The National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations adopted the rule change in 2009, but Ohio coaches - who, as a group, voted against it - waited until it became mandatory this spring to comply. Other states have experimented with the 43-foot distance - used at the college, pro and international level - for several years. Summer-ball players 16 and older also play at 43 feet.
After a debate of more than 10 years, the national federation decided that moving the mound back would make the distance uniform at all levels and might infuse a bit more offense into a pitching-dominated sport. Health concerns played a role, too. In theory, the added distance offers the pitcher a moment longer to react on line drives.
That moment has altered the game more considerably than one might realize. One study revealed that a 55-mph pitch thrown from 40 feet took 0.495 of a second to reach the plate. From 43 feet, it takes 0.53.
"The main difference is the ball is being put into play more," Hilliard Bradley coach Kevin Moody said. "That millisecond more to react often is the difference between striking out or fouling off a ball and staying alive. There's more pressure on the defense to stay alert, not only because the hitters are making more contact, but because coaches are thinking about being more aggressive on the bases with that extra millisecond to work with and reduced odds of a strikeout occurring."
A speedy left-handed slap-hitter, Gahanna senior outfielder Tiyona Marshall said the new mound distance gives her a distinct advantage.
"With the pitcher being back 3 feet and me getting that split-second extra to react to the pitch, I gain about two steps when I'm slap-hitting," said Marshall, who has signed with Miami University.
Gahanna coach Jim Campolo regarded all the talk about the changes brought about by the new ring as hype.
"We went to Florida several years in a row on spring break when they were using the 43-foot mound," Campolo said. "I didn't want the kids thinking too much, so I never even said a word to them about it. One year, my pitcher asked me if we were playing on a college field. She's the only one in seven or eight years going there who ever caught on."
Blessed with All-Ohio pitchers and catchers almost every year, Ready coach Nick Joseph originally opposed the mound change. But after a few weeks, he has noticed a lot of subtle changes - many of them that enhance the game's appeal.
"It's made a considerable difference in a lot of aspects, but the most obvious one is that the pitcher isn't overpowering the batter quite as easily," he said. "At 40 feet, it used to take until the third at-bat for a hitter to adjust to a pitcher. At 43 feet, hitters seem to be catching up by the second at-bat. It's all about the hand-eye coordination."
Hartley coach Meghan Rowlands, a former standout at Ready and Ohio State, called the move "great for high-school softball" and likened it to the transition from slow-pitch to fast-pitch in the late 1970s. In response to the rise in women's sports and a subsequent development of skills, the Ohio High School Athletic Association sponsored its first fast-pitch state tournament in 1982.
Greater specialization in pitching through the years caused a perceived imbalance. While many liked the purer, cleaner, brisker-paced games, others sought an increase in offense.
"With all the advances in weight training, year-round specialization and equipment, you're seeing a lot better athletes out there on the field, and pushing the mound back allows kids to showcase those skills they've developed," Rowlands said.
"I've noticed a lot more extra-base hits, fewer strikeouts and more plays being made in the field. Some of the old-school coaches might disagree, but that's a lot more exciting to me than seeing a pitcher throw 16 or 17 strikeouts. You need to be able to bat all through the lineup and you can't hide somebody in the field. It's a greater team sport."
While most agree that batters are catching a break with the mound change, that's merely a general assessment.
"For pitchers who put a lot of movement on the ball, moving the mound back only makes them better," Campolo said. "At the same time, though, it only makes the average pitcher even more average, and that's where your higher-scoring games are coming from."
An ideal example is Groveport senior Emma Johnson. The Kent State signee has found that the extra 3 feet enhances her breaking ball.
"Pitching from 3 feet back makes your speed go down a little bit, but you can get more movement and keep batters guessing more," she said.
Added Cruisers coach Steve Cunningham, "Emma's just as dominating as she's ever been, but we're using our defense more than we used to. That extra 3 feet makes her breaking ball really curve late, and she's getting batters to chase outside pitches and sometimes just hit weak grounders."
Johnson has only one complaint about the 43-foot mound.
"The frustrating part is the umpires haven't gotten adjusted yet to the new distance," she said. "I'm not getting the calls off the front corner of the plate. The umpires aren't accustomed to seeing a ball break so much and they're still calling it based on where it lands in the catcher's mitt."