WINCHESTER – Colin Morse stepped into a great learning opportunity when he took the field for Shenandoah University’s baseball team as a freshman in 2015.
Morse, a Vienna native and graduate of McLean High School, was thrust into immediate action as a starting pitcher for the Hornets that spring. But he did so in the shadow of fellow starters Mike Scimanico and Darrell Thompson, a pair of lefties who were in the middle of two pitching careers that now rank among the best during head coach Kevin Anderson’s 14-year tenure at SU.
Over the next two seasons Morse paired valuable playing experience with the knowledge he gleaned from the Hornets’ veteran starters. He took note of Scimanico’s and Thompson’s mound presence. He learned to pitch with what’s working during starts when his feel for a certain pitch is just a little off. He learned to trust Anderson’s strategies and developed confidence in himself and his teammates around him.
Those freshman and sophomore seasons primed Morse for the role he now holds as the No. 1 starter for Shenandoah’s pitching staff.
“I think just being thrown in the number one spot is just kind of putting together everything I’ve learned form the guys ahead of me, everything the coaches told me,” Morse said Wednesday. “Mike and Darrell, I basically just rode under them, learned what they taught me. They showed me the ropes, basically.”
Morse’s ascension to Hornets’ ace comes as part of the natural progression of college baseball rosters. With the graduation of Scimanico and Thompson following the 2016 season, Morse was left as the most experienced starting pitcher in an SU four-man rotation that includes two sophomores and a freshman, making him Anderson’s prime weekend-starter candidate. But he also has posted the numbers to back up his new title.
In his first two collegiate seasons Morse, a 6-foot-5, 185-pound right-hander, posted a combined record of 10-1 with a 2.55 ERA, 85 strikeouts and 36 walks in 107.1 innings. He went 5-0 in six starts as a freshman. As a sophomore in 2016 Morse started 11 games, went 5-1, finished in the top 10 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in ERA (2.80) and strikeouts (55) and was voted to the All-ODAC second team.
That success, Morse said, was the product of soaking in all the advice he’s been handed during his time at SU.
“Anything someone would tell me, I would take it and implement it. I would never take something and push it to the side,” Morse said. “Whenever Coach A had something to suggest I would take that into my game. And a lot of it was also just learning from the confidence and the competitiveness of everyone else and trying to play up to that level, so you have to put more and more work into it every year.”
The work Morse puts in on the mound this season will be a key component to the success of a young Hornets’ starting pitching staff. Behind Morse is sophomore left-hander Zach Teeple, who went 4-1 with a 3.89 ERA in seven starts in a midweek role last season, freshman right-hander Gerard DePhillips and sophomore reliever-turned-starter Robert Klinchock.
Morse is the only current Hornets starter with experience pitching against ODAC competition. Still, Morse said he seeks suggestions from his younger rotation mates as often as he provides them, the continuation of a formula that has served Anderson’s ball clubs well in recent years.
“This thing is nothing more than gaining knowledge from other people and we’re fortunate where our guys help each other,” Anderson said. “They work with each other and (Scimanico and Thompson) were great mentors for (Morse). And now Colin has taken that role with our younger pitchers. It’s very gratifying as a coach to see guys working together and helping each other.”
Anderson praised Morse’s work ethic and called the junior a “workaholic” and a student of the game who devotes a lot of time to improving his athleticism in addition to his pitching mechanics and approach on the mound. And Morse has the stuff to back up that dedication.
His four-seam fastball regularly sits in the high 80s and occasionally hits the low 90s, Morse said. He pairs that with a two-seamer, a curveball and a changeup that he considers his best pitch, a groundball generator that Morse feels comfortable throwing to both right-handed and left-handed hitters. He’s also working on a slider to add more variance to his pitch arsenal.
Morse said strikeouts tend to come and go, but he prefers to make the hitter put the ball in play and allow his defense to do its job behind him.
“He knows how to pitch,” Anderson said. “He’s got an above-average fastball, good location and he knows how to get hitters out. He’s just not a real good arm or a thrower, he’s a pitcher with plus stuff. And he’ll play this game for a long, long time.”
Anderson said Morse has drawn plenty of attention from professional scouts, adding that those who have see the right-hander in person “like what they see.”
“His projection, when you look at what they’re looking for in the big leagues – (6-foot-2), 92 (mph) – well he’s got that and he’s gonna continue to get bigger and throw harder,” Anderson said. “His changeup and breaking ball are gonna continue to get sharper. And just each year he has gotten better and will continue to do so.”
Morse got to watch his older brother Phil, Shenandoah’s former closer who graduated in 2016, get drafted in the 16th round by the Washington Nationals last summer. It soon could be Colin’s turn.
The younger Morse said that while being selected in the MLB draft would be a “dream come true,” he’s focused on what he can do for SU his junior season.
He’s already logged his first start of the year for the Hornets in the their season-opening 5-4 win over Misercordia last Saturday, in which he threw five scoreless innings while allowing one hit, striking out eight, walking three and hitting three batters in a no-decision.
It was a somewhat rocky start for Morse but he took solace in the fact that he was able to use his defense to get out of “sticky” situations. That’s the kind of contribution he hopes to make this season for the No. 16 Hornets, who have started 4-0 after sweeping doubleheaders against the Cougars and No. 5 La Roche.
“As a personal goal I just wanna be able to use my pitching and the team defense to create a game where we have a chance to win with our offense. That’s all I would ask for,” Morse said. “I don’t wanna go for any strikeouts or innings or all that, just wanna make sure we get our wins.”
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org