The Portsmouth, N.H., pitcher allows just two hits and strikes out 14
Great beginnings beget great endings, and so too, unfortunately for the Murrayhill Little League all-stars, do rotten beginnings beget rotten endings.
And that's pretty much what Murrayhill got in its Little League World Series opener on Friday at Williamsport, Pa.
Facing New England champion Portsmouth, N.H., and ace pitcher Jordan Bean, Murrayhill got off to a painful start - falling behind 5-0 in the top of the first inning - and never recovered, losing 6-1 before 9,436 fans at Lamade Stadium.
Afterward, Murrayhill manager Jeff Keller said this his team probably wasn't as focused as it normally has been.
'No doubt. We were all kind of - even the coaches - kind of star struck,' Keller said.
Bean, however, had no such problems Friday, using his potent fastball and exacting location to great effect, limiting Murrayhill to just two hits and four walks while striking out 14.
'He's the best pitcher we've faced all year,' Keller said of Bean. 'I think he's one of the top two or three - if not the best - pitchers here at the Series.'
'He was a great pitcher,' said Murrayhill second baseman/shortstop Sam Albert. 'He was definitely in the top 10 that we've seen.'
Bean also benefited greatly from his team's fast offensive start, a start that included a one-out walk to Bean and an RBI double to left-center from Matthew Feeney. After that, Murrayhill starter Devon DeJardin hit the next batter and allowed a bloop single to center by Connor McCauley to load the bases. That brought Billy Hartman to the plate, and Hartman came through big-time, taking a DeJardin pitch on the outside corner of the plate the opposite way and depositing it over the right-field fence for a grand slam home run and a commanding 5-0 lead.
'I had a little bit of stage fright,' DeJardin admitted. 'I'd never pitched before that many people before and my heart was beating really fast.'
That 5-0 lead, frankly, was all that Bean needed, though his team made it 6-0 in the top of the second when Stephen Hemming tripled to right and later scored on a wild pitch. DeJardin got a small measure of revenge in the bottom of the second when he led off with a solo homer to center field, but the Beaverton all-stars managed just one hit the rest of the way - a two-out single by Derek Keller in the bottom of the third.
Murrayhill's best remaining opportunity came in that third inning when Sam Albert reached base on a fielder's choice with two outs, Keller singled and both runners moved up on a wild pitch. But Bean bore down on DeJardin for the final out, recording his seventh strikeout of the game to end the threat. In the final three innings, he allowed just a walk (to Corey Pool) and added seven more strikeouts down the stretch.
Lost, perhaps, in the hoopla over Portsmouth's fast start, however, was the stellar pitching performance turned in by Derek Keller in relief of DeJardin. Keller came in with one out in the first inning and allowed just two hits and one run the rest of the way, offsetting his six walks by recording six strikeouts.
'The thing is, we played a great game except for the top of the first,' Jeff Keller said. 'And (Bean) just made one mistake to Devon and one to Derek and that was it.'
'I felt good coming in but I was nervous because I didn't want to give up any more runs,' Derek Keller said.
Also impressive was Albert's defensive work at shortstop in the game, which included a barehand pickup and throw for an out on a slow roller. In all, Albert handled three chances without an error.
For the game, Portsmouth managed just five hits, three of those in the first inning.