Clarksville, Ark. ? The record setting career of Cory Briggs is nearing an end as the Eagles baseball team enters the final weekend of regular season play, but the senior shortstop from Greencastle, Pa., has left quite a mark on the program.
In the game of baseball it is said that a team is only as strong as its defense up the middle and how well the middle of the lineup produces. For the past four years, the Eagles, thanks to the golden glove, silver slugging bat, and electric arm of Briggs, have been one of the strongest teams in the American Southwest Conference (ASC), and the baseball program has reached new heights. From day one on campus, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound right-handed hitter has been cemented in as the starting shortstop and batted in the middle of the lineup for Head Coach Jimmy Clark.
“It’s been nice to pencil him in the lineup in the three, four, or five hole for four years and not have to worry about anything,” said Clark.
The rookie campaign for Briggs came on the heels of the Eagles narrowly missing postseason play a year before. With Briggs’ contributions defensively and offensively, the Eagles have made postseason play each of his first three years and are in position to make it four consecutive runs.
Briggs found his way to Ozarks by way of former Assistant Coach Bob Preli, also a resident of Pennsylvania.
“I played against his legion team in the summer after my senior year in high school and hit a homerun against them,” remembers Briggs. “After that game he really gave a push for me to come to Ozarks. I took the visit later, liked what I saw and saw it as an opportunity to play.”
Briggs, who is a three-time All-Conference performer, is not afraid to get his jersey dirty and is well-respected for his hustle and hard work.
“He has always been a hard-nosed, blue-collar type guy,” said Clark. “When he makes mistakes he is willing to step up and admit he made a mistake. He plays the game hard and the right way.”
Both Briggs and the baseball program have enjoyed record shattering years, highlighted by the 2008 season. That year the Eagles set a school record for wins finishing with a record of 32-11 and at one time during the season were ranked as high as No. 14 in the nation. Briggs, a sophomore that year, led the ASC and set the single season school record in batting average (.467). He also set single season marks for hits (79), doubles (19), and total bases (124) en route to being recognized as the school’s first American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings (ABCA) Second Team All-American. Those numbers, along with a plus arm, helped him garner attention from major league scouts.
A testament to his talent, perseverance, and consistency, Briggs will finish his career in the top ten of nearly every offensive category at Ozarks, and in most of those, his name will be at, or, near the top of the list. Earlier in 2010, against Maryville College, Briggs passed former standout, Robby Finnell, for most hits in a career (189). Going into the final regular season series this weekend, Briggs has totaled 197 career hits. Making the accomplishment more special was that he was able to break it in front of his parents, who were making their yearly trek from Pennsylvania to Clarksville.
“It was a major relief to break it in front of them,” said Briggs. “I did not know they were coming to that series. I was expecting them a couple days after and being only one hit away from breaking it, I knew I would do it in that series. So, I was really happy they were there to see that accomplishment.”
The 2010 season, by Briggs and the Eagles recent standards, has been disappointing in some regards. Mixed in with the loss of several key seniors from a year ago, and a rash of injuries this season, the luxury of depth is no longer there for Clark’s club, and he has asked players to fill unfamiliar roles. One of those players asked to step out of their comfort zone has been Briggs. For three years he was a mainstay at shortstop, but this year he has seen significant time in right field, first base, and also on the bump, where he has established himself as one of the premier arms in the conference rotation. Briggs, 2-4 on the mound this year, has gone the distance in three games and has punched out 43 batters in 44 1/3 innings.
“This year with the injuries and lack of depth there was a big void and we needed someone to step up and he has done that,” said Clark. “He gives us six to seven innings each outing and gives us a chance to win. He has probably one of the best, if not the best arm I have ever coached. He just has a God-given right arm.”
Baseball is the ultimate thinking man’s sport and Briggs attributes his baseball knowledge and abilities as hitter to his success on the mound.
“Being a hitter, I know what a hitter is looking for in any given situation,” said Briggs. “I try to take my approach in hitting and use it against the batters by pitching backwards in certain counts when I am pitching.”
Remaining true to the intent of the phrase “student- athlete,” Briggs has excelled in the classroom as well as on the field. An Early Childhood Education major, Briggs has been named to the ASC Academic All-Conference team each year of eligibility.
“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher because I like to influence other’s lives and help them grow as individuals,” said Briggs. “Part of being a teacher is that I also want to be a coach and eventually develop a program on my own. As an Early Childhood education major, I am usually the only guy in my classes, and there is a big need for males in the classroom to provide a positive male influence in these kids’ lives.”
By Daniel Gallegos, Assistant Sports Information Director