WEBSTER CITY - The days of towering home runs and rocket line drives down the line are gone.
Welcome to the new era of high school baseball - better known as small ball.
With the introduction of new bats that create less spring off the barrel to reduce the velocity after contact, teams will be forced to rethink their strategies at the plate and on the bases in the coming months.
Webster City, which will begin its season tonight at home against South Central Calhoun at 7:30 p.m., has already developed a new strategy.
"The bats are so dead now, but hopefully we'll get back to our small ball and bunt for hits, things like that," WCHS head coach Seth McGrane said. "Swing to contact, that's what we've been saying all (preseason). We've just got to put the ball in play."
The switch to the new bats - similar in design to wood bats inside the barrels - is an effort to reduce the risk of injury on the infield. They will tip the scales in favor of solid pitching and defensive execution as well.
"Watching these guys play legion ball, pitchers get a lot more balls than they would in the past, and outfields will need to play in," McGrane said. "It's going to be different."
The Lynx will be out to improve upon last season's 11-22 mark, and five of the team's top six hitters will return, led by senior Jonny Davis - an all-conference selection that hit at a .419 clip last summer. Dylan Fielder (.271), Trey Tesdahl (.259) and Sam Mossman (.253) will also provide offensive support.
"We've focused more on hitting this year than we have in the past," McGrane said. "Jonny and Dylan are our two big returning presences, and Trey finished the season off strong last year. He'll be up at the top of the lineup and we'll need him to get on base for us."
But it's on the mound where the questions loom. Davis was 4-6 with a 4.17 earned run average a season ago, but he's the only returning pitcher with significant innings. Mossman threw 40-plus innings last summer, but a lingering shoulder injury will relegate him to first base.
Senior Cody Jondal will be expected to pick up some of the slack; he was 2-1 with an 8.96 ERA in 27 1/3 innings last season.
"We need arms, and it might have to be some freshmen guys during that second week in June when we have seven games in five days," McGrane said. "So that's the question mark: how will our pitchers do, how will they improve, and who's going to step up?"
The fight for the North Central Conference championship will likely run through Clear Lake and Fort Dodge. The Lions open the season ranked second (Class 3A), while St. Edmond is No. 4 (2A), according to the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association.
But McGrane feels his ball club can be competitive.
"The first night of practice we said we have the pieces to compete in the North Central Conference every single night out," he said. "We're just going to have to do the little things like play good defense and make the simple plays."
WCHS will open up league play against St. Edmond in Fort Dodge on Friday.