By Rich Bevensee
When Diamond Nation.com interviewed PA Shockers 14U coach Mike Connors this past spring, he said he felt comfortable giving the ball to any of his pitchers in a big game situation.
Fast forward five months and Connors’ thinking has changed a bit, not because he’s lost faith in his pitching staff, but because Connor Murray has emerged as the club’s big game pitcher.
Appearing in his fifth championship game since baseball began last spring, Murray looked like the ace Connors expected him to be. The 6-1 righty allowed one run on four hits and helped deliver the Shockers’ 50th and final win of the year in a 7-1 victory over Diamond Jacks Super 15U in the championship game of the 15U Fall Brawl on Sunday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Murray, a freshman at Pennridge High in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, earned his second Most Valuable Player award in as many championship appearances at ‘The Nation.’ The first came last May, when Murray pitched the Shockers to a 6-0 victory over Canes Mid-Atlantic Black in the 14U Spring Fever championship game.
“Coach puts me out there because he knows I’ll do anything to win,” Murray said. “He trusts me to fill up the zone, and my defense trusts me to do the best I can. When I go out there, I love it because I have the ball every single play and get to control the game.”
Murray is developing a four-seam fastball and changeup, but for Sunday night he used a two-seam fastball and slider exclusively. He walked four and struck out five.
“I’m really effective with them and they move in opposite directions and I get a lot of ground balls,” Murray said.
The only run Murray allowed came on a first inning wild pitch. He escaped a no-outs, bases-loaded jam in the second with a fielder’s choice, strikeout and groundout. After that, no Diamond Jack base runner advanced past first base. He even struck out the side in the fifth.
“He’s a competitor,” Connors said. “His talent is obvious, but he competes like his back is against the wall. There is no one else I’d want on the mound other than him. He’s a bulldog out there, and he’ll only get better.”
Connor Murray of the PA Shockers was named MVP of the 15U Fall Brawl
The Shockers finished the weekend 5-0 and outscored their opponents 41-7. They concluded 2023 with a remarkable 50-7-1 record, a mark which encompasses spring, summer and fall and includes the two trophies won at ‘The Nation’ and two Perfect Game titles.
“This is a great way to end it. You can’t write it up any better,” Connors said. “It starts with a great group of parents and kids. I think you can attribute our record to the depth of our roster, the depth of our pitching staff, our defense is very good and we all believe in each other. I also believe the guys have never taken our games for granted. Every single person in this group wants to win. They have that dog mentality.”
Nick Do, the game’s second batter, got the Diamond Jacks on the scoreboard first when he used his exceptional speed to reach on an infield hit, stole second and eventually scored on a wild pitch.
The Shockers quickly seized the lead back in the bottom of the inning thanks to some heads-up base-running by Gavin Wisnosky. He drove in Jagger Verbit with a grounds rule double and later scored on a straight steal of home after a dropped third strike to Murray. As soon as the throw went to first to put out Murray, Wisnosky broke for home and crossed easily for a 2-1 Shockers lead.
Diamond Jack pitching troubles helped the Shockers add three more runs in the third inning. Chase Kelly and Tim Croyle both forced a run home with bases loaded walks, and Verbit was hit by a pitch with the bases still loaded for a 5-1 lead.
More insurance for the Shockers came in the third when Murray scored on a wild pitch and No. 11 batter Asher Franklin drove in Finn Bachman with a double down the left field line.
Offensively for the Diamond Jacks (4-1 on the weekend), Nehemiah Diaz doubled, while Do, Ryan Wetmore and Mateo Steinmetz were the only other batters to get a base hit off Murray. Elijah Dawes, Ethan Huang, Kevin Kelly and Steinmetz pitched for the Diamond Jacks.