The maturation of Derek Morse dates back to last spring.
During Kennedy High’s breakthrough season in 1995, Morse, playing his first season on the varsity, emerged as the Golden Cougars’ No. 1 pitcher, finishing with an 8-3 record and a 2.25 earned run average
The season culminated with a 3-1 victory over Carson in the City Section 4-A Division title game at Dodger Stadium.
The right-hander pitched a complete game, taking a shutout into the seventh inning. Even when Carson threatened in its last at-bat by loading the bases, Morse clinched the title by flawlessly handling a come-backer he turned into a game-ending double play.
For Morse, 1996 is merely an extension of last year. He led the region with 13 regular-season victories and was again on the mound when Kennedy won its second consecutive City title.
The Golden Cougars, ranked among the nation’s top teams since the beginning of the season, won every game he started. He finished with a 15-0 record with a 1.62 earned-run average. In 78 1/3 innings, he struck out 119 batters and walked 21.
“I really can’t imagine it going any better,” Morse said.
Among his personal highlights this season was his first no-hitter, in a 20-0 victory over Taft. Almost as significant to Morse was the home run he hit in the game. He hadn’t batted all season.
Along the way, Morse had a chance to pitch against some of the toughest competition in the country.
At a tournament in Fullerton during spring break, Morse earned victories over Carson City (Nev.) and Mountain View St. Francis as the Golden Cougars placed third in the 16-team tournament.
Kennedy’s only loss was to Miami Westminster Christian, the top-ranked team in the nation by USA Today.
“That was a really fun week for me,” Morse said. “We showed that we have the talent to play with anyone in the country.”
After receiving tepid interest from colleges following his junior year, Morse got more attention as the season progressed and signed a letter of intent with Cal State Northridge in April.
“I started off this season with a lot of confidence,” Morse said. “I’ve just been able to stay consistent all year.”