Eli Dale ranged to his left behind second base and quickly grabbed a grounder that skipped on a bad hop up and to his right. He then fired the ball to first for the out.
Dale, a senior shortstop at St. Pius X High School in Festus, also uses his strong arm as a relief pitcher called upon to close out games. He’s one of the top hitters among high school players in the St. Louis region, batting over .500, compiling an on-base percentage nearing .600 and driving in runs by the bucketful. In the game April 29 against Jefferson, he displayed speed and hustle on the bases, turning a hit down the first-base line into a double and speeding to third on a poor throw, then burning to the plate to score on a grounder to first.
He’s a leader on and off the field, said Jerry Woods, coach of the St. Pius Lancers.”He’s the shortstop, he’s our guy people look up to. He’s quality.
“He has a high baseball IQ,” Woods said. “There’s not much he can’t do on a baseball field. He is fast, and he’s very smart on the basepaths. He’s very aggressive, so he has the green light to do anything he wants to do.”
At the plate, Woods said, his shortstop takes a good approach, hitting the ball hard with line drives in the gap.
Dale takes pride in his defense as well. “Fielding is one of the most important aspects of the game,” he said. “Defense can win games.”
Hitting can put away a game — so both are important, added Dale.
Baseball was a natural for him, since his grandfather, Dale Wallis, and uncle, Mike Wallis, coached the sport at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park. “They trained me every day on working hard. I just wanted to follow in their footsteps. I’ve always looked up to them and wanted to do great things,” Dale said.
When he gets on the field, he said, “I forget about everything else and just play as hard as I can. I just love the game.”
He’ll continue playing at Kansas State University. “It’s huge,” he said of the opportunity. “Growing up that always was my dream, to play college baseball at the highest level possible.”
It was “a hard grind,” he said of the recruiting process, “but I found a school I really love and have quite an opportunity.”
Major League scouts have shown some interest in his abilities.
St. Pius has a history of putting outstanding athletes on the diamond, including 1980 graduate Mike Henneman, who had a 10-year career with the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers and Houston Astros.
This year’s team includes players who’ve played together for many years, Dale noted, forming a strong bond.
He praised fellow senior Jeremy Isenman, who stands out on the mound, as well as the team’s other pitchers. “We feel like the game is in our hands and we’re going to have a good shot at winning that game. Pitching beats hitting every day. That’s the key to our season so far. We have a lot of arms.”
The seniors want to win a district title for the coaches, Dale said, “and really make a run, the Final Four playoffs. We’re really looking forward to that.”
St. Pius has helped him athletically and academically, Dale said. “I came here to get prepared for college, and it’s been great. The staff here is amazing. They make you feel at home.”
The faith-based school has brought him closer to God, he said, and “as a team we take it very seriously,” he said.
Kaleb Schweigert, another senior on the team, said Dale “makes sure everybody keeps their head up, that nobody’s lackadaisical on the field and nobody misses a rep at practice or the weight room.”
Schweigert urges the younger players to “make sure to enjoy every moment of it because it doesn’t last long.”
Praying as a team before games, he said, “allows Jesus to be in here with us and just look over us.”
>> On the field
St. Pius X High School sustained its first loss of the season April 29, topped by Jefferson High School 9-6.
team from the Catholic school made a few uncharacteristic errors and
gave up three walks after leading 6-3. Coach Jerry Woods said afterward,
“That’s baseball. It’s high school, and things happen.”
loaded with seniors has dominated, compiling 14 wins before the loss.
“We’re blessed with returning starters, quality ballplayers,” he said.