The days of wood bats in high school baseball ended decades ago, but their memory is resonating this season with new bat regulations that have taken the punch out of Georgia’s best high school teams.
Parkview, which hit 45 home runs in a 39-game season last year while winning a state title, has 22 homers this year. That still probably leads Class AAAAA.
Hillgrove, the 2011 runner-rup, has only 10 – down from 49 last year.
Brookwood, another state contender, has seven home runs. Mill Creek, a region champion, has four.
‘’Not trying to take away from pitchers, but the bats have changed the game,’’ Mill Creek coach Doug Jones said. ‘’If kids hit the ball on the barrel, they’ve got chance to hit doubles or possibly a home run or two, but if you don’t hit it on the barrel, nine times out of 10, you’re out.’’
As the first round of the state tournament begins Friday, don’t expect a repeat of 2011, when a team scored 10 runs or more in 81 of the 164 first-round games.
The new bat regulations are designed to make the game safer. Following the lead of the NCAA, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) mandated that bats meet BBCOR certification. BBCOR stands for Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution.
In short, the bats with too much trampoline effect are outlawed.
Hillgrove coach David Richardson has adjusted by calling more bunts. His team has 11 more sacrifice hits and 39 fewer home runs.
‘’That is part the bats and part a change in personnel,’’ said Hillgrove coach David Richardson, whose 2011 team graduated 10 players with at least 10 homers. “We’ve done much better job this year of moving runners with bunts, hit-and-runs, playing small ball.’’
Luella of Locust Grove, the champion of Region 2-AAAAA, has hit 12 home runs after hitting an average of 23 the past two seasons. Luella is batting .310 as a team compared to .346 last season.
‘’I think the main difference other than the power numbers are the number of seeing-eye singles and balls in the hole,’’ Luella coach Andy Cooper said. “We have had a chance to get to more balls [on defense] and keep balls on the infield. As it has warmed up, you have seen more balls react like they used to, but early in the season when it was still cool, it seemed like they didn’t go anywhere.’’
St. Pius coach J.T. Gilbert, whose team is 20-5-1, says the new bats will mean closer playoff games.
‘’I don’t think you’re seeing quite as many blowouts,’’ he said. “It’s been an equalizer. It’s made you have to play baseball a little bit. Teams that can execute defense and manufacture runs are going to be the ones who are successful.’’
Woodward Academy coach Jim Minor, whose team is ranked No. 4 in AAA, says his hitters are not thinking home runs.
‘’You’ve got to hit more line drives,’’ Minor said. ‘’The ball you used to hit for a home run, now it’s going to the warning track and they catch it. We’ve always tried to hit line drives, but we’ve definitely tried to stress that more this year. The bats have changed that.’’
Pitchers aren’t complaining. Brookwood, which features perhaps the state’s top pitcher in Lucas Sims, has allowed only two home runs against a schedule that includes No. 1 Parkview twice, four other region champions and three out-of-state opponents in a national showcase tournament.
A game that epitomized the new style of play came last month with Mill Creek’s 1-0 victory over Columbus, the two-time defending champion of AAA. The run came when Mill Creek beat out a bunt, advanced two bases on an errant pickoff throw and scored on a suicide squeeze.
’’We played an hour and 5 minutes, 1-0, wow,’’ Jones said. “Both pitchers did a nice job, but it’s not like we had two first-rounders mowing people down. It was quick and painless.’’
Pre-game isn’t the show it used to be, either.
“During batting practice last year, if it had the wind blowing out, we’re going to lose lot of balls,’’ Jones said. “You don’t have to worry about it anymore. You might have one or two. It’s been a budget saver.’’