This is Cooper Roberts’ first season on the varsity baseball team, and he’s about to take on the biggest responsibility a Pendleton pitcher has had in 27 years.
The Bucks will hit Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer on Saturday to challenge Central High School in this year’s 5A championship game. It will mark Pendleton’s first title game appearance since 1992.
Roberts, a junior, will start the game on the mound.
“Of course I’m nervous,” said Roberts, 18, “but I just have to trust myself and do my thing.”
Roberts pitched an inning here and there for the varsity team last season, but made the cut for the first time this year. His team is going into their final game with an 18-8 overall record.
The Bucks earned the top spot in the Intermountain Conference standings for their debut year in the league.
Roberts is part of a pitching power trio, sharing the mound with seniors Ryan Stahl and Chris Large. But Stahl and Large both threw against West Albany on Tuesday, leaving it up to Roberts to start the Bucks’ deepest state run in almost three decades.
“He’s such a good competitor,” coach TJ Haguewood said. “He doesn’t let emotions get to him. If something bad happens, he flushes it and reengages. He knows the most important pitch is his next pitch.”
The 6-foot, 2-inch Roberts holds the best ERA amongst the three Bucks pitchers with a 1.00. He was also named to the IMC baseball all-league second team.
“One of the things that sets him apart on the mound is that he enjoys the competition between himself and the hitter,” Haguewood said. “He pounds the zone, keeps guys off-balance, and lets his defense work.”
And that chemistry Roberts shares with his defense often makes the difference in a game.
Last Friday, he threw a complete game shutout at Crescent Valley as the Bucks brought home a 6-0 quarterfinals victory. He threw 88 pitches and tallied three strikeouts along the way.
“He shut down a very high-quality team,” Haguewood said. “He keeps his pitch count down. That’s always a good thing to do.”
This isn’t Roberts’ first showing on a prestigious Pendleton team. Last fall, he was a quarterback for the varsity football team, which went undefeated in league play and made it all the way to the 5A state semifinals. And in the winter, he was a guard for the basketball team, whose state playoff run ended with a semi-consolation game against Crater.
Although football is his sport of choice, he’s been playing baseball ever since he could swing a bat hard enough to hit a ball off a tee. He’ll play Pendleton Legion baseball in the summer before rejoining the Bucks for his last year of high school.
“We practice every day. We enjoy getting better with each other,” he said. “I love pitching for this team. We’ve got a lot of good leadership from our seniors.”
The Bucks left Friday morning for Keizer, where they’ll vie for Pendleton baseball’s first-ever state title. Although they are coming in as the underdogs against the No. 1 team in the 5A division, Roberts is eager for the opportunity he’s been given.
“I feel a lot of things at once — I’m happy, excited, nervous — just put those all together,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”