Athlete of the week: Cooper Stephens hits bombs for the Grangers

Published 8:05 am Saturday, April 8, 2023

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If you are ever walking The Thread by Granger Park and hear a loud clang followed by a baseball whizzing by your head, odds are the LaGrange baseball team is playing and Cooper Stephens is at-bat. The sophomore slugger has elevated his game to new heights in year two with the Grangers.

This comes after Stephens put together a stellar campaign a season ago when he was trusted to be a starter on a team that went all the way to the AAAA state championship series. 

“Coach (Donnie) Branch tole me over the phone before the first work outs last year that he was not going to guarantee me a starting spot, it will be earned,” Stephens said. “From then on, I worked my tail off to earn a starting spot.”

Stephens was not a role player or a body to put on the field, he was already a well-rounded baseball player. He made his name known when he delivered a walk-off win for LaGrange over Houston County in the 2022 LaGrange Toyota Invitational. His star continued to rise as a freshman culminating with his four RBI performance in the final game of the season for the Grangers in game two of the AAAA state championship.

Stephens has added more muscle to his frame and subsequently he has seen a rise in his ability to hit with power.

“The whole offseason I needed to get bigger, so I started to hit the gym sometimes even two to three times a day,” Stephens said. 

This culminated in his immaculate performance on March 21 against powerhouse Whitewater. Not content with one home run, he sent two over the walls of The Branch. 

“I wasn’t really feeling anything it in the moment, but the excitement started to set in after the game,” Stephens said. “I had never hit two home runs before at the high school level.”

Stephens does not just hit with power, he has an innate ability to find holes anywhere on the diamond. Offense is his bread and butter, but he also provides a reliable glove at first base. While it was not his first position when he picked up the sport, he feels like a natural now. 

“When I was little, I was a second baseman and then I started playing catcher when I was 10, and that’s where I thought I would stick to playing,” Stephens said. “Around my seventh or eighth grade year, I made the change to first and once I hit the high school level I have gotten better at the position.”

Confidence permeates out every pore of his body but never does it tip over into cockiness as he keeps both feet on the ground. Stephens is an incredibly hard worker, always looking for an angle to get better. The mental aspect of the game has come a long way for Stephens in the last year. 

“If you don’t have a good mental approach, it can get to you if you go 0-for-4 or have three strikeouts,” Stephens said. “You have to be able to wipe away those bad games and move on, and that’s something I’ve gotten better with. In the first game against Whitewater I went 0-for-4 and then came back and hit two home runs against them in the second game.”

LaGrange is in the midst of the home stretch of the regular season. The Grangers control their own destiny from here on out and if they are able to win the final four region games Stephens will claim his second region title in as many years with the team.

“At the beginning of the year, we were all focused on ourselves as individuals but were able to have some meetings to talk and help us gel together,” Stephens said. “We are pretty close to where we want to be, but we aren’t there yet.”