Why high school baseball coaches rarely call bunt “It’s like a lost art”

With the 2021 Class LL Baseball Championship game scoreless late in the fifth, Westhill had the speedy Mika Petersen at third base and Omari Lewis at home plate with fewer than two outs.

It was a situation that could have called for a bunt to push the runner home, or would have been in another era. But the cheesecloth did not cross the mind of Westhill coach Mike Riveles.

“It didn’t happen because knowing his contact rate is quite good and he has speed,” Riveles said, “with him at the time, it wasn’t the right choice. “

Lewis swung away, hitting a screaming hopper that was knocked down by Norwalk’s third baseman. Petersen was kicked home by three paces.

It was the closest Westhill came to scoring, losing to Norwalk 1-0.

In another generation, Riveles might have been more confident to claim a tight bunt in a game with little offense.

Amity, lead hitter Julian Stevens, is looking to bunt on April 19.

Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticut Media

But these days, bunt is being used less by coaches across the state — a trend that mirrors what’s happening at all levels of the game. And because bunt players are being asked less, it’s training less. , which reduces the number of players able to knock down a bunt and coaches are less confident to call it.

“It always blows my mind, we teach kids how to bunt at the high school dance,” Riveles said. “I think the game just changed. Ten years ago, the children arrived knowing carier.

Once upon a time, the bunting was one of the most important facets of the game.

Nowadays, it is a skill that is not a priority.

“I hate to be cliché, but it’s like a lost art,” St. Joseph coach Jim Chaves said.

There are several reasons for this.

One is the trend towards advanced analytics, which is used at all levels. Advanced stats tell teams that with a finite number of outs in a game, teams shouldn’t give them away. Another is that summer baseball has shifted to fewer practices, a busy game schedule with a focus on showcases in front of scouts. Less practice time, means less chance to practice bunting art.

“I’m not trying to say anything bad about summer ball, but I think it has a lot to do with the AAU and the show-off mentality,” Chaves said. “They don’t play ball in the summer, you’re here to show off to the scouts and bunting isn’t sexy enough.”

Because of this mindset, most players go to the next level without knowing how to do it.

“Pretty much every freshman we have sucks,” UConn coach Jim Penders said. “You think about it: these are all the guys who hit .400 for their high school team, and these are the last guys who learn to bunt. So when they get here, it’s like, ‘OK, you’re not a .400 hitter at this level. You are all going to have to learn how to carier. So we work on it every day, a lot of rehearsals.

What’s more attractive?

“People are looking for the three-run home run, the Earl Weaver special,” Danbury coach Shaun Ratchford said, “against the ball and the moving runners.”

Weaver, the Hall of Fame manager, was known for his love of the three-point home run during his days as manager of the Baltimore Orioles.

Ratchford has won two FCIAC titles and a state title (2004) and said when players come to the program, he has to start at square one with them.

Penders said he’s not as effective as his opponents because they can punch for power or “Earl Weaver It”, as Ratchford noted.

“There are a few guys in the lineup who can make hits, but I’d rather see if we can hit a double here,” Penders said. “We don’t use it as much as I did when I didn’t have that kind of range.”

In southern Connecticut, the Owls baseball team used wooden bats until a few seasons ago. Coach Tim Shea, who won his 500th career game earlier this season and considers himself a small-ball coach, said the change has made him reconsider some things he used to do.

“Sometimes you wonder a little bit when you have a few kids on your team that change a game with a three-run home run,” he said.

But the bunt remains in his strategy.

Shea called a tight bunt during the 2005 Northeast Region. The bunt laid by Bob Pentino was successful and the Owls clinched a berth in the Division II College World Series.

“It’s unheard of now,” Shea said.

While many in the game have moved away from the bunting, two prominent programs continue to use it often. Danbury, led by Ratchford and North Haven led by Bob DeMayo, still often call bunts.

“It doesn’t mean you give up, it means you’re trying to get a runner to a different place,” Ratchford said. “But if you run hard and are able to control where the ball goes, you have a chance of getting a hit.”

DeMayo, the state’s longest-serving coach, is known for hitting often, sometimes multiple times in a row, to get runners moving and pressure the defense to make plays.

“They start throwing the ball and you never know when it’s going to stop,” the five-time state championship-winning coach said.

And to those who say he could give an exit.

“I’m saying don’t worry, we got the runner forward,” DeMayo said. “When you get them at second base, the chances of scoring go up tremendously.”

Dave Borges contributed to this story.

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