Close To .500
ERHS Shortstop Might Set School Mark
ELKTON – On game days during his fifth-period advanced physical education class, Isaac Dean gets in some early hitting work, taking a few extra swings in the batting cage set up in the back gym at East Rockingham High School.
Most of the time, it’s just Dean and teammate Shannon Cross.
Maybe that explains why the middle infield mates have had a laser focus at the plate, taking turns in the leadoff spot for the Eagles.
Nobody at ERHS has been better than Dean, a junior shortstop flirting with a .500 batting average going into tonight’s regular-season finale against Stuarts Draft in Elkton.
“I think he just kind of got locked in at some point during the year,” ERHS coach David Scott said. “He’s really locked in. He’s been very consistent at the plate, and I think it’s a direct result of how consistently he works at every aspect of the game all year long. He’s just one of those kids that’s always working to get better somewhere.”
When it’s all said and done, Dean might have some record-setting numbers.
The 5-foot-10, 160-pound Elkton native is hitting a team-best .492 with 30 hits and 14 stolen bases. Dean is on pace to have the best single-season batting average, surpassing his cousin Dillon Dean, who hit .485 as a senior during East Rock’s inaugural season in 2011. Meanwhile, Dean is six hits shy of Hunter Hensley’s 2011 single-season record and one steal short of Ryan Kite’s 2012 single-season mark.
“He’s a big-time weight room guy in the offseason,” Scott said of Dean, who is outhitting at least six of the seven other Shenandoah District team leaders (Riverheads statistics were not available). “He’s constantly down here hitting on his own or hitting at home. He’s constantly putting in the time it takes to do those kinds of things.”
Dean is assured of at least two more games – today against Draft and a Conference 36 semifinal game next week.
But with Dean and Cross spearheading a lineup that’s averaging 6.6 runs per game in support of a pitching staff with a combined ERA of 2.55, the Eagles (15-4) are thinking about extending their season even further.
Dean brings a streak of six consecutive multi-hit performances into today’s game after sitting out Friday’s 7-4 loss against Buffalo Gap for precautionary reasons. Scott said Dean was hit in the face by a baseball in East Rock’s previous outing at Wilson Memorial, sending him to Augusta Medical Center for four stitches above his right eye.
In his first full practice Monday, the 17-year-old looked sharp on defense and hardly seemed bothered by the recent injury.
“I think both of them are gutsy kids,” Scott said, comparing Isaac and Dillon Dean. “That’s the biggest similarity I see with them. They’re just tough, gutsy kids. There’s not a time where they’re not going to battle and fight through adversity.”
Swapping roles with Cross midseason, Dean brings a different approach to the plate batting second in the lineup. Scott said the move suits both players – with Dean being “one of the best bunters” on the team.
“Shannon’s definitely one of our very best hitters,” Scott said. “When you put him somewhere else, there’s a possibility where you can pitch around him. You’re guaranteed one at-bat where they can’t pitch around him if he’s in the 1-hole. And Isaac, I think, is a really good bat-control kid.”
Of course, the speedy Dean hasn’t hit .492 by just bunting. Dean said he learned how to hit from Dillon Dean despite never playing on the same varsity team.
“I played with him – like even in Little League and stuff, I’d play up with him,” said Isaac Dean, the son of Matt and Kim Dean. “He was always a good hitter. … If something bad goes on, don’t let it bother you. He just got in there and swung as hard as he could every time.”
Dean was an eighth-grader on the junior varsity team during Dillon’s senior season at ERHS, but they practiced together. Isaac Dean said he never imagined having a better hitting campaign than his former mentor, who now works as an electrician in Charlottesville.
Hitting seems to run in the family, sort of.
Coincidentally, Cross and the Deans are all related as cousins. As Isaac Dean explained it, Dillon Dean and Shannon Cross’ mothers are sisters, while his father and Dillon’s father are brothers. Cross and Isaac Dean might as well be brothers, given their chemistry on the diamond.
The duo has combined for 70 of the team’s 150 assists while boosting each other at the plate.
“As long as I can get on, I know he’ll get me in somehow, some way,” said Cross, who is hitting .397. “Even if it’s a bunt. … The little stuff, he just gets done. He’s very successful with what he does.”
And lately that’s been quite a bit for the second-place Eagles, tallying 10 hits in his last 13 at-bats with nine runs scored and five steals over his past four games.