Eastview seniors not ready to hang up the spikes

Oberfeld, Stockwell will savor final baseball season

Eastview’s Ben Oberfeld (33) holds a Bloomington Kennedy runner close to first base during a South Suburban Conference game Saturday afternoon. Oberfeld, a captain of Eastview’s football and basketball teams, said he is embracing his duties as a role player for the baseball team. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy
Eastview’s Ben Oberfeld (33) holds a Bloomington Kennedy runner close to first base during a South Suburban Conference game Saturday afternoon. Oberfeld, a captain of Eastview’s football and basketball teams, said he is embracing his duties as a role player for the baseball team. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

This summer, Ben Oberfeld will begin the next phase of his athletic career when he attends a men’s basketball prospects camp at Bucknell University.

For the next few weeks, however, he’s with Eastview High School’s baseball team. After serving as a starter and team captain in football and basketball, he minces no words about his assignment this spring.

He’s a role player. He might not see the field very often. And he’s fine with it.

“It’s more of a support role,” he said. “It’s completely different from the other two sports. I look at myself as someone who needs to help keep guys’ spirits up and get them ready to play.”

Eastview’s baseball team, the defending state Class AAA champion, has two players who have signed National Letters of Intent to play other sports in college – Oberfeld for basketball at Bucknell and A.J. Stockwell for football at North Dakota.

With Oberfeld measuring 6-foot-9 and Stockwell 6-7, they could be the two largest strike zones in the South Suburban Conference.

Stockwell is the Lightning’s starting first baseman and the only returning Eastview starter from last year’s state title game.

It’s not unheard of for athletes to skip spring sports in their final year of high school to train specifically for the sports they’ll play in college. Oberfeld and Stockwell said they never considered passing on their final spring of high school baseball.

That’s not difficult to understand in Stockwell’s case, given that he’s a key returning starter. “A.J. was a big part of what we were able to do last year,” Eastview coach Tom Strey said.

For Oberfeld, the reasons are a little farther beneath the surface.

“There was never a doubt in my mind I’d play baseball this spring,” Oberfeld said. “I’ve played baseball since fourth grade and came up with all of these guys. They’re my friends.”

“We know baseball is Ben’s third sport,” Strey said. “But he’s a great kid, a smart kid. He knows how to compete at a high level. Other kids at our school look up to him. We’re happy to have his leadership, and anything we get from him on the field is a bonus.”

Oberfeld was a three-year letterman in football. As a senior, the defensive end was named All-South Suburban Conference.

Stockwell also played on the defensive line but saw a lot of time on offense as a 285-pound blocking back for Will Rains, a sophomore who had a breakout season at running back.

At North Dakota, “one of their tight ends graduated,” Stockwell said. “They’re going to have me at tight end to start with. It sounds like there’s a chance I could play as a freshman, but if not, I’ll redshirt.”

Stockwell did not play a winter sport and spent a lot of his free time in the Eastview weightroom. He said the North Dakota football coaches had no problem with him playing baseball this spring.

“They just told me to try to not let my weight drop below 265,” said Stockwell, who added he weighs about 275 now.

Bucknell, similarly, was OK with Oberfeld playing baseball this spring. “We love that he is a three-sport athlete,” basketball coach Dave Paulsen said on the school’s athletic website shortly after Oberfeld signed with the Bison last November.

Oberfeld is the second four-year letterman in Eastview boys basketball history and will graduate as the school’s fifth-leading scorer and leading rebounder. He also holds school single-game and single-season rebounding records, and his 701 career rebounds are almost 300 ahead of the No. 2 player on the list, Darren Kent.

He averaged 17.1 points and 10.1 rebounds this season as the only returning starter from a team that went to the state tournament the year before. Oberfeld’s Eastview basketball career didn’t end as he had hoped. He sprained his ankle in practice two days before his team’s first section tournament game and had to watch from the bench with his foot in a plastic boot as Eastview lost to Cretin-Derham Hall.

“Just horrible timing,” said Oberfeld, who said his ankle is fine now. “I think I could have played in the next game, too (which would have been against crosstown rival Apple Valley). I wouldn’t have been 100 percent, but I could have played.”

His timing could be better once he gets to Bucknell, located in Lewisburg, Pa. The Bison are losing three power forwards from their 2012-13 team, which had a school-record 28 victories and reached the NCAA tournament. One of the departing players is Mike Muscala, a Roseville native who led the Bison in scoring this season.

He’s hoping for an opportunity to play, but Oberfeld said that’s not the main reason he chose Bucknell. “I wanted to go to a school where I could spend four years of my life and be happy about it,” he said.

Stockwell is part of a large group of Minnesota football players finding attractive opportunities just across the border. The University of Minnesota is the only Division I football program in the state, but North Dakota, North Dakota State, South Dakota and South Dakota state all play Division I in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known at Division I-AA.

Stockwell was offered a walk-on spot at Minnesota and a scholarship at two-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State, but chose North Dakota after being contacted by that school’s coaches following his junior season of football. The North Dakota coaches had only seen him on film, but had seen enough to offer a scholarship.

Before he goes to North Dakota, he wants to try to get the Eastview baseball team back to the state tournament. In 2012 he was called up from the junior varsity in midseason and played regularly the rest of the way. He was named to the all-tournament team at state.

New starters surround him, but Eastview won its first three games of the 2013 season.

“I hope we can go back to state,” Stockwell said. “We need to fill some spots, but we have good players. We all hang out together and have a good time.”

Fast start for Lightning

Eastview began its defense of the Class AAA state championship by sweeping Bloomington Kennedy 2-1 and 11-0 in a South Suburban Conference doubleheader Saturday, then beating Bloomington Jefferson 6-1 on Monday.

In the sweep of Kennedy, “we had two really good starts,” Strey said. “We’re looking to develop some depth in our pitching. We haven’t had a season like this before, where we started so late.

“In a normal season we’d have three starting pitchers. This year we’ll need four, or even five.”

Junior Marcus Frederickson pitched a three-hitter with 11 strikeouts in the 2-1 victory over Kennedy. Grant Martinson and Lucas Anderson also are 1-0 as starting pitchers, while Ben Voss and Jacob Bechstein have worked in relief.

Senior outfielder Josh Chatfield hit .571 with five RBI in the first three games, while Rhett Hebig and Loren Muraca had three RBI each.

Eastview split two games against Apple Valley on Tuesday, losing the first 3-2 and winning the second 8-2. The Lightning is 4-1 going into its scheduled game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Lakeville North.