BASEBALL: High school baseball has evolved over the years
Throw, hit, catch and run.
The game of baseball is really quite simple, and the basics of the game have been the same since Abner Doubleday brought the game to life in 1839.
And while the objective of the game has never changed – score runs and stop the other team from scoring – the way teams are doing it today are a lot different. And a lot of that starts on the offensive side.
In 2012, The National Federation of State High School Associations set a new performance standard for bats, bringing along the BBCOR – Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution – standard, which drastically reduced the power and sweet spot in the bats.
In 2011, the last year before BBCOR came into play, area teams pounded out 78 home runs, and there was only one team that went the whole season without a homer. This season, area teams combined for just 22 home runs – 12 of them by Southern Fulton – and six teams went the whole season without a long ball.
Since the new bats came in play in 2012, the area has combined for 103 home runs in four seasons, that's an average of just under 26 per season, less than a third of what was hit in 2011.
"We used to tell the players that if we had their bats, we'd have 20 home runs," Greencastle-Antrim coach Eric Shaner said. "Now, the kids are looking at us and saying the same thing. It's really changed the game, and it's kind of neat. It makes the home run that much more exciting."
Shippensburg coach Nate Rosenberry said, "You see teams using a lot more speed and small ball to score. It definitely was a focus for our team this year."
In the PIAA Class A tournament semifinals, Southern Fulton faced off against Lancaster County Christian, who small-balled their way to victory. In a 5-2 win, the Lions scored three of their runs on bunt plays and forced the Indians into six errors. SF coach Dustin Fischer said a couple of weeks later that his Indians may move to a small-ball strategy next season with a lot of their power bats graduating this year.
Said Shaner, whose Blue Devils went without a homer this year, "It's completely changed the philosophy of offensive baseball. Now, you have to bunt, steal and string hits together to score. We had plenty of guys with good batting averages this year, but we just didn't have the extra-base hits."
Here are some other topics coaches brought up in conversations:
LOSS OF TEAM UNITY >> Not too long ago, groups of kids grew up playing together. They started in Little League, moved up to Pony and knew each other inside and out by the time high school rolled around. Now, that's about as rare as a perfect game.
Today, young players have so many more avenues to play. The growth of traveling teams has put players from the same area in all different parts of the state, and by the time they get to the high school level, the team chemistry seen years ago just isn't there.
"With all of these traveling teams, we see more and more that players are separated from their teammates," Chambersburg coach Bob Thomas said. "That makes it a lot tougher to knit together and form as a team."
"There's a lot more coaching available outside the high school level, and I think that makes it more of a challenge to coach these kids when they get here," Forbes Road coach Randy Gelvin said. "I think they know more about the game than they used to, but it's tough to get them to all come together and play as one."
THE EVOLUTION OF THE ACE >> With the rise in major arm injuries and the focus on taking care of young pitchers and their arms, the care and attention to high school pitchers is at an all-time high.
Southern Fulton's Trent Rider was on a strict pitch count until late in the playoffs, and Shippensburg's Cordell Shannon isn't playing Legion this year because he didn't want to overuse his arm heading to college. Last season, Greencastle's Myles Gayman didn't pitch at all during the Legion season.
"One of the biggest things we see is in the pitching, and especially the handling of pitchers," Rosenberry said. "It can be easy to get overworked at this level, but you see more and more that coaches really are paying close attention to it."
THE LOST ART OF CONTACT >> In Major League Baseball, the strikeout rate for hitters has skyrocketed in recent years. That, too, is funneling down to the high school level. Coaches used to tell batters to shorten their swing and play for contact with two strikes, but that philosophy appears to be heading out the window.
Thomas said, "These guys get into a hole, and they don't seem to care if they strike out. It's the whole way up through to the big leagues. They just don't try to change their approach. If they hit the ball, great, if not, they miss and they're still out."