- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2011

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. | Some fans didn’t even see the ball land in the new green bleachers behind the right-field wall at Virginia’s Davenport Field, their backs turned as they trudged up the stairs to the grandstand concourse on the way to their cars.

As soon as it left Cody Reine’s bat, they knew there was no point. It was the beefy Oklahoma slugger’s second home run of the day - fourth of the series - and the three-run blast made it an 11-0 OU lead in the eighth inning of last year’s deciding Super Regional game.

Reine, who also belted a three-run homer in the first, was just one of the hard-hitting Sooners who had abused the Cavaliers’ pitching. Cameron Seitzer hit a solo shot in the second. Tyler Ogle knocked one out in the fifth. Garrett Beuchele’s two-RBI double in the sixth stayed in the park, but barely.

“I was more frustrated in this ballgame than I’ve ever been before,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said when it was over.

Virginia won 51 games last season, spent 14 straight weeks atop the polls, hosted the Super Regional and seemed destined to go to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. But when it came to the most important game of the season, Oklahoma had the big bats. And more often than not in college baseball, the big bats win.

At least, that was the case in 2010, when balls flew out of parks at alarming rates. Less than a year later the game has changed drastically. While many across the country are lamenting the lack of offense, changes to the sport’s signature metal bats came at the perfect time to turn the 2011 Cavaliers into a somewhat unlikely Juggernaut.

The bats had long been the biggest difference between college and pro baseball, and increasingly over the years the chief complaint about the college game.

Traditionalists preferred the crack of a wooden bat to the metallic ping of the aluminum, and the speed at which the ball came off the metal bats created safety concerns. Then there was the scoring.

The NCAA began the process of taking some pop out of the bats in the late 1990s after the 1998 CWS featured 62 home runs in 14 games. USC and Arizona State combined to score 35 runs in the championship game.

But bat technology advanced faster than the rule books, and the past two seasons Division I teams averaged seven runs per game, the most in a decade. The average game time at the CWS was nearly four hours.

So this offseason, the NCAA worked with bat manufacturers and came up with new specifications designed to make metal bats, which are more economical for college programs, perform more like wood. The sweet spot shrunk to an area of about 3 inches on the barrel and new walls are thinner, reducing what’s called the “trampoline effect.”

So far, the bats seem to make a difference. In a midseason report, the NCAA said that scoring was down nearly 1.5 runs per game and teams were hitting half as many home runs, down to 0.47 per contest.

But the changes haven’t been universally popular, particularly among college coaches who worry that decreasing offense will make it more difficult to market the sport.

“I didn’t see what was wrong with the bats last year,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox told The Associated Press. “I thought last year there were great pitching performances, and if you could pitch, you could beat the hitter. There were just enough home runs to keep it interesting.”

Even now, the coach who has gained the most isn’t a fan of the changes.

Story Continues →