Eli Morgan emerges as a star on the mound for Gonzaga - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Eli Morgan emerges as a star on the mound for Gonzaga

Morgan leads Gonzaga in both ERA and Wins Morgan leads Gonzaga in both ERA and Wins
There were big shoes to fill on the mound at Gonzaga heading into the 2017 season. Gone was all-conference pitcher Brandon Bailey, a sixth-round draft pick of the Oakland A's. Luckily, the Zags had an ace in the hole.
"I think we felt comfortable about that coming into the season, and that's saying a lot about how comfortable we feel with Eli," Gonzaga pitching coach Brandon Harmon says of junior pitcher Eli Morgan. "I think part of that was Eli has a little competition with Bailey. They're both really competitive kids and they have a good relationship with each other, so that was big for us."
 
"It's always friendly but there was definitely a competition last year," Morgan says of his relationship with Bailey. "If I pitched better than him on a weekend, there'd be a little bit of trash talk back and forth. Whenever we're around each other it's a little chippy."
 
One year after competing with and learning from Bailey, Eli Morgan has come into his own as Gonzaga's star pitcher. The junior right-hander is 8-2 with a 2.90 ERA and has thrown three complete games this season.
 
"He's doing an outstanding job in every area," says Harmon. "He's a true three-pitch mix with a slider, fastball, and I think he has the best changeup if not one of the best in the country. He's been great."
 
Morgan's changeup has batter after batter going down swinging, and as a result, the national recognition is piling up. He has earned national weekly honors three times this season and been named the WCC's pitcher of the week five times. He's also one of 40 players on the midseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given to the best college baseball player in the country.
 
"It makes catching a lot of fun," says senior catcher Jake Roberts. "It makes my job very easy, it makes everybody's job very easy. When he holds people to a few base hits nobody has to do much, just play defense behind him."
 
Morgan has made things very easy on his defense this year. Heading into Thursday's matchup with league-leading BYU, he's tallied 118 total strikeouts, the fourth most out of any pitcher in the country. With plenty of games left to play, that's already the sixth-best single-season total in Gonzaga history. Morgan is also just eight Ks away from passing his friend Brandon Bailey in the record book. Bailey finished his junior season in 2016 with 125 strikeouts.
 
But it's not just Bailey -- in a game where numbers mean so much, Morgan's compare to some of the best who have worn the Gonzaga uniform.
 
"It's nice seeing how I stacked up against their numbers at this time," he says. "I feel like if I continue to progress like I am, I could be able to catch up to what a guy like Marco (Gonzales) is doing."
 
By the end of this season, Eli Morgan's name will be etched in the Bulldogs' record book. It will also be added to the growing list of successful players who have stepped on the mound at Gonzaga.
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