To say Riley Cooper’s the future of Kingsburg High baseball isn’t inaccurate, but it’s enormously deceptive, also, given the freshman impact.
He’s a left-hander standing at 6 feet, 2 inches and weighing 215 pounds.
More important is where he projects, physically and skillfully, for the next three years. And oh so comforting for the Vikings of the Central Sequoia League and coach Michael Garza.
Riley’s something special. And, the best part of it, he gets better every time out.
Kingsburg coach Michael Garza on freshman pitcher Riley Cooper
Consider father Bobby Cooper, sitting behind home plate with wife Melissa on Tuesday night at Kellogg Field, where their son was named tournament Most Valuable Player after pitching and hitting Kingsburg to an 8-2 win over Fowler for the title of the 33rd National Raisin Fowler Easter Classic.
Pops, at 6-7, is a big, big man who played football at Clovis High under Tim Simons in 1992-93.
Further, for years he has exposed his son to bright stages.
“Since I was a kid my dad put me in pressure situations, so I felt prepared for this,” says the 15-year-old, already 7-1 as a varsity pitcher after giving up five hits in 6⅔ innings and delivering an RBI double against the host Redcats in a setting arguably unlike any the section has to offer.
And that’s typical of a 33-year tournament with 24 sponsors.
It was 70 degrees for a 7:45 p.m. first pitch, bleachers overflowing at a pristine venue with Masters-like greens for the infield and outfield, an army of volunteers – including four of the six-man umpiring crew – and double lines 10 deep at a concession stand where tri-tip sandwiches and root beer floats graced a menu fit for River Park Shopping Center.
“We think it’s as good an environment as you’ll have – anywhere,” Fowler Unified School District Superintendent Eric Cederquist says. “We’ve got a tradition to uphold, and there’s a lot of people involved to make it happen.”
Cooper, likewise, is establishing a reputation of excellence. And no matter his age.
In addition to his pitching, he went 6 for 12 in the tournament with five RBIs, tied a Classic record with a four-hit game against Liberty-Madera Ranchos on Monday and won Tuesday’s pre-championship Home Run Derby.
“He’s the real deal,” says Fowler 403-win coach Bill Feaver. “I’ve known that kid for a long time; I’ve seen him grow up, so this is no surprise at all. He’ll go a long way in this game.”
In agreement is Garza, who has credibility.
He’s Kingsburg’s first-year coach, a former Washington High pitcher and younger brother of Matt Garza, who’s made millions as a 12-year major league pitcher, currently with the Milwaukee Brewers.
“Riley’s something special,” the coach says. “And, the best part of it, he gets better every time out. He works, has the biggest heart, is always polite, always nice, a genuine kid who plays baseball and has fun.”
7-1 Cooper’s varsity record as a 15-year-old
Cooper’s also been playing football and basketball, but his future no question’s in baseball: “I also love the other sports, but I think I’ll have to make a decision. I’m not sure.”
Kingsburg and Fowler had gone 3-0 in the three-day, eight-team tournament dominated historically by these charter members.
The Vikings, improving to 12-7 as a Central Section Division III contender, received a double, single and three runs from leadoff hitter Hunter Sasselli.
Fowler (12-4), a D-IV power, had sophomore J.T. Hammer pitch 5⅔ innings to close a tournament in which he had relieved the previous three games. And the Redcats, behind doubles from Izaiah Moreno and Josh Feaver, the coach’s son, led 2-0 after two innings.