New ball cleared
for takeoff at
Those defensive-minded pitchers’ duels that have become more frequent in college baseball the last couple of years are apparently on their way back out.
The NCAA has cleared the way for use of a new ball that will fly farther and, it hopes, increase the number of runs scored in a game.
The Division I baseball committee voted unanimously Tuesday to allow conferences to adopt the new ball during regular-season play in 2015. It will be used for all NCAA tournament games that season.
A survey conducted this fall reportedly found that 87 percent of Division I coaches who responded were in favor of the change. East Tennessee State’s Tony Skole was not among them.
“I wasn’t a proponent of it; I was one of the few who didn’t vote for it,” Skole said Wednesday, adding that his Atlantic Sun Conference colleagues shared his view. “It’s an initiative created mostly by BCS schools. It brings power pitching back into play more, so guys who can throw harder and sink the ball a little bit more will have more of an advantage.
“If you ask these bigger schools since we changed the bats a couple of years ago whether it’s been more difficult to win the mid-week games, I’m sure they’d say yes. The bats have made a difference.”
The metal bats were deadened in 2011 as a safety concern. Pitchers, in particular, were increasingly vulnerable to the high-dollar rocket launchers that were growing in potency.
The change has been apparent.
According to Associated Press reports, last season the national batting average of .274 in college baseball was the lowest since 1975. Team scoring of 5.28 runs and 0.42 home runs a game was the lowest since 1973.
Moreover, the numbers were validated at the sport’s showcase event.
“I think a lot of this change is predicated on what has happened out at the World Series in Omaha,” said Skole. “They built a new stadium, and there haven’t been a lot of home runs there. The park is big and the wind usually blows in … home runs are just harder to come by.
“If you don’t change the bats, you have to change the balls.”
The new balls will have lower seams and less resistance as they fly; all other specs remain the same. In testing, a blast that traveled 367 feet with the old ball went about 20 feet farther with the new one.
“This is what I don’t understand,” said Skole. “They say the exit velocity (off the bat) won’t change, but the distance will, just through the spin. I don’t understand the physics of it, but obviously it’s something we’ll have to adapt to.”
The ETSU basketball teams open their respective seasons Friday night on the road – the Bucs at Charlotte and the Lady Bucs at Memphis.
Both are tough assignments but winnable. In fact, the ETSU teams prevailed against those opponents in their last meetings.
The Bucs beat Charlotte 70-69 on a Jarvis Jones 3-pointer at the buzzer in 2011, while the Lady Bucs handled Memphis 83-73 just last season in the Dome.
Heading into the new campaign, the 49ers are considered a middle-of-the-pack team in the revamped, 16-member Conference USA. (The coaches declined to put together a preseason poll.)
The Lady Tigers were picked to finish sixth, out of 10 teams, in the new American Athletic Conference.
Volleyball coach Lindsey Devine has probably had her biggest scare of the fall, and it didn’t come on the court.
Devine was involved in a traffic accident Tuesday near campus, at the intersection of State of Franklin and University Parkway. According to police reports, Sylvia Davis of Unicoi lost control of her car and struck another vehicle, causing Davis to roll onto the back of Devine’s SUV.
There reportedly were no injuries.
“I’m a little sore and my car is destroyed, but otherwise I’m going to be OK,” Devine said Wednesday. “It just puts everything in perspective.”
The coach was glad to be back in volleyball mode.
Her team leads the Atlantic Sun with a 13-1 record, but it will face its two closest pursuers over the next nine days. Lipscomb (12-2) visits Brooks Gym on Friday night, and Jacksonville (12-2) will be in town on Nov. 16 to close the regular season.
The Dolphins handed the Bucs their only conference loss on Oct. 18. In fact, that’s the only loss for the defending champs in their last 16 matches.
“It’s going to be a very competitive next two weekends,” said Devine. “We have great teams coming into Brooks Gym, and it’s definitely going to be exciting for the players and crowds and tough for the coaches.”
The Bucs (19-7) won their last two matches, on the road at Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson, by 3-2 scores. They’re a battled-tested group as they shoot for their 20th victory against a Lipscomb team they defeated 15-13 in the fifth set a month ago in Nashville.
“We’re just pleased that we’re healthy and we’re winning,” said Devine. “Sometimes it doesn’t look the prettiest, but we’re finding the will and a way to win.”
Fox’s Pizza will sponsor a free tailgate in the quad area outside Brooks Gym before the match Friday night, beginning at 6 o’clock.
The Bucs have won 12 straight home matches, but they’ll be sternly tested by Lipscomb, which comes in with a nine-match win streak and a proud tradition. The Bison won three straight A-Sun championships before ETSU broke through last season.
The men’s soccer team also appears to be peaking at just the right time.
The Bucs closed the regular season Tuesday night with a 3-2 non-conference victory at Wofford. David Geno headed in the golden goal in the 99th minute.
“We definitely ended the regular season on a high,” said coach Scott Calabrese. “Wofford is the Southern Conference regular-season champs, with 10 wins, so to go there and get that result was great.”
The Bucs are 8-5-2 overall but 4-1-1 in their last six matches. At 5-2-1 in the A-Sun, they will wrap up the No. 2 seed, behind Florida Gulf Coast, if Lipscomb doesn’t score six goals in a victory over Mercer on Saturday.
The top two seeds receive first-round byes at the conference tournament next week in Fort Myers, Fla.
“It’s a great advantage to get the bye, and we’d love to have it,” said Calabrese. “I think we’ve got a great chance down there. We’re really going into the postseason playing our best soccer of the year.”
Part of that is due to Geno’s return to player-of-the-year form. The senior from Kingsport missed the first three matches of the season after undergoing foot surgery in May, but he’s come on to share the team lead with three goals, and he also has three assists.
“He’s starting to catch his form right now,” said Calabrese. “The game against Wofford was his best of the season. He was aggressive taking players on and creating chances for others.
“The good thing is we’ve been getting goals from multiple sources the last few games. Everyone is getting chances.”