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High School Sports

New baseball bats mean less 'ping' ? and not nearly as much offense

Paul Schofield
| Friday, March 23, 2012

It has been almost three weeks since baseball practice began around the WPIAL, and Norwin coach Mike Liebdzinski already has seen a significant change in how his team is hitting.

"We haven't lost as many baseballs," he joked. "In previous years, we'd probably lose 10 a practice. We haven't hit a ball out of the park yet in batting practice."

Amateur baseball across the country is in the midst of a drastic change. With the season set to begin Friday, teams are scrambling to adjust to the National Federation of State High School Associations' new rule outlawing composite bats in favor of Ball-Bat Coefficient of Restitution-approved bats.

BBCOR measures the give of an aluminum bat at the moment of contact with the ball and closely mimics the dynamics of wooden bats.

"In previous years, the ball would trampoline off the bat," Liebdzinski said. "Normal fly balls were sailing out of the park. Now, you have to really hit it to hit a home run."

In 2009, the NCAA adopted the BBCOR testing standard to replace Ball Exit Speed Ratio (BESR) starting with the 2011 season. The NFHS adopted the rule for this season.

"We knew it was coming," Woodland Hills coach Tim Banner said. "Our kids started using the bat in fall ball. We're teaching more fundamentals. Kids will have to learn how to bunt, move the runners up and play solid defense. It's going to make the game better."

The NFHS believes the new standard will "minimize risk, improve play and increase teaching opportunities." Liebdzinski talked to a coach who used the bat before his players; he said it reminded him of Easton's old Black Magic bat.

"That was the bat I used in college (at Davidson) in 1992," Liebdzinski said. "I know the numbers are down in college. There is fewer home runs. We've been preaching to the players to be more line-drive hitters. The scores will be down, and pitchers will be better."

College baseball experienced a significant change last year. Home runs dropped from 0.94 per team per game in 2010 to 0.52 in 2011. In testing, fly balls routinely land as much as 30 feet closer than they did with the old bats.

Gone is the "ping" produced by the old aluminum bats, and the sweet spot is distinctively smaller.

"The good hitters will still hit, but the other players will have to really square up balls on the bat to get hits and won't be rewarded for balls off the handle or end-of-the-bat flare hits," East Allegheny coach Ryan Encapera said. "I'd expect to see more small-ball from teams."

That suits Norwin senior Tom Quealy, who said he has never hit a home run.

"I've always prided myself as a line-drive hitter," said Quealy, who will play at Mount St. Mary's next year. "I was always small, so I did the little things like bunt for hits. I like the new bats. They're going to prepare me for college."

Norwin's Max McDowell, a power-hitting catcher, also doesn't mind the change.

"It's what we have to use, so adjust," said McDowell, a Connecticut recruit. "You have to center the ball better, but you still can hit home runs."

Across the board, Banner expects ERAs to be down at least a run. That's good news for pitchers, many of whom will welcome a little less "ping" when the ball comes screaming back up the middle.

"The average pitcher is now going to be a good pitcher," Serra Catholic coach Brian Dzurenda said. "Good pitchers are going to be great pitchers, and the great pitchers are going to be unhittable."

Season Preview

CLASS AAAA

Preseason top 10

Team, Last season's record

1. Seneca Valley, 18-4

2. Norwin, 17-1

3. Bethel Park, 14-6

4. North Allegheny, 14-5

5. Upper St. Clair, 11-7

6. Peters Township, 20-3

7. Shaler, 12-8

8. Hempfield, 11-10

9. Pine-Richland, 13-6

10. Kiski Area, 12-4

Section favorites

1: Seneca Valley: The Raiders return Matt Smith, who was 9-1 with a 1.89 ERA, and first baseman Austin Bream. North Allegheny returns a ton of players and should challenge along with Shaler, Pine-Richland and Butler.

2: Norwin: With five Division I recruits returning to a team that averaged 10 runs, the Knights will be hard to beat. They're led by senior catcher Max McDowell, who committed to Connecticut. Hempfield will be much improved, Latrobe returns numerous starters and Penn-Trafford and Connellsville will be solid.

3: Bethel Park: Junior Logan Corrigan, who had a 5-2 record and also hit .439, leads the Black Hawks. If they slip, look for Peters Township, Mt. Lebanon and Upper Clair to keep the heat on them. USC has strong pitching, and Peters Township returns outfielder Andrew Erenberg and pitcher Mike Bittel.

4. Kiski Area: The Cavaliers return several starters and are eager to get started after an early exit from last year's WPIAL playoffs. Plum, Woodland Hills and Franklin Regional are teams to watch. The Cavs are led by outfielder Logan Brown and junior catcher Matt McCutcheon.

Players to watch

Alex Bell, sr., C/P/IF, Upper St. Clair

• He can hit for power and average. He plans to attend St. Bonaventure.

Mike Bittel, sr., P, Peters Township

• The hard-throwing righty, a Seton Hill recruit, will be the Indians' top pitcher.

Austin Bream, sr., 1B/P, Seneca Valley

• The son of former Pirates first baseman Sid, who will attend Liberty, helped the Raiders win the WPIAL title.

Ian Happ, sr., INF/OF, Mt. Lebanon

• The slick-fielding infielder is a switch-hitter with pop. A year ago, the Cincinnati recruit had 13 extra-base hits, including three home runs.

Max McDowell, sr., C, Norwin

• The Connecticut recruit is one of the top power hitters in the WPIAL. He's also outstanding behind the plate.

Ryan Mincher, sr., INF, Shaler

• The two-year starter and Penn recruit raised his batting average more than 200 points to .513 as a junior.

Last season

Seneca Valley came out on top of a very balanced Section 1, which prepared the Raiders for the WPIAL playoffs, where they cruised into the final against Peters Township. The Raiders pounded the Indians, then reached the PIAA Western final before falling to eventual state champion Conestoga. They also defeated Peters Township for a second time.

Class AAA

Preseason top 10

Team, Last season's record

1. Blackhawk, 14-3

2. Mars, 14-2

3. Hopewell, 14-10

4. Belle Vernon, 11-9

5. Hampton, 16-5

6. Greensburg Salem, 13-5

7. Thomas Jefferson, 11-7

8. Montour, 14-5

9. Mt. Pleasant, 8-8

10. Chartiers Valley, 17-6

Section favorites

1: Blackhawk: The Cougars return sophomore Brendan McKay, who was 6-0, and catcher Matt Emge, an Ohio State recruit. Hopewell has a new coach, Joe Rubino, and seven returning starters. Beaver and Central Valley could be sleepers.

2: Belle Vernon: Junior pitcher Dom Francia heads a veteran and talented squad, but don't be surprised if Mt. Pleasant or Greensburg Salem makes a push to the top. Last year's WPIAL champion, Elizabeth Forward, was hit hard by graduation.

3. Thomas Jefferson: The Jaguars return numerous starters, including pitcher Greg Schneider, a Pitt recruit. Montour and Chartiers Valley will be on TJ's heels.

4: Mars: The Planets and Hampton are the top teams. The Planets get the slight nod because of returning starters Dave Bednar, Nick Comport and Matt Eperesi. Indiana and Knoch could be sleepers.

Players to watch

Matt Emge, sr., C, Blackhawk

• Emge, a three-year letterman, is headed to Ohio State. He's a solid player and great leader.

Greg Schneider, sr., P, Thomas Jefferson

• The Pitt recruit was 5-0 with a 2.41 ERA last year. He had 60 strikeouts in 41 innings.

Robert Mack, sr., P, Montour

• The VMI recruit has touched the high 80s in workouts. He struck out 29 in 24 innings last season.

Zach Heide, sr., 1B/P, Mt. Pleasant

• He led the Vikings with 32 RBI. He's a solid defensive player who will attend Seton Hill.

Brendon McKay, so., P, Blackhawk

• He was 6-0 as a freshman and one of the top hitters on the team at .480.

Zarley Zalewski, sr., OF, Valley

• The Kent state recruit batted .585 with 26 RBI. He's a potential mid-round draft pick.

Last season

Elizabeth Forward was dominant, going undefeated through the regular season and breezing to a WPIAL title. After escaping with a 2-1 decision against Grove City, the Warriors fell to eventual PIAA champion Northern York, 6-4, in the Western final.

Class AA

Preseason top 10

Team, Last season's record

1. Waynesburg,18-3

2. Shady Side Academy, 16-2

3. South Fayette, 10-7

4. Deer Lakes, 13-5

5. Laurel, 15-5

6. Ford City, 7-7

7. Riverside, 20-5

8. Burrell, 11-6

9. Bishop Canevin, 9-7

10. Frazier, 13-6

Section favorites

1: South Fayette: The Lions return seven starters and will be tough to beat. Bishop Canevin, Carlynton and Freedom are ready to pounce if they stumble.

2: Waynesburg: The Raiders return numerous starters, including catcher Steve McCaw and pitcher/infielder Joe Monica. Frazier, Washington, Charleroi and Brownsville will push the Raiders. Frazier graduated only one starter.

3: Deer Lakes: The Lancers are led by pitcher Joe Hoffman. Ford City could be a sleeper; Burrell and Freeport will make it a four-team race.

4. Shady Side Academy: The Indians are the best team in a tough section. Shortstop/pitcher Ben Hartz is 12-2 on the hill and has 10 home runs the past two seasons. Steel Valley, Greensburg Central Catholic and Riverview return plenty of starters.

5: Laurel: The Spartans could be the surprise team this season. Last year, Riverside won WPIAL and PIAA titles, but Laurel returns third baseman Todd Fennick and shortstop Rick Jones.

Players to watch

Ben Hartz, sr., SS/P, Shady Side Academy

• He has a 12-2 record the past two seasons and is stellar at the plate, too.

Brad Appleby, sr., C, Greensburg Central Catholic

• A solid defensive catcher with a good bat, he hit .420 with 15 RBI last year.

Steve McCaw, sr., C, Waynesburg

• He batted. 444 with seven home runs and 35 RBI last year.

Rick Jones, sr., SS, Laurel

• He hit six home runs as a junior and is a strong infielder with a great arm.

Joe Monica, sr., P/SS, Waynesburg

• Went 7-0 with 65 strikeouts in 49 innings last season. He's committed to Concord.

Matt Zerishnek, sr.,P/ OF, Bishop Canevin

• He batted .571 with 18 RBI as a junior. He also had 28 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings.

Last season

Riverside shocked everyone by winning the WPIAL and PIAA titles. They qualified for the WPIAL playoffs on the final day and ended up upsetting Waynesburg in the final.

Class A

Preseason top 10

Team, Last season's record

1. Serra Catholic, 21-2

2. Neshannock, 21-2

3. Avonworth, 10-6

4. Chartiers-Houston, 12-8

5. North Catholic, 11-5

6. Leechburg, 10-7

7. Rochester, 9-5

8. California, 16-5

9. Bentworth, 11-5

10. Carmichaels, 11-6

Section favorites

1: California: Led by pitcher T.D. Conway, the Trojans are a perennial contender. Carmichaels and Beth-Center also have strong teams and will test the Trojans.

2: Serra Catholic: This is a competitive section, but pitcher Alain Girman makes Serra the team to beat. It wouldn't be surprising if Chartiers-Houston and Bentworth go deep into the playoffs.

3: Neshannock: It's tough to argue with the Lancers' success. The returning WPIAL champions return shortstop John Sansone, a Florida State recruit. Rochester will be tough to beat, too.

4. Avonworth: The Antelopes return 11 seniors and are poised for a big season. North Catholic and Leechburg, with pitcher Tyler Swarmer, will be tough to beat.

Players to watch

Alain Girman, sr., P, Serra Catholic

• One of the top pitchers in the state struck out 102 batters in 53 2/3 innings last season. He also batted .422 with 23 RBI.

Tyler Delval, sr., P/IF, Bentworth

• He has hit 13 home runs and drove in 53 runs the past two seasons. He walked only four batters in 34 innings.

John Sansone, sr., SS, Neshannock

• The Florida State recruit batted .680 with five home runs and 22 RBI last season. He also stole 14 bases.

Tyler Swarmer, sr., P. Leechburg

• The Radford-bound player was 5-0 with 62 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings last year.

T.D. Conway, sr., P/1B, California

• He batted .655 with a WPIAL-high 40 RBI. He also throws near 85 mph.

Alex Strittmatter, sr., P, Neshannock

• He was 7-0 with 75 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings last year. Hitters batted .199 against him.

Last season

Serra ended up winning a PIAA title after being knocked out in the WPIAL semifinals by section rival Chartiers-Houston. Neshannock won the WPIAL title but lost to Bishop McCort in the opening round of the state tournament.

City League

Preseason top three

Team, Last season's record

1. Allderdice, 10-4

2. Brashear, 7-6

3. Carrick, 5-11

Favorite

Allderdice: The four-time defending champion Dragons will look to continue their run atop the City League after defeating Brashear in the title game last year. The last team to win four straight City League titles was Peabody in the early 1970s. Obama Academy, a new team this year, has had its share of success in football and basketball.

Players to watch

Blaise Galewski, sr., P/OF, Allderdice

• He hit .481 a year ago and went 3-0 on the mound. The title-game winner also throws in the mid-80s.

Keyshawn D'Orso, so., INF/OF, Allderdice

• Started as a freshman and excelled in the offseason in the Atlantic Coast League.

Adam Lynch, sr., OF, Brashear

• Talented outfielder with big bat helped the Bulls to the title game last year. He is a returning all-league player.

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