The Eagles’ Rock
Cross Does It All For ERHS
HARRISONBURG – It’s hard these days for East Rockingham High School baseball coach David Scott to fully quantify Shannon Cross’ value. Obviously, the player’s stock is rising – in several areas.
There just aren’t many labels for a standout second baseman who is also a leading hitter, pitcher and baserunner.
“I think Shannon is at a point where he’s ready to take a good leap forward,” Scott said.
Hitting .524 with a 1.14 ERA on the mound, Cross has had a scintillating start to his junior season, helping the Eagles achieve a 6-0 record for the first time in the program’s four-year history. They’ve needed to be perfect to keep pace with Conference 36 rival Riverheads (6-0), and after today’s 5 p.m. makeup game in Staunton, only one squad will remain labeled as undefeated among all area teams.
“I think the biggest thing with Riverheads is just how competitive they are,” Scott said. “… It’s almost a cultural thing for them. They’re that way in football, basketball and probably any other sport you play them in.”
East Rock is building itself in a similar mold, grinding out wins without much flash or pizzazz. The 5-foot-9, 155-pound Cross may be the poster child.
“I think he’s definitely becoming more mentally tough, handling adversity and bouncing back,” said Scott, who later alluded to Cross’ strong pitching against R.E. Lee as an example on a night he wasn’t stellar with the bat. “Even from the beginning of the year, he’s becoming more of a grinder.”
In just six games, Cross is halfway to his 20-game regular-season total from last year, going 11-for-21 (.524) at the plate with a team-leading eight RBIs, .619 slugging percentage and .522 on-base percentage. The third-year starter – who hit .333 last season with a team-high 15 RBIs – is also tied with leadoff hitter and shortstop Isaac Dean for the team lead in stolen bases with five.
Those are potentially Player of the Year numbers, if Cross can sustain them.
For example, look at East Rock graduate and current Bridgewater College catcher Hunter Hensley. In 2012, Hensley led the Eagles to their first state tournament appearance and a program-best 17 wins and was named the Shenandoah District Player of the Year, hitting .397 (29-for-73) with 16 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, a .616 slugging percentage and a .453 on-base percentage in 20 regular-season games.
Compare for yourself. And just as Hensley emerged that season as a quality pitcher – going 5-2 with a 2.07 ERA and 30 strikeouts – Cross has done likewise.
Behind only ERHS ace Chase Comer in innings pitched, Cross (1-0) has given up the fewest runs (two) with the most strikeouts (17) in 12 1/3 innings of work and boasts a team-best 1.14 ERA. As a No. 3 arm last season, Cross went 2-1 with a 5.55 ERA, 24 strikeouts and 11 walks in 24 innings pitched over 11 appearances (one start).
“That boils down to consistency,” Scott said of Cross’ improvements in several categories. “Anytime you become consistent, that’s the mark of somebody that’s, you know, in the upper part of the district. … Consistency is something we really work on in our mental game, and him and many of them have bought into that. Each at-bat or each groundball, they’re going into each one with the same mindset. One play. One at-bat. One pitch at a time.”
Think Cross has gotten the message? Ask him how he’s been able to hit the ball so well.
“Taking it one at-bat at a time and seeing the ball,” he said. “Sometimes you get lucky, I guess.”
Cross isn’t a fancy pitcher. He said he’s fine-tuned his fastball and curveball, the two pitches he relies upon. But the right-hander believes he’s improved the most on the mound.
“That’s been a little bit of a weakness, but the coaches have been working with me a lot and got me to the point I’m at throwing the ball,” said Cross, who basically plays all summer long and adds tee work on free weekends. “Just getting first-pitch strikes and getting ahead in the counts.”
The rest has been a natural progression, helped by a tight-knit supporting cast.
Cross and Dean, for example, have been manning the middle infield together since “the lowest Little League,” Cross said. They were teammates, along with East Rock junior catcher Riley Hensley, on a 13- to 14-year-old Elkton junior league team that advanced to regionals in South Carolina, where it lost to Florida – the eventual World Series champion.
Familiarity with Dean has paid off for the 17-year-old Cross and the Eagles as a whole.
“They communicate very well together,” Scott said. “That’s been a key for our defense. Our communication to this point this year has been very sound.”
It’s the kind of fundamental baseball stuff between pitches that makes East Rock and Riverheads games typically come down to the seventh inning.
Thanks in large part to Cross, all eyes may be on the clear-cut leaders in Conference 36 for the remainder of the season. After all, ERHS and RHS started a compelling rivalry last spring, splitting four meetings.
Both regular-season games in 2013 were shutouts, with East Rock winning 3-0 in Staunton and Riverheads winning 1-0 in Elkton. Then, after the Eagles downed the Gladiators in comeback fashion 3-2 in the Shenandoah District semifinals, ERHS lost to the eventual state champions 9-2 in the regional semifinals.
“They’re a great team. It’s always fun,” Cross said. “We’re looking forward to playing them. Always a nail-biting game that comes down to the last inning.”