KSU’s A.J. Morris Beats ASU’s Mike Leake
(With the end of the year fast approaching, we’re counting down some of the top moments from the 2009 college baseball season (in no particular order). We’ll have one a day through New Year’s Eve.)
It was a Super Regional caliber pitching match-up even if nobody really knew it…yet. It was Tuesday, March 10, and Kansas State was going to play perreniall power Arizona State in Suprise Arizona at the spring training home of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals.
The Sun Devils’ pitcher, Mike Leake, was a known commodity. Leake was the reigning Pac 10 Pitcher of the Year and a Second Team All-American as a sophomore in 2008 after going 11-3 with a 3.49 ERA. He was one of just two ASU pitchers to earn 20 wins in his first two seasons on the mound in Tempe.
At 3-0, the Kansas State pitcher, A.J. Morris, had pitched solidly to that point, but to say his first three years as a college pitcher were much more modest than Leake’s would be an understatement.
Morris red-shirted in 2006 in his first season at K-State after lettering twice at Humble (TX) High School. He was 4-2 with a 3.78 ERA in 19 appearances (5 starts) in 2007, and an unspectacular 4-4 with a 6.04 ERA with 12 starts and 14 appearances in 2008. Hardly ace-like stuff by any measure.
But if nobody knew about Morris and the Wildcats before the game, they would
remember them afterward.
In a head-to-head duel with one of the top pitchers and teams in the country Morris had what was to that point the best game of his career. Morris gave-up two runs on five hits in a (then) career best 8 1/3 innings as K-State shocked Arizona State with a 6-2 win. The red-shirt junior did not allow a hit in 6 of the 8 full innings he pitched, and he faced the minimum in an inning three times.
Arizona State came into the contest averaging better than 9 runs through its first 12 games. The only real offense the Sun Devils could manage against Morris was a solo home run by Carlos Ramirez that ended Morris’ run of 19 2/3 scoreless IP to start the season.
Leake didn’t pitch poorly, but he was far from dominant. The righthander surrendered two runs (one earned) on seven hits with just three stikeouts in 7 IP to suffer the loss.
The 6 runs and 11 hits by the Wildcats were the most allowed to that point by a Sun Devil pitching staff that had a 1.01 ERA entering the game.
Both teams stood at 11-2 after the KSU win, and it would set the tone for what would be a record-setting season for both the team and its starting pitcher.
Morris finished with a 14-1 record and 2.09 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 116.1 IP. He was named the 2009 Big 12 Pitcher of the Year and received multiple All-American
accolades. His 14 wins tied with LSU’s Louis Coleman for the second-most in the nation.
K-State head coach Brad Hill was named the Big 12 Coach of the Year. In his sixth season he led Kansas State to a school record 43-18-1 record and the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament berth.
Arizona State made it all the way to the College World Series. Leake finished with an NCAA-leading 16 wins with a 1.71 ERA and 162 ks in 142 IP as the ASU staff ace.
The March 10 loss to Morris and Kansas State would be his only loss of the season.
Other Top Moments Of 2009