Oklahoma State and Texas kept tacking zeros on the scoreboard, 14 innings worth, yet at least hinted of offensive excitement in their series opener back in March.
Big swings by the Cowboys suggested the big flies so customary at cozy Reynolds Stadium, prompting fans to leap from their seats… only to slump down quietly when the balls landed softy in Longhorn gloves for fly outs – routine fly outs.
It's a scene that's played out regularly this baseball season across the country, the result of NCAA legislation to remove some sting from the ping of college baseball's aluminum bats. That move, aimed at making the game safer, has created a power outage of sorts on offenses while offering a distinct story line to the season.
Home runs are down. Scoring is down.
Pitching staff earned run averages and game times are down, too.
“It's probably the biggest change that's been made in our game for 25 years or so,” said Cowboys coach Frank Anderson, “probably since we started using aluminum bats.”
The NCAA has traveled this route before, including prior to the 1999 season, when limits were placed on the size of bat barrels and length-weight ratios.
This time, in an effort to reduce the exit speed of balls off the bat and reduce the danger of rockets hit back at the pitcher, the NCAA mandated a shrinking of the sweet spot and outlawed composite bats, which could be altered for more power.
In technical terms, the NCAA came up with a Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) rating for all bat manufacturers. The change was instituted for this season in college, with the National Federation of State High School Association adopting the requirements for 2012.
The results have been dramatic.
Comparing midseason statistics from this year and last, team batting averages, runs, hits and home runs have dipped. Power has been sapped, with home runs down from 426 to 242 at an early April checkpoint comparing NCAA statistics for the two seasons.
Locally, OU and OSU have felt the outage, too.
Last season, when the Sooners advanced to the College World Series, they swatted 105 home runs in 68 games, with five players bashing double digit long balls. Through 44 games this year, OU has 33 home runs and is averaging half as many homers per game.
Only catcher Tyler Ogle, who hit 11 home runs a year ago, is on pace to produce similar power numbers, leading the team with eight. Cameron Seitzer and Cody Reine, who popped 16 and 10 homers, respectively, in 2010, have two each.
“Last year, there were a lot more home runs on the team,” Ogle said. “You could say it's because of the bats. I really don't know what to think about it, I just try to get up there and put the same swing on it as I did last year.
“These bats, they do have a little bit of juice. You can hit home runs with these bats.”
Just not as many, in most cases.
“Used to be you'd hit it to the warning track and it'd be, ‘Get in the weight room,'” said Sooners coach Sunny Golloway. “Now it's, ‘That's BBCOR.'”
OSU produced one of its worst offensive seasons in recent memory a year ago, hitting but 55 home runs in 55 games. Still, this year is worse, with the Cowboys at 29 homers through 43 games.
Players from both teams were somewhat prepared, having played with wooden bats in various summer leagues.
“Coming from summer ball and hitting with wood bats, it was a little easier,” said Cowboys catcher Jared Womack. “But I can tell you, these bats are worse than wood. They're terrible.”
Reaction to the sweeping change has ranged from intrigue to outrage. Teams molded around power bats have had to adjust.
“I liked the game it was,” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard told the Montgomery Advertiser. “We've built many teams hitting the ball out of the ballpark.”
This year, Alabama ranks last in the 12-team SEC in batting average.
At OU, Golloway has tried to downplay the bat issue. His teams had traditionally used wooden bats in the fall, so the switch to the BBCOR model wasn't so drastic.
“I think there's been a lot of psychology involved,” Golloway said. “I've tried to not make it an issue. Some coaches have made it a devastating issue.
“I've admitted that it's changed the game. We're bunting at an alarming rate, getting guys into scoring position.”
That's the new name of the game.
“There's such an emphasis on being able to bunt or at least hit behind runners so much more than it has been in the past,” said Anderson, whose club has already produced more sacrifice bunts than all of last season. “You're just not going to see guys who look like me hit 20 home runs, which I like.
“It rewards the guys who should hit home runs and doesn't reward a 5-foot-8, 160-pound guy who's been hitting 20 jacks. I think it's played pretty fair.”
College pitchers would agree.
With the rules changes playing equalizer, pitchers are being more aggressive, challenging hitters instead of working the corners in fear of the damage of the formerly forgiving bats.
“The sweet spot's barely anything,” said OSU pitcher Mike Strong. “That's the best thing.”
As a battery mate, Ogle can at least appreciate the flip side.
“Our pitchers love it,” he said. “They like being able to come inside hard, knowing that these bats aren't as juiced as they were last year. Maybe we can get an easy fly ball, as opposed to a fly ball that may carry over the fence.
“They pitch to the bats, and they don't seem to have a problem with it. And being a catcher, it doesn't hurt getting three up, three down.”
Professional scouts like the new bats, too, gaining a truer insight into what a prospect might become.
“It takes some of the guesswork out,” Art Gardner, a Mississippi-based scout, told The Associated Press. “You used to go to a game, and it seemed like every team's lineup had six guys with 10-plus homers.
“It was a constant struggle to figure out the true power hitters.”
Now, clout is clearly identified, if in shorter supply.
“I've got to tell you,” said Anderson, who remains OSU's pitching coach, “I like it. I think it's probably made for a better game to watch. As the kids get used to it and it becomes more of the norm, you'll see more home runs.
“But I remember the first year of the Big 12, when I was at Texas Tech, we played in the championship game at All-Sports Stadium. The score was something crazy (19-17). Those bats are so far removed from what we have now.”
NCAA legislation has sapped the power from college baseball's bats.
Changes aimed at safety have resulted in fewer hits, runs and home runs across the country, as well as for the Cowboys and Sooners.
A statistical look at how this season compares to 2010:
NCAA Mid-Season Report
, 2010, 2011
Team Batting Avg, .307, .292
Runs, 2,917, 2,382
Hits, 4,140, 3,792
Home Runs, 426, 242
, 2010, 2011
Team Batting Avg., .323, .324
Runs Per Game, 7.7, 7.4
HR Per Game, 1.5, 0.75
Staff ERA, 3.76, 3.15
, 2010, 2011
Team Batting Avg., .307, .302
Runs Per Game, 7.0, 6.1
HR Per Game, 1.0, 0.67
Staff ERA, 5.56, 3.15