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How Many Innings Are Played in a Regulation Softball Game?

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There are seven innings in a game of softball. Additionally, a game of softball at the Professional, Olympic and NCAA College level takes about two hours to complete. That assumes that no mercy rule has come into effect, nor has any inclement weather. It also assumes that the softball game has not gone into extra innings.

While high school games can take up to two hours, they are usually a little less. The length of a youth softball game tends to be even less, because some leagues institute a time limit to restrict game length.

Baseball vs. Softball in Innings

There are some minor rule tweaks that sit next to a different style of pitching and a different barrel of bat, but the game itself is the same. Same style of warm ups, same fielders taking their spots in the infield and outfield, same hitters trying to reach first base (or better), same umpire calling balls and strikes behind home plate.

So we’re not really sure why softball as a sport adopted 7 inning games, as the gameplay between the two is virtually identical. Making the seventh inning the final inning of the game feels like something that was decided prior to Title IX and no one has ever thought to challenge it.

Nothing about softball says remove two innings instead of playing nine like a baseball game. It’s true that some baseball leagues, like high school level summer leagues and youth leagues do play 7 innings like softball teams do, but that’s more of an exception.

Extra Innings in Softball

Baseball and softball feature extra innings for games that are tied at the end of regulation. Unlike Baseball, which recently adopted automatic runners in the pandemic, Softball rules have long held the Tiebreaker Rule (6.16), where the last out of the inning prior starts on second base.

Here is the official word from the NCAA on what happens at the start of a new inning in extra innings.

6.16 Tiebreaker Rule

If, after the completion of at least seven innings of play, the score is tied, the following tiebreaker may be played to determine a winning team:

6.16.1

Starting with the top of the predetermined inning (it is recommended for use beginning in the 10th inning) and each half-inning to follow, the offensive team shall begin its turn at bat with the player scheduled to bat ninth in that half inning being placed on second base (for example, if the No. 5 batter is the lead-off batter, the No. 4 batter in the batting order will be placed on second base). A substitute may be inserted for the base runner.

For scoring, see Rule 14.30.

6.16.2

Whether the tiebreaker procedure will be used, and when it shall be invoked, must be determined not later than the pregame meeting. Use of the tiebreaker also can be determined by conference ruling or tournament policy.

Softball and the Mercy Rule

College softball employs a run rule to end games faster when one team is being blown out of the water by the other. That rule roughly states that any team leading by 8 runs (or more) in the fifth complete inning or later wins the game automatically.

Where this gets crazy is that the 2022 Oklahoma Sooners Softball team used their mighty softball bats to swat so many runs that they ended 41 of their 59 wins via the mercy rule. They averaged - AVERAGED - 9.33 runs per game. That’s 1.33 runs PER inning.

Imagine running up against the buzzsaw that is the nation’s best offense, only to have to find a way to outscore that 9.33 runs per game offense against the nation’s best pitching staff?

The ASA should have found a way to stop this team. Or, to simply promote it and make the Oklahoma team the next Olympic Softball Team. It would have a very Mighty Ducks II feels to it. They need to bring Olympic Softball back at the 2024 Paris games.

Either that or make Pickleball an official Olympic Sport.

A college softball pitcher in a windup
Home or Away, you're still throwing three outs per inning

What is the Longest Softball Game in history?

On May 11th, 1991, Utah and Creighton battled each other in a college softball game that would take 31 complete innings. At the Western Athletic Conference softball tournament in Omaha, Nebraska, these two teams would go on to play not just the longest softball game ever, but the third longest as well. What’s more, they were back-to-back games.

Pitcher, Kelly Prokupek, then Kelly Brookhart, tossed 390 pitches in the affair. Utah, the home team in the game, had a few players see 14 at-bats in the game. We’re not even sure there was a home run in the entire game.

High school softball games would never go this long, as they’d be called to a halt in the regular season and started up again the next day in the playoffs. Also, high school softball players would NEVER be allowed to throw 51 1/3 innings against an opposing team as Kelly Prokupek, did during the course of the back-to-back games.

The game redefined how long softball games last. It was just two innings shy of the longest baseball game that was played in Pawtucket, Rhode Island just a decade earlier in 1981.

Can Rain Shorten the Length of a Game?

Absolutely. Inclement weather can delay or stop a game from being started or played to completion. A softball game reaches official game status at the start of the 5th inning (4.5 if the home team is in the lead).

The umpire is responsible for determining if a game will be played or not. That umpire is also responsible for pausing the game, or, calling it a complete game if the conditions for doing so have been met.

Most rainouts will be made up at a later date.

How Long Does Slow Pitch Softball take?

Slow Pitch Softball is an entirely different subject. Slow Pitch Softball is purposefully designed to keep a regulation game moving, often taking only 75 minutes to play.

Slow Pitch teams play the same number of innings as their fastpitch softball counterparts, they just design the match to take less game time. This includes setting up rules for the batting team to speed up at bats, rules like starting with one strike and one ball, or establishing one-pitch leagues.

These rules force the hitter to take the bat off their shoulder and start swinging. It creates faster half-innings that tend to fly through the batting order. This is especially true in one-pitch leagues where a batter only has the benefit of one foul ball to work with before being out.

You should expect much shorter games in Slow Pitch Softball.

Wrapping Up

While the field dimensions are different, the game itself is virtually the same. On a per inning basis, the game is played with the same speed. It’s just that softball only plays 7 innings to baseball’s 9.

That and they don’t have to stop for 1,000 TV timeouts. 2,000 if it’s Yanks vs. Sox in the playoffs.

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