How many innings in NCAA softball games? Explaining the key rules differences from baseball

Most sports are spaced out in easy to remember measurements. Football is played in quarters. Basketball is played in either halves or quarters. Soccer is played in halves.

Baseball and softball stand out. By looking at the word, “inning,” it is impossible to glean how long a game is going to be. You can’t have five quarters in game. No one is going to play just one half. But an inning? That’s not a numeric measurement.

The word “inning” itself has no numeric roots in its etymology. The word dates back to the Old English word, “innung,” which means “a taking in, a putting in,” per the Online Etymology Dictionary. It was not used to describe a team’s turn in an event until 1735 and has its roots in cricket.

That’s why it’s possible to say that not every sport has the same number of innings. Baseball, at the highest levels of college and professional ranks, has nine innings. High school varsity baseball has only seven innings.

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At this point in May, fans of baseball and softball will have the chance to flip between the two sports on their screens. They can watch NCAA baseball regionals or the Women’s College World Series. But they’ll notice when going between both that despite both being at the collegiate level, baseball has nine innings while softball has only seven.

Why is that the case? Here’s what you need to know.

How many innings in softball games?

Softball is only seven innings. That does not change whether it is at the high school level, collegiate level, or the professional level.

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That doesn’t mean the game ends at seven innings all the time. There are opportunities for the sport to end earlier or later. A mercy rule is in place at the college level that can make a contest official when five or more innings are in the books if a team leads by at least eight runs. 

As with baseball, the games can also go on longer. There are no ties in softball, and games will go into extra innings as long as it takes to decide a winner.

Longest softball game in NCAA history

On May 11 and 12, 1991, Creighton and Utah delivered a 35-inning game that ended in a 1-0 Creighton win. The game started at 6 p.m. CT, per the NCAA, and lasted six hours and 25 minutes.

But that’s only half the story. The two teams were playing in the double-elimination Western Athletic Conference Championship final game. Since Utah was a game up and Creighton won, that meant the two sides had to compete in a second game to determine the conference champion. 

Less than 30 minutes later, the teams were back out on the field at Seymour Smith Field in Omaha, Neb., to fight for the conference championship. This game went 25 innings to become the third-longest NCAA softball game in history. It didn’t end until 6:10 a.m. CT, which meant the two teams took 11 hours and 50 minutes just on the field, per the NCAA.

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