BOONVILLE — In its game against Centralia, the first of two tournament games the Hickman baseball team played Saturday, the first hit could have come two batters earlier than it did.
In the third inning, junior catcher Colby Fitch yanked a ball that, had it been hit with a metal bat, probably would have skipped between the first and second baseman and into right field.
But with the wood bat Fitch was using, a condition of the event at Harley Park in Boonville, the ball slowed down enough to allow the second baseman to range over and make the play.
Fitch doesn't dwell on the hits that might have been, though. In fact, he prefers wood, even with its smaller sweet spot and decreased power. He has experience with wood from playing tournaments with his summer travel team.
"Once you're used to it, you kind of don't want to go back to aluminum, because it just has that American feel to it," Fitch said.
Hickman coach Dan Devine Jr. prefers wood for his own, nostalgia-related reasons. He used the material throughout his baseball career.
"That's the game I grew up with, so I love wood bat baseball," he said.
Given the offensive performance the Kewpies (9-5) managed Saturday, winning 10-1 over Centralia and 10-2 against Boonville, they might never want to return to their normal metal bats.
Hickman got its first hit in the third inning of the first game when senior left fielder Jake Cowan, using his own all-black piece of lumber, ripped a double down the left field line.
But he hit it off the end of the bat, and in an outcome that never would have happened had Cowan been using his customary Rawlings 5150 alloy bat, the barrel sheared clean from the handle and bounced up the third-base line. Cowan had to borrow senior pitcher Jonathan Jones' two-tone DeMarini bat for the rest of the day.
The wood bats allowed Hickman's outfielders to play shallower than their normal depth. They didn't do much to shield the little league field sharing a fence with the bigger field, though. Two home runs, one from Hickman's Jared Hyler and the other from Centralia's Chandler Kovar, landed on the adjacent field during the day.
The wood also played to the benefit of Hickman's pitchers. Senior Gage Kiesling got the complete-game win for the Kewpies against Centralia, allowing just three hits. Senior Andrew Roseman also threw seven innings to get the win against Boonville.
"I knew I could use inside pitches a lot more effectively, and I knew I could just jam hitters and they wouldn't be able to hit the ball as far as they could usually do," Kiesling said.
In the sixth inning against Centralia, when the Kewpies were leading 3-0 and had loaded the bases for Fitch, they had a chance to put the Panthers away. Fitch ripped a full-count pitch to center field.
The way the outfielder was playing the ball, camping under it at first, it looked like it could have been another casualty of wood, a hit that would harmlessly turn into an out.
But then the outfielder started tracking back, twisting and turning until the ball finally bounced halfway up the wall. Fitch eased into second with another long double, another RBI hit.
The bat might be different, but with a hitter as powerful at Fitch, some things never change.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.