The team now moves on to the state tournament after beating Forest Grove 13-1
PORTLAND - A few weeks ago, Murrayhill manager Jeff Keller and his staff figured the team's strength would be pitching and defense.
That may still be the case, but oh did Murrayhill's offense make its case in the championship game of the District 4 Little League Majors baseball tourney Monday at Alpenrose Dairy.
Murrayhill smacked seven home runs in the first two innings and cruised to its fifth-straight district title with a resounding 13-1 victory over Forest Grove. Murrayhill erupted with back-to-back-to-back jacks in the first inning beginning with Sam Albert's knock over the right field fence for a two-run blast. Derek Keller and Devon Dejardin followed with solo shots and the rout was on.
'We thought we had a good chance (to win) and that really got us going,' Albert said.
The three-time defending state champions went on to score seven runs in the first then tacked on five runs in the second with four more home runs to give pitcher Jace Fry more than enough support in his complete-game effort. The hard-throwing left-hander allowed four hits, while recording 11 of 12 outs by strikeout before the game was stopped in the fourth inning by the 10-run mercy rule.
The district championship is the first part of what coach Keller has dubbed a 'four chapter book.' Next up is the state tournament (chapter two), which begins Friday in Ashland. Murrayhill has won the last three state titles and eight times in its first 13 seasons of existence.
'The kids are so focused on that,' coach Keller said. 'They buy into it and they believe we'll have a happy ending to chapter two as well. I've never met a harder working group of kids.'
Murrayhill's run to the district title didn't come without its share of scares, though. Derek Keller fouled a ball off his mouth, jarring loose three teeth in the team's 7-2 semifinal win over Beaverton on Sunday.
'It was pretty scary,' coach Keller said. 'He was a mess. I'm proud how he put that behind him to help out the team.'
Convenient circumstances allowed Derek to be seen by his orthodontist and a medical staff that night. They put his mouth back together and Derek elected to play in the title game, wearing a mouthpiece and a helmet with a shield.
'My mom didn't want me to play, but she said it was my decision,' Derek Keller said. 'There was probably no way I wasn't going to play.'
Despite feeling sore in the title game, Keeler made his presence felt by blasting his first home run high and well over the left field fence in the first inning. Dejardin smacked the next pitch over the center field fence for a 4-0 lead.
After a pair of outs, Trevor Nix kept the inning going with an infield single. A hit batter and walk loaded the bases for Fry, who led off the inning with a single up middle. Fry produced his second hit of the frame by sending a curve the other way, knocking it down the left field line for a bases-clearing stand-up double and 7-0 Murrayhill lead.
Forest Grove got a run in the second before Murrayhill went back to work. Keller led off with a laser shot over the left field fence for his second home run. Dejardin matched him when he jacked a homer to nearly the same spot for a 9-1 lead.
Murrayhill wasn't done as Nix kept the inning alive with a two-out infield single off the pitcher's glove. Miguel Rivera came off the bench to drive a long bomb off the tree behind the left field fence for a two-run homer. Pinch hitter Austin Perry made it two straight when he followed with a solo shot to right-center field.
'At the beginning of all-stars, I thought we'd be a singles team and play more station to station,' coach Keller said. 'But as the tournament moved on, our hitting is something that really came on in terms of hitting for power.'
Murrayhill hit 16 home runs in its five tournament games, led by Keller, who had five. Three other players had three homers and seven different batters went yard for the team. Murrayhill batted .417 as a team with 55 hits, 31 of which went for extra bases.
Nix hit a three-run homer to lift Murrayhill after Keller was injured in the semifinal game against Beaverton. The blast increased the team's lead to 7-1. Albert also came up big by throwing five strong innings in relief of Keller.
'He pitched phenomenally,' coach Keller said. 'He showed a lot of heart coming through after Derek got hurt.'
Murrayhill went 3-0 in group play, outscoring the opposition 30-5. The team opened with a 7-0 win over Raleigh Hills on Thursday, then beat Cedar Mill 9-3 on Friday and Forest Grove 14-2 on Saturday.
Murrayhill begins play in the state tournament Friday against the District 1 champ Rose City.
'This has been by far the most fun I've ever had in 11 years of coaching,' coach Keller said. 'It's really exciting to see where we're at now versus a week ago.'