When Marion High School baseball player Ethan Hett laced a screaming line drive Friday at Moundrigde pitcher Garrett Higgins, a collective gasp went up from the crowd at Marion baseball field as it struck Higgins in the leg.
That Higgins was able to shake it off and return to the mound may have been due to the new bats in use this season, something Marion showed they are adapting to in scoring 5-3 and 6-4 wins over the visiting Railers.
“The ball that Ethan hit off that pitcher might have broken his leg with those old bats,” Marion head coach Roger Schroeder said.
Safety concerns and competitive balance led the Kansas State High School Activities Association to adopt a new standard this season for aluminum and composite bats. New design requirements have taken some of the extra speed off of balls hit with the bats, bringing them more in line with standard wooden bats.
“They’ve gone to more of a condensed sweet spot more comparable to a wood bat,” Schroeder said. “The ball doesn’t jump as much. You’re not going to see the big strong kid that can get fisted and still hit the ball out of the yard.”
Schroeder said college baseball adopted the bat standard in 2011, and the impact on the game was evident in lower home run totals and lower earned run averages.
“It is going to change, and we’re going to change our style a bit to bunt and hit-and-run, like we did tonight. That’s the way we have to do it to win games,” Schroeder said.
That style of play was evident in the sixth inning of the second game Friday, which Marion entered trailing 3-4.
Austin Pederson was at first, courtesy of a fielder’s choice that took out lead runner Hett at second base. Luke Steele rapped a single to right field, and with Pederson on the move he advanced easily to third base.
Jacob Harper brought both runners home with a deep fly ball to right field that the fielder misjudged and dropped, and Harper ended up at second base. Bret Voth ripped another single up the middle, scoring Harper for the third run of the inning.
“We hit a couple balls off the bat tonight that I thought had a chance, and guys were camped under them,” Schroeder said.
“Balls that are hit on the screws are still going to go, but the ‘tweeners, the soft line drives that got over the infield last year, not anymore. The deep fly balls that carried out of the yard? Not anymore,” Schroeder said.
For those players who thrived on looping singles last year, Schroeder said he has to make some adjustments this year.
“Where we would just let a kid that was a marginal hitter swing away, we may put a guy in motion and hit and run now. We may ask guys to bunt more often,” Schroder said.
“I asked my four-hole hitter to bunt twice tonight — where do you see that in baseball? I can’t remember the last time I’ve ever seen that,” Schroeder said. “It’s changing, especially for us.”
Pitch count with his starters was a concern Schroeder hopes to address as the season progresses.
“We had those two guys who went three or four innings apiece, and they were both upward of 85 pitches, and that’s just not acceptable,” Schroeder said.
“That’s on us as a defense, letting them down a little bit, but it’s also on them not throwing enough quality strikes. It strained our bullpen a little bit, but we got it done,” Schroeder said.
Marion lost both games Tuesday against Little River, 9-8 and 5-4. Marion has Friday off before resuming play the following week at home against Canton-Galva.