By Chris Parker
Stoutland baseball is looking to build off a strong 2021 season that saw the Tigers finish above .500 for the first time since 2016 and just the second time since 2009.
Strong senior leadership will be at the center of this year’s team.
“Our seniors will for sure be our team leaders,” Stoutland head coach Joe Nicholson said. “Ryan Gross is our catcher. Ryan is solid behind the plate and is a good hitter and can run the bases. Ryan hustles on every play and never gives up. Oliver Eilenstine is one of our main pitchers and can also play any position in the field. Oliver leads our team in hitting and has a lot of power. James Justice is solid in the field at second-base and short for us and last fall James hit very well and helped us at the plate. Abe Stamper is our center-fielder and is also a good hitter. Abe has gotten a lot of key hits for us during the fall season. Hunter Hill has been our third baseman and left-fielder during the fall, and Hunter has a great glove and a solid bat as well. This senior class is solid and will lead us to a pretty successful spring season.”
Gross was the team’s top hitter last year posting a .452 batting average with 29 runs scored. Eilenstine hit .521 with a .598 on-base percentage last year. He had 22 RBI and 34 runs scored to go with 22 stolen bases. Justice scored 14 runs with a .375 on-base percentage. Stamper was also above .400 hitting in 2021 with an average of .418 and an on-base percentage of .584. He drove in 18 runs and scored 19 time. Hill had a .365 on-base percentage last season.
Eilenstine will be joined by Charlie Hill, Creed Mathews, Justin Crabtree, Brad Shaw and Michael Porter.
“Our pitching staff is reliable and deep,” Nicholson said. “Pitching is the main thing you need in high school baseball and we are in pretty good shape.”
Eilenstine threw 52 innings with 87 strikeouts and a 3.64 ERA as a junior. Hill was second on the team with 33.2 innings pitched and 40 strikeouts.
Jayden Pendergrass (first base), James Justice (second base/shortstop), Shaw (second base), Mathews (second base), Crabtree (shortstop), Hunter Hill (third base) and Wes Howe (third base) will be looked to on the infield.
Pendergrass tied for the team lead in RBI last year with 22. He also hit .314. Shaw was a terror on the basepaths with 22 stolen base and 19 runs scored.
Outfield is dependent on who is pitching with Shaw, Hunter Hill, Abe Stamper, Isaiah Bell, Porter, Landon Dolan, Mathews and Eilenstine all in the mix out there.
“The strength of our team is our depth. We truly have 15 to 16 guys that could start at a lot of different positions. The competition for starting spots is going to be pretty intense. Our pitching and our bench are both very deep,” Nicholson said. “Our main area of improvement that we need to fix is to be consistent all of the time. We tend in the past to be very streaky. We need to be solid all the time. We will work hard in the beginning of this season getting that fixed.”
Stoutland opens the season Mar. 21-26 with its home tournament.
“Our expectations are to compete in every game on our schedule and to be in a position to stand a chance to win every game we are involved in,” Nicholson said. “We also would like to be in a position to win a district championship.”