A true definition of a winner can be hard for a coach to find.
But when a coach finds a winner, it’s certainly a person that the coach in question will usually take a chance on.
Recent Clay graduate Brody Riffe is the epitome of that saying. The 2017 SOC I Defensive Player of the Year in basketball and First-Team All-SOC honoree on the hardwood and the diamond officially obtained an opportunity to play collegiate baseball on Tuesday afternoon when the 5-11 pitching standout signed to play for Chris Moore and the Shawnee State University baseball program at Clay High School.
For Riffe, the opportunity is one that he’s certainly thrilled about.
“Signing with Shawnee State feels great,” Riffe said. “I feel in love with the sport at a young age. It just feels good to be able to continue to not only play baseball at the collegiate level, but pitch, which is my favorite thing to do. It’s a great feeling.”
However, according to Moore and Clay head coach Marc Cottle, it’s an opportunity that is well-deserved for the young man who has put his teams before himself.
“It feels good to sign Brody,” Moore said. “The thing that sticks out about him is his athleticism. He has more physical tools than I anticipated, which speaks to him being able to move forward into the next level. There’s just certain baselines that some guys have to meet, and it looks like he meets those, to me. I think that he’s a guy who’s best baseball days are in front of him. With the physical attributes that he brings to the table, you can project him out to be somebody who will be able to pitch for us in the Mid-South Conference. His development and his playing time will be based on what that development looks like, but certainly, if you want to start anywhere, you want to start with a young man who has athleticism, physical gifts, and who knows how to handle himself. We’re certainly excited to have him on board.”
“It’s really a blessing for Brody, myself, and the entire program,” Cottle said. “He definitely deserves it. He’s a hard worker, and you can’t ask for a better kid. I truly believe that the upside in baseball, for him, is very strong. Once he commits to baseball 12 months a year, he’s going to obtain increased velocity, and his knowledge about the game will only get better. “(Chris) Moore is getting a very good athlete who has tremendous upside. Brody gets there, sticks with it, and gets through the tough conditioning that Shawnee State has, he’s going to get bigger and stronger. That’s exactly what you want.”
And that quality — the one that embraces hard work without worrying about the glory that comes from putting it in — is one that Riffe has embraced throughout his entire high school career.
On the hardwood, Riffe’s tenacity on the defensive end and his deft shooting ability on the offensive side of the floor allowed the senior to find a perfect home in an immensely talented starting five that included SSU tennis signee Nate Hinze, Kentucky Christian basketball signee Cole Gilliland, Division IV All-Southeast District Co-Player of the Year Cameron King, and Caleb Cline. They, along with sixth man and fellow upperclassman Anthony Williams, transformed Clay from a middle-of-the-pack SOC I club into a perennial district contender.
In 2017, Riffe, along with the remaining quintet, helped lead Clay to its second SOC I Championship — and later, its second Division IV Sectional Championship — in three seasons, a 54-48 victory over South Webster to give the school its first Division IV District Championship since 1969, and, in a Division IV, Region 15 Semifinal, guided Clay to arguably the program’s biggest win in school history as the Panthers took home a 100-97 victory in double overtime — a game where Riffe combined with King to score 40 points in the second half and overtime periods to will Clay to the victory after the Panthers faced a 12-point deficit in the second half.
Not surprisingly, accolades followed for the 5-11 standout after helping lead Clay to a 60-14 record over the last three years. Those honors included SOC I Defensive Player of the Year honors, SOC I First-Team honors, and Special Mention All-Southeast District honors — with Riffe obtaining the latter award for the second year in a row.
Riffe’s senior year of baseball, however, would prove to be a little bit more challenging, albeit initially.
With Riffe — along with Gilliland and fellow basketball hand Drew Hadsell — getting off to a late start to the baseball campaign, the senior had to play catchup on the mound. Team success was slow to come by, as well, as the Panthers dropped five of their first seven affairs to start the year.
But behind the leadership of their pitching ace, Clay ultimately worked through their issues. The Panthers ultimately won 11 of their following 13 affairs thanks to the dedication that the senior showed, which especially shone through in Clay’s Division IV District Semifinal appearance against Reedsville Eastern, where the senior threw five innings of scoreless baseball in relief in a tough 2-1 loss.
After the conclusion of the season, Riffe ended up obtaining All-SOC and All-District honors for the third year in a row, with the senior taking home Division IV All-District West Player of the Year honors and obtaining First-Team All-SOC accolades in 2017, and for his career, obtained 147 strikeouts in 131 innings, which is “about eight strikeouts a game,” according to Cottle.
“It’s a great feeling to find success in two sports,” Riffe said. “That’s especially true on the baseball side, where we had a younger team. Helping those guys out and kind of building the program, keeping the program going, was huge. It’s definitely fun to do things that Clay hasn’t done in a long time, such as making it to the district semifinals, the district finals, or the regional finals. It’s definitely great to leave on a good note.”
However, Riffe’s poise and leadership intangibles, both on and off of the field of play, are arguably more impressive than his accolades on the hardwood or the diamond. Those qualities were ones that Moore took notice of when the knowledgeable pitching hand — who coached in that capacity at SSU before obtaining the head coaching post with the Bears in the summer of 2014 — watched Riffe during his tryout session.
“If you strip everything else away, his character, confidence, and poise reminds us of a guy that just graduated from our program in (former Wheelersburg and SSU pitching ace) Derek Moore,” Moore said. “As much as I’d like to tell anyone that coaches can teach that kind of stuff, they probably can’t. It’s more along the lines of their innate ability, their personality types, and their willingness to let that show on the baseball field.”
“It was nerve-wracking at first, because I didn’t know what I was going into,” Riffe said of the tryout session. “But I had confidence in my arm, I had confidence in what I could do, and with God on my side, I believe that I can do anything. I was nervous, but everything went well, and I like (Chris) Moore. He is a very nice guy who is giving me a shot and an opportunity to play baseball, and I’m excited to play for him.”
As of now, Riffe, who can throw a fastball in the high 70s, will take on a bullpen role for the team. However, Moore didn’t rule out the possibility of Riffe becoming a starter in time — with the right steps being taken to accomplish such a task.
“Brody looks like a reliever right now, but I’m not going to close the door on him being a starter in time,” Moore said. “I’ve been wrong about those kind of projections before. If he comes in and shows the ability to consistently throw three pitches for strikes, that puts him right there in contention to be in the starting rotation.”
That expectation, however, is just fine with Riffe.
“I believe that I can help Shawnee State out from a pitching standpoint, depending on how I develop my game,” Riffe said. “I think that I can come in and throw some innings. Whether I’m asked to close the door or start the game, I’ll do whatever is needed of me. I’m going to work hard, and I’m going to get to where I want to get.”
Brody will do whatever the coaching staff wants him to do,” Cottle added. “He’s a team player. Whatever’s needed, and wherever he can fill in, he’ll fill in.”
With his senior year officially at an end, it’s officially onto the next phase of life for the 5-11 standout, who says that he’ll carry the memories that he’s made at Clay High School for a lifetime.
“It’s definitely been very fun here at Clay,” Riffe said. “I wouldn’t want to be with any other set of teammates, basketball or baseball, I wouldn’t want to have any other set of coaches or teachers, and I wouldn’t want to go to any other school. I love Clay and will always be a part of the Clay family. It’s been a ride, it’s been a journey, but it’s been fun. It’s kind of sad that it’s all coming to an end, but then again, it’s exciting to pursue the new opportunities that are in front of me at Shawnee State. I know that (Adam) Betten, (Marc) Cottle, and (Kylon) Crabtree will always be here for me, I’ll always be back to watch the games, and I’ll always be proud to be a Panther.
However, even though the next step is somewhat bittersweet, it’s a step that Cottle believes his now departed senior will do his best to master.
“Brody’s a leader, a hard worker, is never late for practice, and will always stay late to condition or run after practice,” Cottle said. “He’s just a great kid, and I wish him well. It’s going to be a challenge for him, going from the SOC I to the toughest conference in the NAIA. However, I believe that if he continues to work hard, he can do well. He’s been a joy to coach. He’s a good kid who comes from a good family.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7