In his first varsity baseball season, Bradley Morgan knew he would be counted on to be one of the top guys in the Southridge High School rotation.
The 6-foot-3 junior left-hander held up his end of the bargain, becoming the Suns’ No. 1 go-to guy early on and, by the end of the season, the top pitcher in the Mid-Columbia Conference.
“That’s what I wanted: I wanted to be the guy,” said Morgan, who was named the Herald’s All-Area Baseball Player of the Year. “I was up for it.”
Was he ever.
During the regular season, he had a minuscule 0.79 ERA, even while going up against conference powers Hanford, Kennewick and Walla Walla. Add in the playoffs, where the Suns reached the Class 3A state round of 16, and it bumped up to 1.08.
“That’s impressive,” Suns coach Tim Sanders said. “It wasn’t a surprise for us because he had pitched like that the last couple of years. It’s a tough act to follow. We haven’t had kids in our program accomplish that low of an ERA.”
Tom Walker, who led Connell to the final eight in the Class 1A state tournament, was named coach of the year.
Over the course of the season, including the playoffs, Morgan was 8-2, pitching 65 innings with two shutouts. He scattered 45 hits, gave up 19 runs — 10 earned — and walked just 12. Batters hit a measly .184 against him.
“I was pretty happy with my season,” Morgan said. “There is always room for improvement.”
Sanders also admitted there was room for improvement, but for Morgan’s first year, he couldn’t have asked any more of the pitcher.
“He wasn’t afraid of the strike zone,” Sanders said. “His ability to locate pitches, get ahead of hitters and trust his defense is why he is successful. The lack of runs teams got was indicative of him and the contact. If you look at the numbers, his one loss to Hanford, he threw 74 pitches. He’s not overpowering. He throws downhill, and when he locates it, there is great movement. His changeup is one of the better ones.”
Morgan admitted he was a little scared before his first start, but once he got into a rhythm, he was fine.
“When I first stepped up there, I was a little nervous,” Morgan said. “But pitching is pitching. After the first couple of games, I felt more comfortable up there, and I was able to perform with more confidence.”
Behind Morgan and a solid defense, the Suns won the MCC regular-season title, the MCC district title and then beat Shadle Park 3-2 in the District 5-8 title game to advance to state for the first time since 2013.
“Winning those two championships was exciting, but I’m disappointed we didn’t go further at state,” Morgan said.
The Suns dropped their opener in the round of 16, losing 3-1 to Mercer Island. They finished the season 17-6.
Morgan has one regret about his year.
“The last pitch I threw against Mercer Island, I would change that,” Morgan said. “I threw a fastball, and the guy hit a line drive for the go-ahead run. I would have located my fastball better.”
To the Suns’ delight, Morgan will be back for another run his senior season. This summer, he is playing for the Southridge Bandits and will attend the BYU baseball camp in July.
“I really hope everything goes well,” he said. “My dream is to pitch for BYU.”
Walker’s Connell team, which finished 16-9, came on strong in the second half of the season. The Eagles, who picked up their third consecutive SCAC East title, won their first district championship since 1992. They went on to play in their first regional final since 1997.
Walker and his dad, Bill Walker Sr., who coached the Eagles for more than 25 years and won two state titles, dug through the archives to find that the last time the Eagles went that deep in the playoffs, most of the players on this year’s team were not born yet.
“It was pretty darn exciting, to say the least,” Walker said. “There were some firsts in quite a while. At the time, I didn’t tell the team the magnitude of that. At our banquet, I told them how special it was to do some of those things. Gabe (Tolrud) was a huge part of that, along with Jess Hawk. Those two really carried us.”
Hawk pitched the second game in the district tournament for Connell, beating Zillah 3-2.
“He pitched his guts out,” Walker said. “If we would have lost that game, we would have had to bounce back the next day and play a lot of games just to get to regionals. In the district championship game, we trailed Cle Elum 4-1 going into the seventh, and we scored four runs. Makes your hair go gray quick.”
The Eagles defeated Castle Rock 9-5 in their state regional opener but lost to Freeman 9-5 in the round of eight.
Walker coached Team Rainier in the All-State Series last weekend in Yakima.
It was the first time Walker was asked to be a head coach for one of the four teams. He was an assistant for his brother Bill Walker Jr. (Naches Valley) in 2009.
“I was able to help him and watch my nephew Chris play,” Walker said. “That was special. I did ask him to be my assistant, but he told me no. This is a special honor. We’ve had a couple of good years to put Connell back on the map as far as baseball is concerned. Some of these accolades that come with it have been cool.”