MACON, Ga. - Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year, Shelby Morgan was not exactly highly recruited out of high school. The Eagle from High Springs, Fla. was being looked at by only a handful of schools including FGCU.
“When I came [to FGCU] to visit, I knew this was the place I wanted to play with the atmosphere, the players and of course coach (David) Deiros,” Morgan said.
Morgan has had an outstanding season so far with the Blue and Green, with a 22-6 pitching record, 1.33 ERA and 139 strikeouts. Morgan’s striking stats garnered her the conference’s Pitcher of the Year award and she helped lead the Eagles to the conference
championship. Perhaps one of the most impressive stats is that Morgan is just a freshman. In fact, Morgan became just the second freshman to win the A-Sun Pitcher of the Year award, USC Upstate’s Morgan Childers won in 2008 as a freshman.
“I think it is very important for a softball team to have a dominant pitcher as Shelby has been so consistent for us throughout the year,” Head Coach David Deiros said.
After leading FGCU to the conference championship Morgan and the Eagles will now face last year’s College World Series runner-up, the Florida Gators. However, Morgan knows the Gators all too well as the Eagle was raised just 30 minutes outside of Gainesville, Fla.
“It feels good to be able to return home and pitch in front of family and friends,” she said.
While she is excited about facing Florida she also admits playing in Gainesville isn’t going to be easy.
“It is a little nerve racking because of the situation and playing Florida at their place,” Morgan said.
With a tough matchup awaiting against the No. 6 Florida Gators, the Eagles know they can compete with the nation’s best teams. In the lone meeting this season on February 12th, the two conference powerhouses were knotted up at 0-0 through four innings, before the Gators broke away with a four-run fifth inning. The game ended at 5-0 in favor of the Gators. However, the meeting between the Gators and Eagles was at the beginning of the season and the Eagles feel they are a completely different team.
“I feel like I am controlling my pitches better since the last time I faced Florida and if I hit my spots I think I will be successful,” Morgan said.
The Eagles are looking to make a statement in the Gainesville Regional and Morgan is looking for a great game and to showcase her improvement in the circle from the start of the season.
“I hope to keep them off balance with my pitches and we know we are the underdogs so the team is excited to show that a smaller school can compete with them,” Morgan said.
“Shelby has had a tremendous year for us and we are confident that she will continue to play her game this weekend,” Deiros said.
A quick look in the A-Sun history books will show that many pitchers in recent years have had success in the NCAA Tournament.
The last four A-Sun Pitchers of the Year have led their team to an NCAA berth, Brittany Stanley (Campbell, 2009), Whitney Kiihnl (Lipscomb, 2010), Sarah Sigrest (Jacksonville, 2011) and of course now Morgan from FGCU.
Both Kiihnl and Sigrest led their team to a win in the tournament. Sigrest downed Bethune-Cookman and Kiihnl led the Lady Bisons to two wins over UAB.
“A dominant pitcher gives your team a chance to win every ballgame,” Deiros said. “If you can shut the other team out or keep the score manageable, you buy time for your offense to score the run or runs you need to win. The expression we use is that ‘you play offense with your defense.’”
“If you look at the top-25 teams in the country, each of them has a dominant No. 1 pitcher who is a difference maker for them. That is why Shelby has been such a difference maker for us.”
The FGCU Eagles hope that Morgan’s pitching is enough of a difference for them.
“We are looking at these games as a big opportunity for us to keep going forward and to play some exciting softball this weekend,” Morgan said.