FGCU’s Brian Ellis, The Ultimate Leadoff Man, Sets On-Base Streak RecordFeatures
In the fall of 2019, Florida Gulf Coast outfielder Brian Ellis started wrecking the plans of his own coaches, repeatedly fouling off pitches and driving up pitch counts.
In the 3½ years since then, Ellis has frustrated just about every pitching coach on the FGCU schedule.
Ellis’ efforts reached a crescendo on Tuesday night when he broke an unofficial NCAA record by reaching base at least once for 102 consecutive games.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” Ellis said of the record he set on Tuesday by drawing a walk on a 3-1 pitch from Florida Atlantic’s Danny Trehey. “I never thought I’d even come close to where I’m at now.”
The previous record streak of 101 was set by Mark Payton of the Texas Longhorns, from 2013 to 2014.
Tuesday’s game was stopped briefly as Ellis wrested first base from its anchor and held it aloft for photos. The record-setting bag was then removed from play and a new one was installed.
During his streak – which started on April 30, 2021 with a walk against North Florida – Ellis has a remarkable .500 on-base percentage. He has also hit .355 with 143 hits, 78 walks and 39 hit-by-pitches as the Eagles have posted a 67-35 record during that span.
There were four occasions during the streak in which Ellis didn’t reach base until his final plate appearance. The most recent example was in game No. 79, this year on March 3 against Florida State as Ellis took a hit-by-pitch in the ninth inning.
Ellis said he was just 12 years old – playing for the summer-ball Babe Ruth All-Stars — when he first hit leadoff. He didn’t really understand the importance of that designation until he hit first in his final 2½ years of prep ball at Hagerty High in Oviedo, Florida.
Once he got to FGCU, Ellis sat out his 2018 true-freshman season, giving him more time to make the adjustment from high school to college.
In 2019, he became a starter, but he hit in the lower third of the batting order.
Then, in the aforementioned fall of 2019, something changed.
“He was running the pitch count up for our pitchers during scrimmages and all of our fall practices,” FGCU Eagles coach Dave Tollett said. “He was seeing so many pitches, hitting foul ball after foul ball.
“We had to tell our pitchers to just throw the ball down the middle because they were getting up to 50 pitches after just two innings.”
Tollett said Ellis’ on-base streak is no accident.
“Brian knows the strike zone,” Tollett said. “He watches film. He knows the numbers of the pitchers coming in out of the bullpen.
“He’s a very intelligent guy in general. But his baseball IQ makes him a big piece of our puzzle.”
Those puzzle pieces are fitting nicely as the Eagles – despite losing their top two weekend starters to injuries – are 26-7 and ranked 15th in the nation.
Ellis, the only team captain Tollett has had in 37 years as a high school and college coach, is not a basestealer, going 0-for-1 in that category so far this season.
However, he has a .477 on-base percentage and a .965 OPS.
Tollett said Ellis not stealing actually opens the 43 hole for lefty-swinging two-hole hitter Harrison Povey.
Ellis is also good on “dirt-ball” reads and a skilled baserunner overall, Tollett said.
Tollett is not big on individual records, insisting on team accomplishments taking center stage most of the time.
But this is an exception.
“This record radiates who Brian is,” Tollett said. “He’s unselfish. The job of a leadoff batter is to get on base, and that’s what he does.”