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Originally published Monday, April 2, 2012 at 8:04 PM

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Five Things to Watch in baseball this season

A new kind of metal bat which acts more like a wooden bat is among things to watch in high-school baseball this spring.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A look at five things to watch in high-school baseball this spring.

1 Adjusting to BBCOR bats.

For years, every high-school baseball program had two or three bats the players favored.

This year, Lake Washington coach Derek Bingham said the number of bats in the dugout during games has doubled.

"In our dugout there are probably twice as many bats as there were last year, because nobody knows what they like yet," Bingham said. "Everybody is trying new things."

Rules were changed in the offseason for safety reasons, forcing teams around the country to switch to BBCOR (batted ball coefficient of restitution) bats — a metal bat that acts more like the wooden variety used in professional baseball.

The NCAA started using the bats last season and the number of home runs dropped by more than 40 percent.

"I like it, it's more of a baseball game," Mount Si coach Elliott Cribby said. "As far as from an entertainment standpoint, people want to see home runs and runs. They do come. They're just few and far between."

Said Kentwood coach Mark Zender: "I love it. I'm old enough that I remember before those (metal bats) came in. I think it makes kids better ball players. They're having to learn to play the game the right way."

Whether it's Nike, Rawlings, DeMarini or Easton, players are trying to figure out which bat fits them best.

2 Seattle Prep built around pitching depth.

If there is one thing Seattle Prep has plenty of this season, it's pitching. The sixth-ranked Panthers have a staff of eight arms coach Ed Paulter feels comfortable sending to the mound.

"They all have good arms, a lot of mental toughness, they compete well and they throw strikes," said Paulter, whose team is 5-0. "When they need to, they know how to pitch to contact."

Juniors Jack Roger, Nate Richards and Max Winkelhake, who catches when he's not pitching, are the core of a group Paulter said makes up "the best depth I've ever had."

3 Lake Stevens loaded with senior leaders.

Rodger Anderson called this year's senior class at Lake Stevens "an amazing group of guys to coach."

Jake Nelson, Christian Gasca and Anthony Blackie were instrumental in Lake Stevens' run to the Class 4A football semifinals and lead a group of 12 seniors playing baseball.

"They've kind of just picked up where they left off at the end of the football season," said Anderson, whose team is ranked No. 4 in the state. "These guys are really easy to coach. They're enjoyable. They work hard. I don't think I've had to get on a single guy all season long."

4 Wildcats work — even when it's wet.

Standing water along the baselines and a steady downpour didn't keep Mount Si from practicing outside last week.

The defending 3A champions figure they're going to play in the rain throughout the season, so they might as well practice in it.

"We go in the gym to hit occasionally, but baseball isn't played inside," Wildcats coach Elliott Cribby said. "We try to get out here as much as we can. There is standing water everywhere, but we will play in games like this, so it's good to get a little experience out here when it's wet."

Cribby's message to his players on these dark, damp days is simple, "If they're focusing, they can't feel the raindrops."

5 Another new venue for state championships.

For the third year in a row, 4A and 3A semifinal and championship games will be in a different location.

In 2010, they were at Safeco Field. Last year, they moved to Cheney Stadium in Tacoma. This year, because those facilities are booked by the Mariners and Rainiers, the games will be at Gesa Stadium in Pasco, home of the Tri-City Dust Devils, May 25-26.

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