|Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier|
Bradshaw Mountainís Dallas Riggs stretches before a Bearsí home game back on April 4 in Prescott Valley.
|Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier|
After stretching out, Riggs then got a heroís welcome at home plate after belting a two-run homer in the first inning in a 14-7 win over Valley Vista in Prescott Valley.
|All-Courier Players of the Year:|
|1993: Mark Hale, Prescott|
1994: David Coats, Bradshaw Mtn.
1995: David Coats, Bradshaw Mtn.
1996: Jason Olson, Chino Valley
1997: Ben Diggins, Bradshaw Mtn.
1998: Ben Diggins, Bradshaw Mtn.
1999: Dusty Brown, Bradshaw Mtn.
2000: Dusty Brown, Bradshaw Mtn.
2001: Jason Pridie, Prescott
2002: Jason Pridie, Prescott
2003: Mike Sanchez, Prescott
2004: Cam Wheeler, Prescott
2005: Kris Vanzant, Bradshaw Mtn.
2006: Dillon Baird, Prescott
2007: Rick Anton, Prescott
2008: Cam Schiller, Prescott
2009: Justin Angel, Chino Valley
2010: Andrew Bailey/Nathan Zavos, Chino Valley
2011: Michael Howard, Prescott
2012: Brody Clifford, Bradshaw Mtn.
2013: R.J. Bell, Chino Valley
Special to the Tribune
PRESCOTT VALLEY, Arizona - Bradshaw Mountain High senior catcher Dallas Riggs realized early in life that he didn't descend from baseball pedigree. So he compensated for it with an unflinching work ethic and a burning desire to succeed.
"Just knowing that you're only going to have one chance - you might as well do the best you can," Riggs said this past week from the high school's varsity field. "I want to see how good I can be if I put all my effort into it."
This season every ounce of Riggs' effort as a right-handed three-hole hitter translated into a team-high .505 batting average with 29 extra-base hits, including a Bears' best 10 homers, in 29 games. He struck out only three times, tied for the team's lead in hits (50) and runs scored (35) and led the squad in RBIs (40).
Defensively, Riggs was spectacular with a 1.000 fielding percentage - committing no errors, allowing just one passed ball and throwing out eight base runners.
As a result of his play at the plate - and behind it - while guiding the Bears to a Division 2, Section 5 title and a deep run in the state tournament earlier this month, the Daily Courier has recognized Riggs as its 2014 high school baseball Player of the Year.
Bradshaw ended the season with a 21-9 overall record, and Riggs - the D-2, Section 5 Player of the Year and an Arizona Baseball Coaches Association first team All-State selection - played an integral role.
But let's start with Riggs' history in the game before delving into all of his accomplishments this spring.
Riggs, whose father played high school ball, had always been drawn to the sport.
He sort of stumbled into catching, although it came natural to him when he tried it in Little League.
In the sixth grade at Bradshaw Mountain Middle several years ago, Riggs got to know former Bear Kaycee Jones, an eighth grader at the time who caught but also pitched. When Jones was sent to the mound in a key game against rival Cottonwood, Riggs learned that he was the only other player on the team who could catch.
In that contest, the battery of Jones-Riggs won a close game, 3-2.
"From there on out, they just put me behind the plate," Riggs said.
Fast-forward to the present day at Bradshaw Mountain High and you'll see why Riggs was meant to be a catcher.
He sees the ball so well.
Riggs, who played tee ball and was an All-Star his last two seasons in PV Little League, caught Bears coach Randy Clifford's attention his sophomore season at Bradshaw when he put everything he had into each at-bat.
Initially, Clifford - D-2, Section 5's coach of the year - wasn't sure if Riggs' unorthodox hitting style would pan out because of its quirkiness. However, Riggs could put the barrel on the ball, and he showed continuous improvement as a slugger who could hit for average his junior and senior seasons.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Riggs' prowess as a power hitter is well known. He belted 10 homers in 2014 and nine the season before.
"He's one of those guys if you watch him, he looks a little awkward, because he's not the 'classic swing' and everything like that," Clifford said. "You've just got to get caught up in the result, because the result is going to be as good as you want."
Clifford added that Riggs, who was a three-year starting varsity catcher, is blessed with good size and quick hands. But it's his swing and his dedication to perfecting it that sets the modest Riggs apart.
"What makes him such a quality hitter, when you talk about just mechanics with him, is that he's really short to the ball and he stays inside the ball," Clifford said of Riggs' hitting style. "And his barrel stays in the zone as long as anyone else's I've seen. When you have talent but you also put work ethic together, that's what he had. You combine those two things and then you get the special player with the high average."
Bears leadoff hitter Bryan Villagran, Bradshaw's second-leading hitter this season with a .476 average, said he and Riggs fed off of one another. Villagran added that Riggs is a "great guy" with an upbeat attitude who "picks everyone up" and leads by example.
"Dallas is obviously a really great hitter, and what I saw from him was that he was really comfortable at the plate all the time," Villagran said. "So he went out there with a plan, and knowing that he's a good ballplayer. That's been my mentality from then on, and it worked."
Clifford said Riggs has always taken great pride in hitting off a tee and doing more work than was expected of him outside of practice so that he could obtain better results on game days.
"The biggest thing I tell our players is, 'It just doesn't happen,' " the coach said. "Everybody hits in the cage. It's what they do on their own that separates them. And to me, those special ones, and Dallas Riggs is a special one, would do a lot of things on his own."
On the weekends, Riggs heads to Bradshaw's varsity field to study catching, including combinations of pitches, as well as hitting.
"Most of my real work time is when I go down to the cage by myself, because then I have time to think, and get my swing all figured out and think about the game," Riggs said.
Riggs benefited from the mentors he had during his freshman and sophomore seasons, such as former Bears players Brody Clifford and Weston Byers, both of whom are currently playing junior college baseball.
Riggs especially admired Brody, the Courier's 2012 Player of the Year, who's a year older than him.
"Whenever I saw Brody do really good, I wanted to copy everything he did," Riggs said. "You see someone do it good, you want to do it just like them."
The turning point in Riggs' progression came after his junior season in 2013.
From last fall through most of the winter, he hit the weight room every day with fellow senior teammate D.J. Irwin and his father, Dino, a Bears varsity assistant coach.
As a result, Riggs gained 10-12 pounds over six to eight months.
Clifford said Riggs became invaluable as a catcher this season because the pitchers realized they could throw any pitch on any count, with any runner on base, and Riggs would keep the ball in front of him to prevent runners from advancing.
"We knew that with a guy at third base, we could say (to the pitchers), 'Bounce the ball in the dirt' and know it's not getting behind him," Clifford said. "He was just so good at blocking and receiving balls, it was ridiculous. You trusted him that he would knock everything down."
Riggs also had a knack for keeping his pitchers focused throughout games. He pitched in Little League, but he didn't like to because it frustrated him.
"If you see it from both sides, it makes it certainly easier to be a pitcher and a catcher - because you know what the pitcher wants and what the catcher wants," Riggs said.
Bradshaw senior left fielder D.J. Irwin said Riggs, above all, is a great leader.
"You see him work hard, and then you see him do good and you say, 'That's a pretty special player who works hard and has talent,' " Irwin said. "Offensively, he could carry a team by himself. You never know when he'll hit a double, a home run, a triple, or just come up with something big. Time and time again, he did."
In his role as a catcher, Riggs was vital to the Bears' fortunes in 2014.
"Whatever his RBIs are, that's great," Clifford said. "He probably saved at least twice as many runs, or half as many runs, by not letting them get in because of blocking the ball. Run prevention is just as good as runs scored, and he was just as good at run prevention behind the plate."
Irwin said Riggs could control a game defensively, which increased his value even more.
"His arm definitely got better (from his junior to senior seasons)," he said. "He threw more people out, and that was huge."
This past week, Riggs said he was looking forward to playing at the college level in 2015.
Initially he had an offer to suit up for Yavapai College, which he turned down with plans to compete for Aurora University, an NCAA Division 3 school in Illinois.
Recently, however, Riggs had a change of heart. He now intends to compete for Mesa Community College, a National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division 2 program whose 2014 team carried a No. 1 ranking into the D-2 JUCO World Series that started Saturday in Oklahoma.
Riggs said he'd like to use MCC as a springboard for playing in the NCAA D-1 ranks in a few years.
Pedigree or no, the self-reliant Riggs will surely strive to make his mark.
"One of their (Mesa's) recruiting coaches just reached out to me, and I was committed to Aurora, and he said, 'I think you're a better ballplayer than that and you can play at a higher level than D-3,' " Riggs said. "Ever since I was little I've always wanted to play D-1. And if I don't give myself the opportunity now, then I'll regret it in the future.
"It's a new chapter."
Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc