Riggs: Tough choice, but softball wins over Jamboree

Sean C. Morgan

Next year’s heir apparent to catcher for the Sweet Home High School Huskies softball team is a little sad about missing the Oregon Jamboree this year, but she’s happy to be making a trip to Chattanooga, Tenn., to compete in the national American Softball Association tournament.

Emili Riggs, a senior, is playing at catcher with The Fury, a summer softball team coached by Central’s Amber and Tony McLean. The team includes players from Eugene to Portland. Riggs has played on the team since she wsas an eighth-grader, when her coach, Steve Hummer, sent her and pitcher Megan Graville to fill out the team for the state tournament that year.

Riggs, who hit two homeruns last season but was walked 18 times, often intentionally, swings an average of .397 and an on-base percentage of .529.

She has been a catcher throughout most of her softball career, she said. She stopped when she reached high school because Shelby Gillespie was already catching.

“We needed a shortstop, so he (Hummer) put me in at shortstop,” Riggs said. “I just played wherever he put me.”

Last season, she played first base and shortstop with a few innings at catcher. She was named first-team all-league utility player this year and was second-team all-state utility.

She mainly played at first this year because she had surgery on her shoulder, which kept her from playing volleyball last fall.

Riggs has played softball since she was 5, she said. “I always wanted to play because of my brothers (Josh and Jake).”

Her mother, Barbi Riggs, described a photo of her daughter at age 3, dragging a bat and following Jake, saying, “I want to play.”

It wasn’t long before she turned her ballet shoes for cleats and hit the softball field.

She started at second base but was soon moved to catcher, she said. That’s where she stayed until high school.

It’s fitting, she said, because her mother, father and a brother were all catchers.

Going into high school and leaving the plate, “I was a little scared at first,” Riggs said, but she adapted.

Her first year playing high school softball, she was named first-team all-league at shortstop.

“I’m kind of just the filler position,” Riggs said. “It’s helped me a lot. Now I know exactly what each position has to do.”

She’ll be able to use that knowledge as she likely heads back to the catcher’s spot next spring, she said. The catcher can see the whole field and directs the team, like a quarterback, and she has played every infield position except pitcher with the Huskies and other teams. She also has played outfield during the summer.

“My favorite part is hitting,” Riggs said. “I love to hit. I like how the pitcher challenges you and you’re challenging her. It’s just see who can win, and I like to win.”

When the hitting starts, it’s contagious, she said. Everyone else on the team starts hitting.

Playing on The Fury, Riggs has made friends with Emily Kenyon, a rival who pitches for Central where the McLeans are coaches.

They’re competitive and they keep score. Kenyon will strike Riggs out once, but Riggs will come up with a big hit next time they see each other.

She also enjoys the coaching.

“Amber is a notch above Hummer on the intensity scale,” Riggs said. “Don’t know how that happens.”

Her husband is the balance to that intensity, kind of like Sweet Home Coach Chris Hiaasen and Hummer.

Amber McLean and Hummer will both stand up for their athletes and fight for a call, Riggs said, and she appreciates that.

The game play with The Fury is a lot like this year’s Huskies, Riggs said. The team has the small, fast girls who go for suicide bunts and steal bases.

It also has the big hitters, like Riggs.

The Fury does all of the little plays the Huskies do, she said, and the reason it can is the combination of “fast girls and power hitters.”

Riggs doesn’t know where she will go to college, she said, but she wants to win a scholarship to play softball. She plans to major in physical therapy. She was inspired to it by her therapist, Justin Drake of Sweet Home Physical Rehab Sports Medicine.

She really liked working with him, she said. “He really got me back into shape. At first I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to do anything. He took one step at a time, and he made me feel comfortable.”

The 16A national tournament, held July 29 to Aug. 6, is the biggest recruiting tournament in the nation, Riggs said. The tournament invites the top 10 percent of softball teams, and recruiters show up to watch. More than 150 teams will compete in the tournament.

Riggs is sponsored by Oasis Fencing, Coffee Hut, Melcher Logging, Sherry Gregory at Heritage Northwest and Dr. Richard Schirmer. She is trying to raise additional funds to help pay the cost of attending the tournament.

She is washing cars Wednesday at the Coffee Hut on a donation basis.

“I love country music,” Riggs said. “I hate to miss the Jamboree, but softball’s my true love.”