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Murrayhill Juniors eye Series

The team is top-seeded and unbeaten going into the regional semifinals
by: JIM KENCK, SHE’S SAFE — Murrayhill’s Chelsea Lambert slides safely home in front of the Arizona catcher on Saturday during her team’s 17-0 victory.

TUCSON, Ariz. - So far, there's been no stopping the Murrayhill Little League Junior softball all-stars.

Matched up against eight of the top teams from this side of the country in the Junior League Western Regionals, Murrayhill was the lone unbeaten team at the end of pool play at 4-0, and went into yesterday's (Wednes-day's) semifinal as the top seed in the tournament. That semifinal was originally scheduled for Tuesday night but re-set for last night after the Valley Times' press deadline due to thunder showers, hail and high wind.

'It was like being on the Weather Channel,' Murrayhill manager Nancy Atkins said, noting that her team raced for cover in team vans when the storm hit and that her vehicle had one of its windows broken out by flying debris in the high wind.

With a win in their semifinal, the Beaverton stars would earn a berth in the tournament championship, also held last night (at 8 p.m.), and if Murrayhill continued its success in the tournament finale, the team would advance to play in the 2006 Little League Junior World Series in Kirkland, Wash., Aug. 13-19.

'We were just kind of nervous at the start. We weren't really expecting to win or do anything,' said first baseman Kirsten Fahlbusch. 'But now we fell like we can do more than we expected. It's definitely exciting.'

'It's amazing. It's awesome. It's so cool,' said shortstop Chelsea Lambert. 'Last year's Oregon team went 0-4 (at regionals) and they were pretty good and now it's like, 'Holy cow. We're 4-0.''

'We are doing surprisingly well,' Atkins said. 'And the girls are having a great time.'

And understandably so the way they've mowed down the opposition. Murrayhill opened the tournament last Thursday with a 4-2 victory over Northern California's All City SB Little League from Manteca, getting nine strikeouts from pitchers Sarah Atkins and Shelby VandeBergh and two runs each in the second and fifth innings. Atkins and Kristen Kenck both singled in the second and later scored on California errors.

On Friday, Murrayhill broke out the bats and routed Arizona's Sunnyside Little League of Tucson 17-0. In that game, Murrayhill blasted out to a 6-0 lead in the first inning, added three more in the second, two in the third and ended the blowout with six more in the fourth. Nicole Stanford and Sarah Atkins both went 4-for-4 in the win, Kenck and Kirsten Fahlbusch added three hits each, and Atkins and VandeBergh shut down Arizona on just two hits.

'The infield played stellar defense,' Nancy Atkins said.

On Sunday, Murrayhill took out Washington's NE Seattle/Rug Little League by a 9-0 margin, scoring all nine of its runs in the first inning and then holding on through a skyward display of thunder and lightning.

'We couldn't score against their second pitcher, but we just wanted to get through the first inning so that if we got rained out, we wouldn't have to start all over the next day,' Nancy Atkins said.

In that watershed first, Fahlbusch ripped a two-run homer, and Christine Staley added a bases-clearing three-run triple. As a team, Murrayhill banged out seven hits in that opening inning, took advantage of a couple Washigton errors and got another strong pitching performance (12 strikeouts) from Sarah Atkins and VandeBergh.

They are 'a great combination,' Nancy Atkins said of her daughter and VendeBergh. Sarah hits her spots and has very good control and Shelby has a couple of good pitches she comes in with, her rise ball and then down and away.'

Murrayhill then won its fourth straight game on Monday, mowing down Lockwood Little League of Billings, Montana, 10-0 to secure the top seed to the semifinals. Nicki Cronauer doubled home two runs in the second inning to get things rolling ('That was an awesome way to get things started,' Nancy Atkins said) and VendeBergh drove in another to give Murrayhill a 3-0 lead.

They boosted that edge to 6-0 in the fourth thanks to a double from Katherine Casey, then put the icing on the cake with a four-run sixth highlighted by Fahlbusch's in-the-park grand slam home run. Staley added a double in the sixth.

Pitchers Atkins and VandeBergh were tough again, shutting out Montana on two hits while striking out eight.

'We just wanted to come in and do our best and see what happens,' VandeBergh explained. 'And because we were just having fun, there was no pressure on us to win.'

'Now we're the team to beat,' Nancy Atkins said. 'We were a little flat at the start of the game, but the girls at the bottom of the lineup really got us going.'

The team also includes third baseman Anna Johnson, center fielder Abby Komin, and coaches Ken Lambert and Lorin Johnson.