Back on track: Murrey takes down national champs UST

By Patrick Murphy

After getting off to a hot start to the season, the Macalester baseball team seemed primed for a run to the conference playoffs, however back-to-back sweeps at the hands of conference rivals Augsburg and Hamline made the Scots’ drive for the postseason much more difficult. To make matters worse, the team had to go up against defending national champion and top-ranked team in the nation St. Thomas on Tuesday. Going into Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Tommies, the Scots had dropped eight games in a row to the seven-time defending MIAC champions, with the last Mac victory against UST coming in 2005. In desperate need of a conference victory to turn things around, the Scots turned to ace starting pitcher James Murrey ’10 in the first game.

“This was absolutely a must win game,” catcher Robert Williams ’12 said. “We did everything in our power to win game one.”

Murrey, who is one of the top D-III pitchers in the country, had never faced St. Thomas prior to Tuesday. Earlier in the season, players on both teams expressed their desire for Murrey to faceoff against UST ace Matt Schuld, who led the Tommies to the national championship last year. On Tuesday, the titans clashed as Murrey and Schuld went head-to-head in the MIAC pitching matchup of the year. Among those in the stands for the battle that had had been three years in the making was Terry Ryan, the former Minnesota Twins General Manager and current head of scouting for the team.

“I wasn’t concerned about Schuld,” Murrey said. “We’d hit him pretty well each of the past two years, so I was more focused on executing my own pitches. He’s a good pitcher, but we have good hitters too and they made it look easy off him.”

In his first three seasons, Murrey was one of the most dominant pitchers in the MIAC, but he had never been used against St. Thomas. Whether this was strategy or coincidence is beside the point, because Head Coach Matthew Parrington went all-in by using Murrey in a game that few people would have given Mac a chance in. That being said, as he has shown countless times previously, Murrey gives the Scots a chance against anyone.

As the game got underway at St. Thomas on Tuesday, both pitchers cruised through the first inning, but in the second inning the Scots broke the game open. Second baseman Mitch Glasser ’12 started things off with a leadoff single, and was promptly brought in on an RBI double by Williams. Williams is currently hitting .411 with 24 RBI on the year. Fellow sophomore catcher Garrett Salzman ’12 got on base after being hit by a pitch, but Schuld settled down to strikeout the next two batters. Needing only one more out to limit the damage to one run, Schuld was touched-up by the Scots for four more runs in the inning as center fielder Nathan Rubin ’12, third baseman Devin English ’10, and right fielder Graham Brown ’12 struck with RBI hits that silenced the UST dugout and fan section.

“After I scored the 5th run of the game, I worked through the mob of teammates and saw James happier than I’d ever seen him before,” Brown said.

Playing with a lead Murrey was able to completely shut the Tommies offense down through the first six innings of the seven-inning game. After each time he finished a scoreless inning, Murrey ran off the field with a shout and fist pump on his way to the dugout to fire up the offense before the next half inning.

“I expected us to put up one or two runs in a rally against them, but getting five definitely put us in the driver’s seat,” Murrey said. “It was visibly deflating for them to have that happen.”

With the score still 5-0 going into the bottom of the seventh inning, Murrey quickly retired the first two hitters, but the Tommies mounted a comeback effort with a pair of two-out runs. With two outs and the tying run at the plate, Murrey maintained his composure and reared back, striking out his ninth hitter of the game for the final out.

“James was on top of his game the whole game,” Williams said. “His velocity was up, his off-speed pitches were working, and he was locating very well.”

While the Scots dropped the second game of the doubleheader 2-5, a split against St. Thomas was a big step in getting back into the conference race.

“It was really big,” Murrey said. “Getting a win against any team would have been big at this point, but doing it against the number one team in the country makes it a lot more meaningful and should help us get back on track.”

While a win over St. Thomas is certainly a step in the right direction, the team is focused on doing everything in its power from here on out to make the MIAC playoffs.

“As a pitching staff, we need to be more aggressive,” Murrey said. “Coach O’Brien has been working on getting the pitchers to attack hitters more, and we did a much better job of that in the St. Thomas series.”

While there are some specific elements of the game that the team will look to improve upon the rest of the way, Brown focused on loosening up and having more fun playing.

“We have a tendency to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to play perfectly,” Brown said. “We’ve got the talent and we’ve put in the work, we just need to enjoy playing the game.