On the verge

Murrayhill's Major all-stars are just two wins away from a trip to the Little League World Series
by: AL CUIZON, DEREK DOES IT — Murrayhill Little League pitcher Derek Keller pitched three scoreless innings to beat Laramie Little League 12-1 during the Little League Western Regional Tournament at Al Houghton Stadium in San Bernardino, Calif., on Monday.

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. - Rollin', rollin', rollin.

Murrayhill is rollin', and rollin' - the Little League Majors all-star baseball team fervently hopes - all the way to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn.

While there are big games ahead and big challenges yet to face, the Murrayhill team of 11-12 year-olds is looking very good indeed at the Northwest Regional Tournament. Murrayhill has won its first four games at the tournament, the final stepping stone to the Little League World Series, is the lone unbeaten team in the six-team field and will play a semifinal contest at 8 p.m. Friday for a berth in the tournament championship at 7 p.m. Sunday.

'We've been getting good pitching, great defense and the kids have been hitting the heck out of the ball,' said Murrayhill manager Jeff Keller, whose team will play its semifinal at 8 p.m. Friday. The tournament championship is set for 7 p.m. Sunday.

Needless to say, the chance to win a berth in the Little League World Series, set for Aug. 18-27, is foremost in all the Murrayhill players' minds.

'Oh yeah. When we're all sitting around in our barracks, we've all been talking about it,' said pitcher/shortstop Derek Keller. 'We've al been talking about the World Series and how cool it would be to get there.'

'We're pretty excited,' added Miguel Rivera. 'But we know we've just got to keep concentrating on our games.'

'Our team is very confident. We're pumped up,' added pitcher/first baseman Jace Fry.

The team is still two wins - two very big, very tough wins - away from the Series, but so far, no one else at regionals has been nearly as good.

Murrayhill 6, Montana 3

Montana gave Murrayhill its toughest game of the tournament to date in their Tuesday pool play finale, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

'We needed to play a tough game,' Jeff Keller said. 'We'd played three pretty easy games before that, but in this one we had to battle and that was good.'

Also good was Fry, who won his second game of the tournament with a three-hit, 11-strikeout gem only offset by six walks.

'I was kind of tired because it was an early game and the ump's strike zone kind of moved around, but it was OK,' Fry said. 'Our defense is great so I wasn't worried about trying to strike people out.'

Offensively, Murrayhill scored twice in the first inning on delayed steals, Fry coming home with the first run and Derek Keller with the second. Montana answered with one run on three walks and a wild pitch in its half of the first, but Murrayhill tacked on two more in the second. Derek Keller knocked in Bryan Domogalla with the first of those and Trevor Nix scored the second on Sam Albert's single up the middle.

Fry hit his stride after that first inning, by the way, striking out eight straight batters from the second through the fourth innings. And in the fourth, Fry singled and scored on an Albert hit and Derek Keller (who'd reached on an error) came home on Devon DeJardin's single.

For the game, Albert went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, and Fry, Keller and Toma Matisoff each went 2-for-3.

Murrayhill 12, Wyoming 1

Murrayhill left nothing to chance in its third pool play contest on Monday, grabbing a 2-0 lead on Derek Keller's two-run homer in the top of the first, adding four runs in the second and five in the third before ending the contest after 4-1/2 innings against Laramie Little League.

'We jumped on them right from the first inning and didn't let up,' Jeff Keller said.

Fry came through with an RBI double in the second inning while Nix knocked in two with a double of his own. And in the third, Rivera hit a two-run homer, Derek Keller drove in another and two more Murrayhill runners came home on wild pitches. Rivera added his second homer (and his second opposite-field shot to right field) in the fourth for his team's final run.

'I think it's because I'm just thinking of driving it instead of trying to lift it,' Rivera said of his success at the plate.

'He's a big, strong kid,' Jeff Keller said of Rivera.

For the game, Rivera was 2-for-2 with three RBIs, Fry was 2-for-3 with two doubles, Nix knocked in two and scored three, and Derek Keller was 2-for-3 with two runs and three RBIs.

Derek Keller also got his first start of the tournament, holding Wyoming to one hit, one walk and one unearned run while striking out nine.

'I felt good. I felt like I was throwing hard,' he said. 'I was just overpowering guys and my offspeed stuff was working pretty good, too.'

Murrayhill 10, Alaska 2

Murrayhill may have had its concerns facing Alaska's top pitcher, the 6-foot, 175-pound Garrett Brown, on Saturday in its second pool play game, but the Beaverton all-stars got over them soon enough.

Brown homered off Murrayhill pitcher DeJardin in the top of the first inning to give Alaska a 1-0 lead, but DeJardin got even and then some in Murrayhill's ensuing at-bat, sending a bloop single into left field to plate both Nix and Sam Albert for a 2-1 lead Murrayhill would not relinquish.

Alaska's Dimond-West Little League of Anchorage tied the contest in the third with another solo homer, but DeJardin came through again in the bottom of the frame, singling home Keller to put his team ahead to stay at 3-2.

Fry then added a three-run homer in the fourth - followed soon after by Keller's two-run shot and a solo blast by DeJardin to put the game out of reach.

DeJardin and Keller (who pitched the final inning) allowed just two hits, hit one and struck out seven. At the plate, DeJardin went 3-for-3 with four RBIs, Fry knocked in three, and Nix, Albert and Keller had two hits each.

'It was great to have our No. 3 starter (DeJardin) come out and pitch well,' Jeff Keller said. 'That was good to see.'

Less good, though, was losing Alec Powell to broken hand when he was hit by a pitch in the fourth inning.

Murrayhill 8, Idaho 0

You might have excused Murrayhill if the team was less than sharp in its 9 a.m. tourney opener last Friday. The team rose at 5 a.m. Thursday to fly south to San Bernardino, rose again Friday at 6:45 a.m. for hitting practice, then jumped right into tournament play some two hours later.

But no matter. Fry, the team's leadoff hitter, homered on the first pitch he saw, saw his team push ahead 5-0 after two frames and add its seventh and eighth runs in the third and fifth.

'He was ready. That ball he hit was a rocket,' Jeff Keller said of Fry. 'He had a really good game.'

Indeed. In addition to his 3-for-4 day at the plate with three runs scored and two RBIs, Fry threw a one-hitter with 11 strikeouts against Idaho's North Boise Little League.

Derek Keller added three hits, two runs and two RBIs, DeJardin knocked in two and Bryan Domogalla went 1-for-2 and scored once.