Coming out of Woodford County High School three years ago, Eli Boggess knew he wanted to play Division I baseball. The problem was, despite a career that included being part of a state championship as a sophomore, Division I baseball didn’t seem to want him.
Now, the 5-foot-11, 190 pound third baseman from Versailles has been drawing a lot more notice. He’s the leading hitter in all of Division I as a junior transfer at Morehead State.
Going into Thursday’s action, Boggess was hitting .427 in the heart of a bruising Eagles lineup that cranks out more than nine runs per game.
“My dream since I was little was to play Division I somewhere,” Boggess said ahead of the Eagles’ final series on the road at OVC leader Tennessee Tech. “It’s just what I grew up wanting, and once I got to high school, that continued. I thought at the junior-college level I could just continue to get better and, hopefully, grow enough to get some offers and make that dream come true.”
Boggess has six home runs, nine doubles and 35 RBI this season.
Woodford County struggled to a 6-19 record in Boggess’ senior season, but his summer ball connections led him to accept an offer at Lincoln Trail Community College in Robinson, Ill. Boggess, a two-sport star who played basketball, too, also had a couple of NAIA baseball offers, but he felt junior college would be his best route.
“It gives you the opportunity to play immediately as a freshman,” he said. “Coming to a D-I, you’re probably not going to play all the time. I got two years of great experience to put me in position to play these next two years here.”
Morehead State (32-20), under fifth-year coach Mike McGuire, is enjoying its third straight 30-win season, a stretch that included an OVC Tournament title and NCAA regional appearance in 2015. A win this week would clinch a No. 2 seed in next week’s OVC tourney.
The Eagles had just one 30-win season before McGuire arrived and hadn’t been to an NCAA regional since 1983. McGuire changed the way Morehead recruited, widening the net looking for “blue collar” players that fit his mold and scouting the junior-college ranks heavily. That’s how the coaching staff came across Boggess.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that maybe weren’t the most highly recruited kids in the country but we felt like they brought something or that they were just a good baseball player,” McGuire said. “I think that’s what we have a collection of and that’s what I think Eli Boggess is.”
McGuire acknowledged Boggess might not have eye-catching athletic ability, but they felt he was athletic enough to win one of their infield positions, and they also felt he could hit at this level.
“I can’t sit here and say (I thought) he was going to be leading the country in hitting,” McGuire said. “We thought he was going to be a good hitter for us. We thought he was going to be able to hit for average, but not anything like this. It’s a credit to him. He’s gotten it rolling. He’s a tough out every at bat. He doesn’t give many at bats away and that’s a key.”
We’ve got a lot of kids that maybe weren’t the most highly recruited kids in the country but we felt like they brought something or that they were just a good baseball player. I think that’s what we have a collection of and that’s what I think Eli Boggess is.
Mike McGuire, Morehead State coach
It doesn’t hurt that Boggess has one of the most potent batting lineups in the nation around him. The team’s average of .334 is second in the nation. Its 474 runs scored is first. You have to go eight starters deep before you get to someone hitting below .300 — and that guy’s hitting .295.
Boggess hits cleanup, two spots behind the power hitting Niko Hulsizer who’s leading the nation in home runs with 24, is tied for the lead in RBI with 73 and is second in runs scored with 64.
“We play in a hitter’s park and we play in a hitter-friendly conference,” McGuire said. “You add that up, and we’ve got a lot of very good hitters and you look up and you have a lot of offensive accolades.”
What McGuire really likes about Boggess in the cleanup spot is that he rarely strikes out. His ratio of one strikeout to every 16.2 at bats is the best in the OVC and 13th best in the nation.
“When you’re not striking out, you’re putting more pressure on the opposing defense,” McGuire said.
It’s difficult to believe now, but Boggess struggled early, going 1-for-18 in his first few games and getting shuffled out of the starting lineup. When he broke back in, he went on a tear, reaching safely in 13 out of 15 games, culminating in a 6-for-6 outing in a 22-0 win over Massachusetts on April 2.
“In junior college, too, I struggled a ton in the beginning and then just had to make a few changes and adjustments and go from there and, luckily, both times it’s worked out,” Boggess said.
With a chance for the Eagles to make some noise in the postseason, Boggess doesn’t think too much about what’s he’s accomplished, but he does appreciate how far he’s come.
“This was very unexpected for me, but it’s pretty cool. It’s cool to have some national recognition. It’s more cool that it can get Morehead on the map … ,” Boggess said. “We have a great hitting team and everybody has a great approach. When we’re clicking on all cylinders, it’s pretty hard to pitch to us, and it’s probably not a whole lot of fun to play against us when that’s happening.”
Nation’s leading hitters
The top 10 NCAA Division I batting averages entering games on Thursday:
.427 — Eli Boggess, Morehead State
.411 — Caleb Webster, UNC Greensboro
.411 — Adam Groesbeck, Air Force
.406 — Brent Rooker, Miss. State
.406 — Josh Evans, Stephen F. Austin
.402 — Keston Hiura, UC Irvine
.402 — JJ Matijevic, Arizona
.400 — Ryan Grotjohn, CSU Bakersfield
.398 — Drew Ellis, Louisville
.397 —Marshawn Taylor, Grambling