Lots of leadoff hitters start stuff - games, innings, rallies.
Eric Oliver does all that and more.
Oliver, Eastern's senior second baseman, began the bottom of the first inning of the championship game of the Camden County tournament Saturday with an infield single.
He stole second. He stole third. He ignited a three-run inning that put Eastern on the fast track to a 13-3 victory over Timber Creek.
"When Eric gets on base, we manufacture runs," Eastern coach Rob Christ said.
Oliver didn't start another Eastern rally. But he was in the middle of four of them.
He hit an RBI triple and scored in the second. He walked with the bases loaded for another RBI in the third. He slashed a two-run single in the fifth. And his single in the sixth set the stage for freshman catcher Nick Tierno's two-out, RBI single that ended the game on the 10-run rule.
"I wish he wasn't in the lineup," Timber Creek coach Frank Torcasio said of Oliver. "All he does is hit the ball hard."
Oliver reached base five times in the six-inning game. He was 4 for 4 with four RBIs and two stolen bases.
"This was the most impressive performance I've seen from him in four years," Christ said after Eastern, the No. 6 team in The Inquirer top 10, improved to 19-7, with a game remaining Monday against Olympic American foe Cherry Hill East.
"Every time he came up, it was a clutch situation, and he always came through."
For a guy who specializes in fast starts, Oliver is producing a furious finish to his four-year career. He has been playing his best baseball as a senior, especially over the last three weeks.
"I'm just trying to play as well as I can through the end of the season," Oliver said. "I want to keep playing [after high school], and I want this to carry over."
Christ said Oliver leads the Vikings in nearly every offensive category. He entered Saturday's game with a .450 batting average, with around 25 hits and 25 RBIs.
He also has 20 steals, four shy of Eastern's single-season record.
In fact, Oliver's teammates were teasing him from the dugout after his second-inning triple, telling him he should have stopped at first and stolen second and third.
"I'd like to get that record," Oliver said.
Oliver grew up in Willingboro and moved into the Eastern district as a seventh grader. He plans to attend Frederick (Md). Community College next year, hoping to improve his baseball skills and academics and transfer to a four-year program.
"He's really come into his own this season," Christ said. "He's always been a good player. This year, he's become a great player."
Torcasio and the rest of Timber Creek can attest to that. Oliver was 6 for 8 against the Chargers this season, with a home run, two triples and five runs scored.
He started a 10-run first inning at Timber Creek on April 29 with a triple. He also hit a two-run homer that day.
Saturday was more of the same. Oliver started the Vikings off when he beat out a chopper up the middle. But he did most of his damage in un-leadoff-like fashion - with big hits in the middle of big rallies.
"When he gets on base, good things happen for us," Christ said.
Actually, they happen sooner than that. When Eric Oliver comes to the plate, especially against Timber Creek, good things happen for Eastern.
Timber Creek 000 120 - 3 7 2
Eastern 321 061 - 13 8 3
WP: Adam Friedant. LP: Bob Missovoulos. 2B: TC–Tyler Krusch. 3B: E–Eric Oliver.