At the head of his class

SPRINGFIELD – Even as an athlete of many talents, Cooper Scheffler has always taken the biggest liking to baseball.

And baseball has taken a big liking to him.

In his senior season, Scheffler helped lead Springfield to a fifth-place finish at the Class A state baseball tournament – its first state berth since 1994 – as the leadoff hitter, batting .460 with team-highs of 40 hits, 28 RBIs and 43 stolen bases. His dominance at the plate as well as his role in Springfield’s successful season have earned him the honor of being named the 2014 All-Journal Baseball Player of the Year, selected by the sports staff of The Journal.

“His competitiveness, drive to be the best and willingness to be coached up will make him a player I will always remember,” said Springfield coach Bob Fink. “I will never forget talking to him two years ago during our first week of indoor practice about how I wanted him to become the most dominant leadoff hitter and player in the area.

“It is great to see a guy that has worked so hard and truly loves the game of baseball accomplish those goals.”

A lot of pressure can typically fall on the shoulders of the leadoff hitter in any lineup. For Scheffler, he made his presence at the plate noticeable without allowing his mind to be burdened with pressure he made seem trivial.

“As a leadoff hitter, I’ve always got to be smart up there,” Scheffler said. “When I get up there, I’m always thinking of what pitch pitchers are going to throw. I use my mind to my advantage against pitchers.”

Scheffler started three seasons on varsity and helped the Tigers to 43 wins and two Tomahawk Conference titles the past two seasons. One of the key contributors to his improvement at the plate was the time he spent in the weight room leading up to his senior school year, which he said really helped with his swing.

“Since the beginning of the year, I noticed that I was hitting balls harder and farther compared to last year,” Scheffler said. “Last year it was just infield singles and bloop-singles to the outfield. This year, it was line drives, flyballs deep to center and all that stuff. It definitely helps and I encourage a lot of kids to get into that.”

Fink said Scheffler was one of the three most-dominating offensive players he had ever coached at Springfield and his improvement in the weight room played a part in becoming just that.

“I lifted when I was a freshman and up, but I didn’t go as hard as I did this year,” Scheffler said.

Playing neck-and-neck against rivals New Ulm Cathedral and Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s has also contributed to Scheffler’s rise through the years.

“We knew Cathedral was going to be one of the top teams and we’ve always had rivalries with Cathedral and St. Mary’s,” Scheffler said. “It’s always a big game for us to win.”

Cathedral and St. Mary’s were the only teams to beat Springfield during the regular season. Springfield split with both teams and tied Cathedral for a share of the Tomahawk Conference title, each with a 14-2 record.

“Losing is my last option; I do not live with that, I do not enjoy that,” Scheffler said. “When I get out there and I see kids down, I’m not happy. We’ve got to come out and perform against those teams and we did one out of the two games. I’m glad we could beat them.”

But by the time mid-June rolled around, Springfield was the last team standing having qualified for the state tournament for the first time in 20 years.

Playing on the state’s biggest stage was a dream come true for Scheffler and his teammates, who fell one game shy of a state berth in the Section 3A playoffs in 2013.

“It’s definitely different than playing around here,” Scheffler said. “You’ve got college coaches watching you, you’ve got everybody watching you. It’s truly an amazing experience.”

Fink said Scheffler got looks from a couple junior colleges as well as Division II’s Southwest Minnesota State University. But Scheffler said he is already going to South Dakota State University, where he might consider trying out for the baseball team there if he decides to continue playing.

If Scheffler decides to hang up his glove instead of continuing to play, at least he will have fond memories of his senior season as a Springfield Tiger.

“It was truly an honor to be part of the team that made it [to state] since ’94,” Scheffler said. “It was nice to finally get there for once. I hope to see if they can do it again next year.”

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