By Mike Bebernes
Baseball, more than any other sport, is about timing, precision and consistency. The game is built upon mastering minutia through repetition and concentration. The smallest inconsistency can drastically limit performance.
Imagine the results when one of the most fundamental elements of the game is changed.
The players on the Lick-Wilmerding and Urban baseball teams battled just such a change in the Tiger’s 2-0 win Tuesday. It was both teams’ first game since the Bay Counties League rule change mandating the use of wood bats, rather than the traditional aluminum.
“It definitely makes a difference,” said Lick-Wilmerding Head Coach Manny Granillo. “The ball doesn’t travel as well of these wooden bats.”
Both teams struggled offensively throughout the game and neither had scored through five innings, despite numerous baserunners.
Lick-Wilmerding (8-3, 1-0) left 12 runners stranded on base and failed to score with the bases loaded on three separate occasions.
“It was some bad base running on our part,” said Granillo. “ The big thing was the bat. We hit some balls and they just didn’t go [anywhere]. Balls that would fly over the infield aren’t carrying as far with the wooden bat and they’re staying in the infield. I think the bats are going to cut down the amount of runs we’re [going to score].”
The teams combined for 20 total runs in their previous meeting during a preseason tournament on March 6.
Both starting pitchers, Matt Goldman for Urban (5-9, 2-2) and Haden Cory for Lick-Wilmerding, pitched five scoreless innings. Cory had eight strikeouts and gave up just two hits.
The lack of power hitting in the game benefitted the Tigers who used great all-around team speed to steal a remarkable 12 bases.
“We have a lot of speed on our roster. Probably the quickest ballclub in the league,” said Granillo.
Players for Lick-Wilmerding moved from first to third on steals on several occasions.
“They definitely took advantage of our catcher today,” said Urban Head Coach Noah Bowling.
Despite the defensive disadvantage, the Blues mustered critical outs throughout the first five innings, holding the Tigers scoreless with close plays at home and third base.
Ultimately, the game was decided by the bullpens, as both teams went to reserve pitchers in the sixth inning.
Urban reliever Jackson Goldberg surrendered two runs in the sixth inning, while Tigers pitcher Matt Waters, on the other hand, was dominant; retiring six of the seven batters he faced with four strikeouts.
The lone moment of offensive firepower belonged to Tiger pinch hitter Will Page. Page led off the top of the sixth with a towering triple to right field. It was the only extra-base hit of the game. The next batter, senior captain Dave Fleming, brought Page home on a single to break the scoreless game.
Tiger first baseman Brian Wong hit a sacrifice fly to score pinch runner Anthony Logiudice later in the inning to give his team its winning 2-0 tally.
Even though the change in bats will probably cut down on run production, the switch was made in the interest of safety. The ball comes off the wooden bats significantly slower than their aluminum counterparts. Granillo is willing to trade runs for safety.
“It’s much safer for the kids. I recommended we go to wood, if we’re really looking at safety,” Granillo said
Some players were not as amenable to the change.
“[Playing with wood bats] is just not as fun,” said Tigers catcher Matt Foley.