Ballard sophomore Eli Rouse is quickly becoming one of the best baseball players in Class 3A
Eli Rouse is getting the job done on the mound and at the plate for the Ballard baseball team this season.
The Bomber sophomore has quickly become one of the best pitchers in the Raccoon River Conference and has also emerged as a dangerous weapon at the plate.
“Eli has really stepped it up this year,” Ballard head coach Mike Furlong said. “He’s a tough kid that wants to go out and compete all the time. We’ve got a lot of faith in the things that he does.”
Rouse saw limited action last year as a freshman. He had just three at-bats, but went 4-0 on the mound with a 3.30 ERA in 23 1/3 innings.
This year he's taken both his hitting and pitching to another level.
On offense Rouse entered Monday's game against North Polk hitting .326 with 10 runs and six RBIs.
“You’ve just got to go up there and make contact with the ball,” Rouse said. “You’ve got to be aggressive on fastballs and everything they give you in the zone.”
He's also walked four times and has an on-base percentage of .404.
“I just focus on getting on base,” Rouse said. “Everything comes from there.”
Rouse initially started off as Ballard's leadoff hitter before Furlong moved him around as he's been juggling the lineup to find the most productive unit. Rouse's ability to get on base over 40% of the time and his speed — he leads the team with nine steals — have provided a huge spark for the Bombers on offense.
“I love it,” Ballard catcher Cole Heinen said. “He’s really legit and helping the team so much.”
Rouse has one double and one triple. He has found enough power to go along with his speed and ability to make contact that he is starting to resemble former Bomber all-state shortstop Sam Petersen, who is now playing Division 1 ball at Iowa.
“They’re similar athletically,” Furlong said. “Eli can do a lot of good things, just like Pete could do. We’re excited to see how he can go out and continue to produce for us over the next few years.”
As much as Rouse has improved with the stick, his arm remains his biggest strength.
Heading into Monday's game Rouse had already thrown 25 1/3 innings before taking the hill against North Polk. He was 2-2 with an outstanding 0.83 ERA and 23 strikeouts against just five walks.
“Whenever he’s on the mound the game is just better,” Heinen said. The energy is up and the team just flows. He kind of puts the team on his back and it makes the game easier to play.”
Rouse has the sixth-best earned-run average in 3A among pitchers with at least 25 innings of work.
“In the offseason I worked on my change-up,” Rouse said. “I still need to work on it, but I really feel it’s coming along nicely.”
Rouse primarily relies on three pitches — a fastball, curve and change-up. He's been very effective at mixing them up to keep opposing hitters off balance.
Rouse credits the play of the defense behind him for giving him the confidence to go out and throw his best every night. Ballard has a 96.3% fielding average, way up from last year's 91.6% mark.
“I’m coming out here having faith in the guys behind me making plays,” Rouse said. “As long as they’ll do that it really lets me throw it in the zone and helps me hit my spots better.”
With the loss of Petersen and several other key members off of last year's 18-13 team that tied for third in the RRC, Ballard is still trying to find its identity in 2022. The Bombers entered the North Polk game with a 6-7 overall record and 3-2 conference mark.
But with the way Rouse has come on the Bombers expect to find it sooner rather than later.
“Eli does everything right,” Furlong said. “We'll take a lot of guys like him.”