Solid defense paying off for Stolz, Tigers

Jason Stolz (right) and the Clemson Tigers play at Georgia Tech this weekend in a key ACC baseball series.

CLEMSON — Jason Stolz’s journey to becoming a sure-handed Division I shortstop began in the backyard of his childhood suburban Atlanta home, tossing ball after ball into his pitch-back, an inverted trampoline-like contraption that allows a player to simulate groundballs without the aid of a companion by throwing into the elastic web.

When not near his pitch-back, Stolz sought out anything, usually a wall, to throw against.

When Stolz was 10 he joined the famed East Cobb baseball program outside of Atlanta where he earned year after year of intensive repetition at shortstop.

“There’s no offseason like everyone says,” said Stolz of East Cobb. “You’re just constantly doing it.”

Clemson’s offense has struggled this season. The Tigers’ starting pitching has been up and down. But one area which has delivered consistency is Stolz’s defense at shortstop as Clemson (24-18 12-9 ACC) tries to win its fourth ACC series in its last five attempts this weekend at Georgia Tech (25-17, 9-12).

Stolz has just four errors on the season has not made an error in 13 straight games. Stolz’s .978 fielding percentage marks a dramatic improvement from Brad Miller’s defense of the last two seasons when the former Tiger combined to make 44 errors.

But it was because of Miller’s high-profile presence at shortstop which kept Stolz at third base and other positions the last three seasons.

This spring Stolz has displayed his shortstop skills in the return to his natural position: the sure-hands and strong, accurate arm honed by the pitch-back and at East Cobb.

The complete package of Stolz’ skills can be witnessed on a grounder in the hole at short, the area between third base and shortstop near the edge of the infield skin. It requires a shortstop to range well to his right, make a difficult backhanded catch and then make an accurate throw on the longest toss required of any infielder.

Stolz can make the play more often than not.

“I think definitely the play in the hole is the toughest,” Stolz said. “It’s one of the plays where it gives your pitcher a sense of confidence and makes everyone feel good about saving a hit.”

Stolz allows the Clemson staff confidence to pitch to contact.

Clemson coach Jack Leggett has long praised Stolz’s defensive abilities, notably his soft hands. The ability to turn the double play is also of paramount importance and the ability to turn it often separates good defenses from average one. Clemson turned 52 double plays in 63 games last year. Clemson has turned 41 double plays in 40 games this season.

“I’ve been blessed with the ability to have a strong arm, to have athletic ability,” Stolz said.

And at offense-starved Clemson, the Tigers are fortunate to have Stolz.