With 14 home runs in 20 games and a .615 batting average, Michael Camporeale was the Colorado king of clout his senior year at Chatfield High.
Two years later, Camporeale was looking at his sophomore season at Cuesta College as an opportunity to regain his home run stroke before moving on to the four-year level.
Then came the offseason introduction of what some are calling “dead bats” in college baseball.
“Aww, man, it was a real bummer,” Camporeale said. “Because I was so pumped for my last year here to get home runs under my belt. It’s been disappointing. So, I’ve just been trying to hit line drives. Stick to doubles now. No more home runs.
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“The barrel is definitely a little smaller. It’s more like a wood bat, so, you really have to hit it to hit it out. I mean, before, you could get fooled and still hit pitches out, get right out in front of a curveball and hit it out.”
Camporeale, however, has settled into a long-ball groove in spite of the new hardware and is leading a Cougars team seemingly unaffected by the composite metal bats that feature shrunken sweet spots designed to cut down the speed of the ball.
With an opposite-field grand slam from Camporeale — his fourth home run in the past eight games — and home runs by Max Duval and Darren Mullen on Thursday, Cuesta topped visiting Hancock 13-1 to remain in first place in the Western State Conference-North Division with two weeks left in the regular season.
The Cougars (18-10, 10-4 WSC-N) started the season 0-5, and Camporeale took 20 games to hit his first home run, but Cuesta rebounded to win 17 of 20 before a two-game losing streak going into Thursday.
And with four grand slams and more than seven runs per game, the Cougars are actually performing better at the plate this season.
Though the pitching is far from comparable between the two levels, the NCAA recently released statistics that said Division I teams are hitting nearly half as many home runs and are scoring one fewer run on average this season as opposed to 2010.
“Our strength has been our hitting,” Cuesta head coach Bob Miller said.
“Our offense is better than it was last year. We’re hitting for a higher batting average, more extra-base hits, more home runs, more runs scored. So, the new bats haven’t affected us.”
Duval, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound first baseman who leads the Cougars with five home runs, said he’s added 10 pounds since making a newfound commitment to weight training this season.
To the former San Luis Obispo High standout, Cuesta maintaining and improving its offensive output has to do with hard work and confidence in its approach.
“If you try and hit line drives long enough, sooner or later, balls are going to go out,” Duval said. “That’s what I’ve tried to do, hit balls to the gap.
This year, some have gotten up in the wind. Some just went out. It’s not a change in the swing. It’s just a more consistent approach, and balls are starting to go out more.”
Miller also praised the team’s familiarity with wood bats, which the new composite bats are intended to mimic, during summer leagues and high school showcases.
Early Thursday, the game was not unlike a wood-bat game.
Cougars starter John Tiedemann had a no-hitter through the first three innings, and the teams were scoreless through 21⁄2 innings.
Tiedemann, another San Luis Obispo High graduate, allowed just one run through seven innings while striking out four to earn the win, up his record to 7-1 and lower his ERA to 2.17.
The Cougars scored their first run in the bottom of the third on a single up the middle by Camporeale, who batted 2 for 5 with six RBI. Later that inning, Duval pulled a line-drive shot that hammered the scoreboard in left for three more runs.
Mullen led off the fifth by lifting a lofty solo homer high in the air to right, and Cuesta got another RBI single from Chris Lindmark and Camporeale’s grand slam to total six runs in the frame.
The first 10 Cougars runs came against freshman pitcher Joe Perez, who made the start for Hancock (14-13, 7-6 WSC-N) just two days after the Bulldogs battered Cuesta in a 15-1 wipeout.
The Cougars have crucial two-game conference series against Moorpark and Santa Barbara City in the coming week with the showdown with the Vaqueros likely being a battle for first place.
Tuesday’s blowout loss seemed to have refocused Cuesta for the home stretch.
“Definitely a wakeup call,” Camporeale said. “I think we were kind of getting a little complacent with our game. It definitely opened our eyes, and I’m glad we came out and did that today. That was huge. Thirteen runs. We kind of came out and returned the favor to them.”