There was a point late in the season that Justin Stringer realized every time he got on base in his first at-bat, Houston won. It seemed pretty simple, so he kept doing it. And the Tigers kept winning.
A speedy senior who wreaked havoc on the basepaths after always finding a way to reach first base, Stringer was the driving force behind Houston’s postseason offense that took the Tigers to historic heights. Nearly every important rally began with Stringer getting on base and scoring.
“When he got on, it set the tone and for some reason, the guys followed,” Houston coach Brent Hall said. “He was on base a lot and that made the rest of our team roll.”
The importance of Stringer’s presence was recognized with his selection to the second team of the coach’s all-state team. Not only did Stringer and his teammates win the first sectional, quarterfinal and semifinal games in team history, they accomplished another first. Stringer, Kirk Pierce and Gus Durst are the only Tigers to be named to the all-state team in the same season.
“I couldn’t imagine anything better than getting second in the state and being named second team all-state,” Stringer said. “It’s just amazing.”
Stringer, a senior second baseman, set the tempo for Houston throughout the season from the leadoff spot. He led Houston with 43 runs scored, 19 stolen bases and a .539 on-base percentage. His .466 batting average was second on the team behind Durst.
Stringer was especially good in the postseason. He batted a team-high .520 and scored 15 times to lead a Tiger team that topped 10 runs in all seven games. He also had seven stolen bases in the playoffs.
“I just went up there to do my job,” Stringer said. “My job was to get on base and score. I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that when Gus or Kirk were up to bat, I was getting in.”
Stringer could do just about anything to get on base. He’d bunt, slap line drives and even force errors on seemingly simple ground balls with his speed. He had 33 singles, tying for the eighth-most in single-season state history.
When Stringer reached base, that’s when the fun began. He usually waited one pitch to see the pitcher’s delivery or pick-off move. By the second pitch, he was gone.
Stringer, who said he was only given the steal sign once, had the green light the entire season.
“It’s pretty much a guarantee that when he gets on, it’s a double,” Hall said. “The hitters behind him knew that they were going to give him a pitch or two just to give him an opportunity to (steal second base). There were a lot of times Gus would take a high fastball just to give Justin the chance to get down there.”
Stringer wasn’t only fast, he was intense. Hall said Stringer played with more emotion than any other Tiger.
“He’s really hard on himself and over the years he’s let that affect his play. Once he figured that out, he was hard to handle on the baseball field,” Hall said.
“There’s nobody on the team that wanted to win more than he did, and he would show it. He’s a little more fiery than most of the kids. Every team needs someone like that.”