Rule change brings emphasis on ‘small ball’ as team reloads
They are two- time conference champions, they went undefeated in conference the last two years and they were voted number one in the entire state last season. This year, the Redhawk baseball team starts this season with some unfinished business.
After the success from last season and after being a game away from the state tournament the last two years, the Redhawks are hungry to take the next step as they field a new, but talented team after losing six senior starters from last year’s conference championship team.
However driven and looking to benefit from new rule changes to the bats that are used, the Redhawks hope to finally reach the elusive goal of a state tournament, and continue to make strides as a growing program.
The aforementioned rule change is the requirement that bats must be wood or must meet new BBCOR specifications. BBCOR baseball bats, which stands for (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) act more like a wood bat and not like the older style aluminum bats, which could hit balls farther and faster. These bats are meant to reduce danger for pitchers, coaches and other players of being hit by a line drive. This rule has reached the high school level the same year it was officially adopted by the NCAA. The use of the bats will then lead to many players using wood bats as well, which will change how many teams play the game.
“It will be a great equalizer [the BBCOR bats],” said head coach Josh Thurow. “So teams that you are probably better than might be in some games that they shouldn’t be because those bats are being dulled to the point where they perform like a wood bat.”
Thurow sees this as helping the team, which has traditionally been a good wood bat team, and forces them to continue to focus on defense, a strong suit for this Redhawk squad.
“I think what you will see are batting averages way down, ERA’s also way down,” said Thurow.
It will continue to give teams who a couple years ago would not have been able to compete using the aluminum bats, now a chance to win, something Thurow and his players are well aware of.
Pitchers also are hoping to take advantage of the new bats, with the hope that they will see what would have previously been home run balls, land safely in their fielder’s gloves.
“Personally I love it as a pitcher, because they can’t hit it as far, said team ace, junior John Pryor “For our team we don’t have a lot of big hitters so small ball was going to be a factor even if BBCOR bats weren’t [implemented].”
But for a team that has traditionally been solid defensively, the change will simply focus them in to continuing to be a defensive- minded team.
“It will have more of an emphasis on small ball,” said senior Chris Wolpert. “(Force) you to have to get more contact, reemphasize on the fundamentals of the game.”
Adds Wesley Peterson a senior pitcher/first basemen on the team, “We need to keep to the fundamentals and limit errors, to make sure we are a good fundamental team.”
The teams whole off-season training program has been built around the bat changes as well, focusing more on the defensive side of the ball at captain’s practices, and spending less time in the cages working on hitting.
Team captain Michael Ganter cites the teams success in wood bat games, specifically when they beat the 25th ranked team in the nation during last years trip team trip to Florida, a game in which they won by more than 10 runs, (even though no official score is kept) as reason for why the team should benefit from the changes.
It will lead to many of the players using wood bats, which many have said they prefer, but the cost of a wood bat, which can be in the hundreds of dollars and the fact that it may potentially break have forced several players to have to use the new BBCOR bats.
For this year’s team, the expectation is to not only stay undefeated in conference, but to finally make that leap to the State Tournament. They will face tough tests in section play with perennial power St. Anthony, conference rivals DeLaSalle and a Minneapolis Washburn team that returns the majority of its players.
With the first two rounds of the playoffs being single elimination, the team has to be playing its best ball towards the end of year to make sure it does not slip up in a tough section. However being undefeated in conference is nice, Thurow and his team believes to make this season the most fulfilling, they must get over the hump and advance to the state tournament.
“[Being conference champions] doesn’t really matter it doesn’t really count,” Thurow points out. “State tournaments are what count… It’s what people remember, it’s what you celebrate at the end of the year.”
For a program continuing on the rise, a state tournament is the desired destination. For a team undefeated in conference the last two years, it is the only logical next step.