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Redhawks contend with NCAA's new bats
Aluminum bats have been adopted that will mimic wooden bats
The Southeast Missouri State baseball team had one of its best offensive seasons last year as it set a program record with 452 runs scored.
The run production was aided by an Ohio Valley Conference-best .346 batting average -- second all-time at the university -- and 76 home runs.
Southeast still expects to be potent at the plate in 2011, but the numbers may drop due to new NCAA regulations on aluminum bats. The new rules are designed to make the bats closely simulate wood -- even the sound made by contact will be more like that of a wood bat.
"When you hit the ball on the sweet spot, the barrel, you'll still get the positive results," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "This will probably eliminate a lot of flares that just get past the infield and fall in for hits.
"If the fall [practice] was any indication, you won't see as many long balls. The good players will still get theirs. If they barrel it up, it still goes. But it's going to be the same for all teams."
The new bats might help out pitching staffs that in recent years have seen their numbers inflated by the generous sweet spots.
Southeast's 6.27 ERA last year was the second-highest in school history but good enough to rank second in the hitting-dominated OVC.
"I'm sure the pitchers are pretty happy about it," Hogan said.
A clock rule that limits 20 seconds between pitches (with the bases empty) and 90 seconds between innings are other changes designed to trim the length of games this season.
"These are things they've used at the NBC World Series in Wichita, trying to speed up the games," Hogan said. "I like it."
Home sweet home
Southeast's 55-game regular-season schedule features 28 home contests, including 12 of the Redhawks' 24 OVC games.
After opening with this weekend's three-game series at defending Sun Belt Conference champion Louisiana-Lafayette, the Redhawks play six straight at Capaha Field beginning Tuesday against Harris-Stowe.
The Redhawks visit perennial national power Arkansas from the Southeastern Conference in a two-game series May 3 and 4.
A three-game nonleague series against North Dakota, coached by former Southeast assistant Jeff Dodson, is among the home highlights. The clubs, who squared off in Cape Girardeau last year, will meet March 11 through 14.
The nonconference schedule includes the annual home-and-home series with regional rivals Southern Illinois, St. Louis and Arkansas State, along with a two-game set at Missouri State.
"I think we've again got a good schedule with quality home games that our fans should enjoy," Hogan said.
Rugged opening test
The Redhawks, as has been their tradition, are opening the season against a formidable opponent.
Louisiana-Lafayette went 38-22 last year, including 21-9 in the Sun Belt Conference to capture its fourth regular-season league title under coach Tony Robichaux.
Robichaux, like Hogan entering his 17th season, has led the Ragin' Cajuns to eight NCAA regionals, two NCAA Super Regionals and a berth in the 2000 College World Series.
The Ragin' Cajuns return plenty of key players, as does Southeast.
"They've got a really good program, and it's supposed to be an exciting venue to play in," Hogan said. "I've heard great things about the atmosphere, how the fans really get into it and how they draw big crowds.
"It's going to be a great challenge for us, but we're looking forward to it."
Southeast registered a 3.197 team grade-point average during the fall semester, among the highest in Hogan's 17 years as coach.
Of the 34 players on the roster, 28 earned at least a 3.0 GPA, including five with a perfect 4.0.
Compiling 4.0 GPAs were Brett Russell, Jason Blum, Cole Bieser, Kody Campbell and Brennan Malham.
"This shows a lot of character and hard work from each team member. It does not surprise me with this outstanding group of young men," Hogan said.