For those who are new to the game of softball, you might wonder how long it takes to complete a game.
Should you commit your entire afternoon? Will it finish so you can do other things in the same evening?
The answer is that it largely depends on the age group and how quick an inning last. You’ll learn more about what an inning is later in this article, but for now as long as you know that a length of a softball game is measured in innings then you are in great shape.
How many innings are in Softball? A softball game is seven innings. Without innings, there would be no way to start or finish a softball game. We could not determine how much game we’ve played, and how much we have left.
To elaborate – the first inning in softball is the start of the game while the seventh inning is the last. So, if we are in the second inning we know we have five innings left to win the game. This number also does not take into account extra innings when the game is tied, or a smaller number of innings for younger age groups. We cover these differences in this article.
What is an Inning?
Innings are the framework for an entire softball game. It includes the team’s placement of the game, and who is on offense and defense. It also details which team gets to be on offense and defense first. Furthermore, an inning is determined by the amount of outs there are.
Keeping Time Without a Clock
Unlike other sports though, innings are not time based. Nonetheless they have the same purpose as a quarter in football or a period in hockey. Instead of being filled with buzzers and a counting-down clock, however, we measure innings by the amount of outs. This makes the game of baseball and softball unique from time-based sports because depending on how long it takes to get outs, every game can take a different amount of time.
In turn, this encourages teams to become better defenders; if they can get outs quickly, the game will go faster and players will save their energy for other games later in the day, or for offense.
Equal Winning Opportunities for Each Team
While one team might have more time fielding than the other, each team gets the same opportunity to win. Each inning is made up of six outs; three for each team. In each inning, there is one team in the field, and one team hitting. The hitting team is trying to score runs to win, while the fielding team takes the field to stop them. When the defensive, fielding team makes three outs, the teams switch. This means that in total each team gets seven innings, or 21 outs, to score more runs than their opponent and win the game.
The Top and Bottom of the Inning
Going further, innings are split in half to accommodate for each team to hit. The first set of three outs is called the “top” of the inning, while the latter half is the “bottom”. The team who won a coin toss at the beginning of the game gets to pick if they want to hit in the top or the bottom of the inning. Once this is determined, we have the entire outline of the game completed, and the teams can begin playing.
How Many Innings in College softball?
If you haven’t watched a college softball game lately, you might be surprised at the level of competition. You also might be surprised to find out that they are shorter than a college baseball game. Rather than having nine innings, college softball games have seven regulation innings.
Mercy Rules and Complete Games
College softball games do have mercy rules, but they vary based on the collegiate leagues and whether the two teams are conference opponents. The rules change during tournaments, too. For example, NCAA softball invokes the mercy rule if one team is up by eight runs after five innings. Since many college teams play double-headers, mercy rules keep the games moving along.
After five innings, the NCAA considers a softball game completed, especially if one team is winning by a significant margin. If the game ends in the fourth, because of weather or another reason, the NCAA considers the game incomplete.
Lineup Changes During Innings
Coaches can switch their pitchers at any time, and they can make other lineup changes during the inning. In many cases, coaches can reinsert players, either for hitting or fielding. However, each college team can only have 20 or fewer players (preferably less on the main team as we covered in this article). Nine are on the field, but a tenth can be the designated player who either bats or plays defense for one of the nine other players in the lineup. For example, the DP could hit for the pitcher, while the pitcher only plays when the team is in the field.
Extra Innings and Tiebreakers
If the game goes into extra innings, then the last batter starts on second base. This tie-breaker rule speeds up the extra innings by giving teams a better chance of getting a runner across home plate. This tiebreaker rule starts in a predetermined inning, usually the 10th. Before the 10th inning, teams play the same way they did in regulation innings. Nothing changes until the predetermined inning.
NCAA rules about innings, tiebreakers, and mercy rules differ from those in high school, travel leagues, and Little Leagues. Unlike baseball and some youth softball leagues, college softball pitchers can pitch the entire game and often throw more than 100 pitches. Coaches can pull the pitcher and reenter the pitcher at any point during their defensive part of the inning.
How Many Innings in High School Softball
High school softball is a great way for girls to stay involved in sports, make friends, and also prepare for a higher level of competition if they desire. These student-athletes play with people they already know from their hometown, and if the team is good they’ll play schools from all over their state and compete to be the best.
However, unlike youth leagues or club ball — where there are tournaments so games are meant to be played fast so the next one can start — high school games are meant to be played with a full seven innings as well.
Seven Innings of Play
Once the bottom of the seventh is completed, the game is done. This means that games typically run from an hour and a half to three hours, depending on what happens and how long the innings are.
Although some little league or travel softball games have a time limit, high school does not because there aren’t any other games afterwards, so teams can compete as long as they need to.
Why Conference Games Matter
All high schools are part of a conference; conference games are pretty important because the team’s success in them places them from best to worst, accordingly. While club or little league games are just meant for more experience, high school teams are actually playing for something, so it’s important that every game throughout the conference is played in full with seven innings.
Mercy Rules and Extra Innings
However, there are always cases where games run more or fewer than seven innings. These are extra inning games or run-rule games. To be one of these games, the teams must have an equal amount of runs at the end of the game, or have a large run deficit early in the game. The high school level uses the international tiebreaker rule in extra innings, and mercy rules are 15 after three innings and 10 runs after 5 innings.
How Many Innings in Youth Softball?
Youth softball is a fun opportunity for young kids to play a sport, make memories, and meet their peers.
From little league to private club teams, youth softball is a great way to immerse young girls in athletics. While rules vary slightly depending on the association or club you play under, a regulation softball game at every age is seven innings. Some very young age groups will play five or six innings to keep young girls immersed. Yet, while a general game is seven innings, games can be greater or fewer innings depending on the circumstances.
One such circumstance is the “mercy rule” or “run rule” when a game is done in under seven innings. This occurs when one team has scored a large amount of runs and it’s determined that the opposing team cannot surpass the large run differential. This rule varies by association but a common rule is 10 run differential after five innings, or 15 run differential after 3 innings.
Are Softball and Baseball Innings the same?
While there are many differences between the games of baseball and softball, their foundations and framework are the same.
Both are played on a diamond, have the same positions, and the basis of both are the same – you hit the ball to get on base, you touch every base to score a run. Moreover, innings work the same in baseball as they do in softball.
What Happens in an Inning
An inning is a chunk of a softball game where each team gets a chance to hit and to field. Without an inning teams would have no idea how much game they’ve played, or how much they have left.
A full inning consists of six outs, three for each team. Once three outs are reached, the teams switch between offense (hitting) and defense (fielding). This is exactly the same between baseball and softball.
Innings for Different Ages
However, one difference is the amount of innings played. In both sports the amount of innings differ based on age group and other circumstances like time limits in tournament games, extra innings, and mercy rules. Yet, a regulation baseball game is nine innings, while a regulation softball game is only seven.
Subtle Differences Between Baseball and Softball
Since baseball games are played in nine innings, a midway break called the
Anyone who has watched a professional baseball game knows that innings tend to take a long time, especially with batters adjusting their gear and pitchers setting their own paces. MLB has attempted to speed up innings with pitch clocks. However, some innings can take a long time, especially if pitchers aren’t efficient and throw several balls and foul balls.
On the flip side, softball innings tend to go quickly, especially at the higher levels at high school and college. Pitchers and hitters don’t fidget with their gear and the smaller fields mean that balls put into play are fielded quickly. Spectators often comment on how quickly softball games move along, especially after watching long, drawn-out baseball games.
If you are looking for the simplest answer then a softball game is 7 innings long and takes around one and a half to two hours to complete. In this article we have attempted to provide all of the additional nuances around softball innings including mercy rules, what happens in tie games, and at younger age groups.