Baseball teams at Brookville and Jefferson Forest face off for the third time in 2019 Friday night, clashing in the Seminole District tournament semifinals.
For Brock Duff, Brookville’s sophomore starter, the 6 p.m. game at Forest Middle will mark the final time he’ll suit up against one of his biggest pitching influences, JF standout senior Griffin Agee.
The two, who started a rivalry last season, will go their separate ways after the game: Duff with Brookville into the Region 3C tournament, Agee with JF in Region 4D.
Agee threw a perfect game Monday, complete with 13 strikeouts. He is not available to start tonight, but could see action from the bullpen. And since he’s been swinging the bat well lately, there’s a chance he’ll be in the Cavaliers lineup against Duff.
“I have respect for his game,” Agee, a UVa commit, said during JF’s Thursday practice. “He’s one of the up-and-coming guys. Obviously, I’m a Cavalier for life, but I’m a Seminole District fan. I wish the best for him.”
Duff (4-3, 2.70 ERA in 33 2/3 innings) has watched the lanky 6-foot-5 southpaw the last two years, learning from his pitching style and watching as the JF starter mixed his mid-to-upper 80s fastball with an effective curve.
“It pushes me, because I know he’s gonna go out there and throw strikes and throw hard and compete,” the right-handed Duff said. “Of course, I wanna do the same thing and give my team a chance.”
The competitive rivalry is common in the Seminole. Agee is close friends with Liberty Christian ace Christian Gordon. They often chat after outings, sharing what went right and what needs work.
Duff also has another influence, this one closer to home in Brookville ace Brennan Abbott, who sports a 6-0 record and a miniscule 0.46 ERA in 45 1/3 innings. Abbott also boasts a 0.99 WHIP (walks and hits per nine innings pitched).
The two combined to no-hit Jefferson Forest in the first meeting the season on April 2, but Duff took the 2-0 loss. On the mound opposite them was Agee, who went five innings and fanned 13.
The role of de facto mentor is something Agee has gotten used to the last two years. He gives advice to JF’s younger players and is seen as a model of consistency for younger pitchers around the district.
“One of the things I preach to the younger kids that look up to me is I don’t care if you’re a freshman or a senior. You play your own game. I think a freshman can beat a senior any day," he said. "I know people look up to me as an influencer, but at the same time, I don’t put extra weight on my shoulders because of that. I just try to be myself.”
There’s plenty to admire. Agee has taken on relief and starting roles in his career, has always been able to mow down hitters and goes about his work with a mostly quiet demeanor. In his perfect game Monday, he had everything working, including the emotional side of pitching.
“Obviously the ritual in baseball is don’t talk about it and all that mojo,” he said of the outing. “But I knew what was going on. Just not over-thinking it, trusting myself. I’ve thrown games where I felt exactly that way this year, and I’ve thrown games when I’ve haven’t.
“That was a turning point for me. Once it got to the point where I was in a groove, stay in the groove.”
That’s the type of mentality Duff admires. The Brookville pitcher has been throwing since he was 6 years old.
Last season, he was called up to varsity as a freshman. Now his outings typically last a little longer.
“Just keep grinding,” he said when asked what he’s learned from older pitchers in the district. “Obviously, throwing strikes is huge, get ahead in counts and allow your teammates to make plays instead of walking guys.”
JF is the No. 2 seed in the district tourney. Brookville is the third seed. In years past, the rivals have jawed at one another from opposing dugouts. This season, BHS coach Chris Glaize said, there’s more of a friendly aspect to the rivalry.
“It’s been back and forth for years,” Glaize said. “Now it’s not like that. It’s settled between the lines.”
Still, players from JF always want to beat Brookville, and vice versa.
“They’re a scrappy team,” Agee said of the Bees. “They’re never gonna roll over. Even though we know we’re already in regionals, we want that game.”