By Rich Bevensee
Canes Mid-Atlantic Black resembled a buzzsaw at the Spring Fever 14U Tournament this weekend at Diamond Nation in Flemington, averaging 11 runs per game and allowing just five runs in four games.
So dominant were the Canes through pool play and the semifinals that winning their third title of the spring appeared to be imminent for the talented group from Annapolis, Md.
What no one saw coming – except for PA Shockers 14U Blue – when Connor Murray took the mound was that the top-seeded Canes’ dominance would soon hit a speed bump.
Murray was brilliant for the second-seeded Shockers, pitching six shutout innings while allowing just three hits and one walk, and propelling his team to a 6-0 victory and the 14U Spring Fever championship on Sunday evening at ‘The Nation.’
“I feel I really wanted it a lot, I wanted to win really badly,” said Murray, named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “I love the ball in my hand. If I can do something to change the game and it helps us win, then I want to be the one to do it.”
Closer Carson Glose struck out the side in the seventh for the Shockers, while Gavin Wisnowski singled and drove in two runs and Jagger Verbit singled, walked and scored twice.
With all the noise the Canes were making while blazing a path to the final – outscoring four opponents 41-5 – it may have been easy to miss how dominant the Shockers were in their own right, outscoring five opponents 31-4.
The Shockers (5-0) were making their second finals appearance at Diamond Nation this spring and picked up their second tournament championship of the young season. A few weeks ago on Mother’s Day weekend, they earned a title at Big Show Sports Complex in Leesport, Pa.
“We have athletes up and down the lineup,” Shockers coach Mike Connors said. “Anybody can play outfield and infield, we probably have four shortstops and maybe eight or nine arms. We haven’t hit our ceiling yet but we’re getting there. We’re looking forward to a big summer.”
Connors said the main reason the Shockers are in for a big summer is the depth of the pitching staff. When asked if he felt fortunate to have saved his staff ace – Murray – for the final, he said selecting a starter was really a multiple choice question.
“We honestly have five or six aces,” Connors said. “We have a lot of arms and we feel comfortable with any one of them pitching in a championship game. If we throw strikes, our defense is very good, so we’re gonna challenge hitters, get them to swing early, pitch to contact and stay in attack mode.”
No matter the pecking order within the Shockers pitching staff, Murray showed he was worthy of a big game assignment from the outset.
Utilizing his two-seam fastball and slider, Murray allowed only three baserunners to reach scoring position and, outside of a bases loaded jam in the third, faced just two batters over the minimum.
“My two seam was working pretty well because it was running and I was throwing it pretty hard,” Murray said. “I didn’t throw the slider until the second time through the lineup.”
And speaking of jams, the Shockers escaped two of them midway through the game and avoided a major momentum shift in the process.
With the Shockers leading 3-0 in the bottom of the third inning, the Canes loaded the bases with two outs when singles by Brendan Szydlik and Andy Blanck sandwiched a walk to Luke Gamble. Murray slipped out of his first hint of trouble when he induced an infield pop up from the Canes’ No. 3 batter Cooper Mengel.
In the bottom of the fourth, after the Shockers had increased their lead to 4-0, the Canes’ speedy shortstop DeShaun White led off the inning with a triple into the right field corner. White tagged up when Tyler Jones followed with a shallow fly ball to right. Shockers right fielder Gavin Wisnowski fired a bullet to catcher Brett Pollock to nail White at home, thereby erasing another golden scoring opportunity for the Canes.
White, Szydlik and Blanck were the only Canes batters to get a hit off Murray.
“Those were big situations,” Murray said. “Something goes wrong and it completely changes the game. Maybe they score runs, maybe they tie the game, I come out and maybe someone else comes in. It completely changes the game and they would have all the momentum after that.”
“A momentum shift is huge at this age,” Connors said. “Overall I love how the boys came out and competed today.”
The Shockers didn’t use a big scoring inning to knock off the Canes, because the Canes defense proved all weekend it was too good for that. Instead, the Shockers merely nipped away and slowly built a lead that seemed safe with Murray on the mound.
In their first at bat, the Shockers scratched out a run when Glose singled, advanced to second on an infield error, took third after a Murray walk and scored on a wild pitch. It was the first time all weekend the Canes trailed in a game.
In the second inning Chase Kelly scored from third when Wisnowski reached on a one-out infield error. Verbit came around to score from second on the error for a 3-0 Shockers lead. Wisnowski picked up another RBI in the fourth inning with a single to right, scoring Verbit.
Trent Lutz made it 5-0 Shockers in the fifth inning with an opposite field single to right which plated courtesy runner Wisnowski, running for Murray who singled. The Shockers added one more run in the seventh when Cole Wosnicki was hit by a pitch, stole second, advanced on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch.