Holsinger set to lead Generals into state semifinal matchup with Eastside

Stonewall's Cole Holsinger fires a pitch during the Generals' May 16 game against Luray at Rebel Park in New Market. Holsinger will start on the mound for the Generals in Friday's VHSL Group 1A state tournament semifinal game against Eastside. Rich Cooley/Daily

NEW MARKET – Cole Holsinger has been the number one pitching option in Stonewall Jackson High School’s most important baseball games this season. The senior will be handed the ball one final time in his high school career on Friday morning, in the biggest game in the history of the Generals’ program.

Holsinger, a right-hander, will start on the mound against Eastside High in the Virginia High School League Group 1A state tournament semifinals at 10 a.m. Friday at Calfee Park in Pulaski.

It will be the third playoff start for the senior in the last three weeks, though the stakes will be at their highest with Stonewall making its first-ever state tournament appearance and searching for a spot in Saturday’s state championship game.

“I definitely look forward to them,” Holsinger said of pitching in big games following practice on Tuesday evening. “It’s in my hands, you know. I mean I’ve got the defense behind me, who I know is gonna make plays, but you make the pitches and you know … you can control how the game goes.”

Holsinger has looked every bit the part of Stonewall’s ace throughout the course of the spring and has become even more dominant since the Generals began postseason play on May 18.

Stonewall's Cole Holsinger jogs back to first base after a foul ball during their May 16 game against Luray at Rebel Park in New Market. Rich Cooley/Daily

In two playoff starts – one in the Conference 44 tournament semifinals against Riverheads on May 25 and another in the Region 1A East quarterfinals against Central-Lunenburg four days later – Holsinger has gone the distance in both while limiting opponents to one earned run on 10 hits and 17 strikeouts in 14 innings pitched.

In the 2-0 win over Riverheads, which sent the Generals to their first regional tournament since the 1990s, Holsinger struck out the last five batters he faced and seven of the last nine to secure the victory after his offense gave him a 2-0 lead in the sixth.

“I think the more he throws the better he’s getting,” Stonewall head coach Mike Lenox said. “As it’s gotten warmer, as the season’s gone on, his velocity’s gotten higher, breaking stuff started throwing for strikes and being sharper. When he threw at Riverheads he was lights out. … That’s the Cole I hope I see on Friday. But even if he doesn’t have his best stuff, he battles through.”

Against Eastside, Holsinger will aim to keep in check a Spartans team making its second straight state semifinal appearance. Eastside, the two-time defending Region 1A West champ, enters Friday’s game averaging 11 runs per game during its current 13-game winning streak.

Holsinger, meanwhile, brings a 1.82 ERA into the semifinal matchup – a number Lenox said is the lowest in his six seasons as Stonewall’s head coach – and has allowed just two earned runs in his last three starts spanning 19 innings.

He was named a first team All-Region 1A East pitcher in selections released earlier this week.

“Especially lately, he’s dominated on the mound,” Lenox said of Holsinger, who is averaging 1.4 strikeouts per inning over those last three starts. “When you start pitching well like that, the defense starts playing better. When the defense starts playing better, offense starts playing better. So it all begins with pitching and I think that’s why we’ve had such a great success this year. I think our team ERA is like a 3.40. That’s good and that’s the lowest it’s been by probably about two runs since I’ve been here. I think that’s where it started but I think Cole kind of made a statement with that.”

Holsinger’s pitching success – he’s 6-3 in 12 appearances (seven starts) with 63 strikeouts and only four walks in 54 innings pitched – this spring is the culmination of his improvement during a four-year varsity career.

As a junior in 2016, Holsinger – also Stonewall’s starting shortstop – logged 31 innings in a timeshare on the mound with current teammates Nick Dotson, Tyler Somers and then-senior Nathan Miller.

He gave up playing football at Stonewall Jackson this past fall in order to focus exclusively on baseball and spent that time playing travel ball with teams from Clarke County and Bridgewater, Holsinger said.

“The key this year has been really knowing how to pitch,” said Holsinger, who signed with Garrett College, a junior college in Maryland, in May. “From last year to this year I’ve grown as a pitcher. Knowing like where to locate an 0-2 fastball, where to locate 1-2 slider, where to place (pitches). Last year I would miss spots. I gave up a lot of 0-2 hits last year, so coming in this year, knowing how to pitch really helped me out.”

Holsinger’s pitch arsenal includes a fastball that sits around 82 to 83 mph, he said, which he complements with a curveball, changeup and slider, the latter of which he considers to be his strikeout pitch. Lenox said the senior has free rein to call his own pitches, a luxury not afforded to many high school hurlers.

And when he’s in the batter’s box, Holsinger has been a nuisance to opposing pitchers. His .343 batting average (24-for-70) is tied for the second-best mark for the Generals, and he leads the team in doubles (11), home runs (two), slugging percentage (.614), RBIs (19), runs scored (19) and steals (10). Fourteen of his 24 hits have gone for extra bases.

“I’ve had Cole as a freshman and I watched him grow from just a little kid, getting in trouble, doing this and doing that, to leading a team, stepping on the mound and saying ‘give me the ball, I wanna stay in,'” Lenox said. “He’s meant a tremendous amount to the program. He’s gonna play college baseball. He’s a great athlete. And every time he steps in the box people are like he can do something with it. And not everybody has that.”

For Holsinger, he’s hoping to end with a “big bang” a four-year career that has not coincidentally spanned Stonewall’s rise to the state final four.

“Time changes. You see different people go, more people leave, more people come in. I think the players that have come in have really pulled their weight and it’s really showed this year,” Holsinger said.

“Really the big thing this year is how much fun we’ve had, and how much, actually for one time I can say, we are really a family. From everybody on this team, after practice we’ll all go to (Buffalo Wild Wings) or we’ll all go to hang out somewhere. I mean that’s just how it’s been. We never had a team like that before.”