcher, who is facing away from third base before going into his windup.
Every coach has his own philosophy regarding squeeze plays.
“I’ll do it once, possibly twice, a season,” Sherry said. “There are so many things that can go wrong and so many variables that go into it.
“We use it more as a surprise.”
Potential pitfalls include the batter failing to make contact with the pitch, making the teammate running from third an easy out.
A short pop-up by the batter is a worst-case scenario, as it leads to a quick double play with the runner caught between third and home plate.
Whiteland proved effective in its one suicide squeeze attempt so far this season in large part because Sherry waited for the ideal situation regarding what he could control.
With one out and bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning, two of the Warriors’ seniors, Chris Miller (hitter) and Caleb Deiter (runner), teamed to work magic.
It’s imperative to utilize a hitter capable of putting down good bunts whether facing a fastball pitcher or one known to rely heavily on curves or sliders.
“We don’t use it a lot, mainly because we don’t have the best bunters,” Greenwood coach Andy Bass said. “I’m not saying we won’t use it in the right situation, but we haven’t (this season).”
Coaches also have at their disposal what’s called a safety squeeze.
This calls for the runner to take off from third base the instant the batter makes contact with the ball. If the bunt isn’t delivered properly, the runner is close enough to third to make it back without being tagged out.
Indian Creek successfully performed a safety squeeze in its season-opening 10-8 victory against Monrovia.
“We’ve used it once this year. The bunt’s got to be a great bunt, and we got a base hit and scored a run,” Braves coach Eddie Willis said. “It was something I used early on in the game to manufacture a run.
“We had moved some runners around, and it was the perfect chance to use it. It’s a good tool to have.”
Suicide and safety squeezes also factor into softball strategy on occasion.
In order to maintain the element of surprise, batters are encouraged not to immediately show the bunt. They are expected to show the bunt at the last possible instant before squaring their body and bat.
Franklin College softball coach Butch Zike said he used squeeze plays more during stints as Whiteland’s baseball coach (1980-1988 and 1993-1997) than he does today.
“I’ve used it a lot, and to be honest we’ve had a lot more success in baseball than in softball,” Zike said. “In softball, the fielders are so close and the runner can’t leave until the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand.”