Saturday's game winner heads to championship

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - The stakes have never been higher.

The tension has never been greater.

History has never been closer.

The Murrayhill Little League Majors all-star team has already accomplished a lot at the World Series. Now they're ready for even more.

Murayhill is poised on the verge of a U.S. championship and a berth into the overall World Series championship, but must get past the tough-as-nails Southeast champ, Columbus Northern Little League of Columbus Georgia, to do it. The two teams meet in the U.S. Championship at 12:30 p.m. (PT) tomorrow at Lamade Stadium.

'They're a great baseball team. They wouldn't be here if they weren't,' said Murrayhill manager Jeff Keller.

Murrayhill's route to the U.S. championship has had its shares of ups and downs, including a 6-1 opening-round loss and two come-from-behind victories in its last two games, and Columbus' road to the U.S. championship has been no less tumultuous.

Columbus opened with a 3-2 extra-inning victory over the U.S. Mid-Atlantic champ, added a 4-1 win over the U.S. West champ in game two, then fell 2-0 to the U.S. Great Lakes champ - the same team Murrayhill just beat in its U.S. semifinal on Wednesday.

That loss relegated Columbus - like Murrayhill - to a second-place finish in its pool, but couldn't slow its advance to the U.S. championship game. Columbus came back to knock off the U.S. New England champs 8-0 on Thursday behind the lights out-pitching performance of Kyle Carter. Carter - who has earned all three of Southeast's victories in the Series - shut New England down on three hits and one walk while striking out eight and facing just 22 batters - only four of the minimum.

Carter, however, is not eligible to pitch in tomorrow's game; Murrayhill will instead face starter J.T. Phillips, who pitched six innings in Columbus' game one win over U.S. Mid- Atlantic, allowing four hits and two runs (one earned) while striking out 10.

'I don't know a lot about Phillips, but definitely, the bats have got to come out early,' said Murrayhill second baseman-shortstop Sam Albert, who leads his team in hitting at .500 for the Series.

'The kids are all excited that they get to hit off Phillips instead of Carter,' Keller added. 'The velocity that he throws and the kind of breaking ball he throws we tend to hit pretty well. The kids are pretty relaxed.'

Thus far in the Series, Columbus has survived more on its pitching than its hitting, batting a cumulative .233 as a team through its first four games while Murrayhill hitters have fared slightly better, batting .258 bas a team.

Still, Columbus does have players capable of hitting the ball and hitting it hard, led by shortstop-second baseman Josh Lester (.417 with six RBIs, one triple and two doubles), reserve third baseman Mason Meyers (.400 in his five plate appearances), catcher Cody Walker (.364 with three RBIs, one home run and a double), center fielder-first baseman Brady Hamilton (.333 with one RBI and a double), and Carter (.300 with three RBIs and two homers).

Murrayhill, meanwhile, will start Jace Fry at pitcher for the second time in the Series. He beat the U.S. Midwest team 2-1 on Monday to lift his team into the U.S. semifinals with a 10-strikeout, three hitter.

'I just need to throw like I do every other game,' Fry said. 'It just depends if they can catch up to the fastball or not. If so, we'll just throw more curveballs and changeups to make the fastball look even faster.'

'They've got three or four kids who are really good hitters,' Keller said. 'Jace is going to have to hit his spots.'

Offensively, Murrayhill is led by Albert, who in addition to his .500 batting average also has two doubles and scored his only two runs of the Series in Murrayhill's 4-3 win over Great Lakes on Wednesday.

Other top offensive contributors for Murrayhill include Fry (.444 with two RBIs, one homer and two doubles), pitcher-shortstop Derek Keller (.333 with five RBIs and one homer), and three players at .250 - utility player Trevor Nix, center fielder Corey Pool and catcher-outfielder Perry Lampman.

One area where Murrayhill might have an edge is on the defensive side of the ball where the team has committed just one error in the Series, forced four with its aggressive baserunning and hasn't allowed an unearned run. Columbus, meanwhile, has committed four errors in the tournament and given up three unearned runs.

'Our defense has been very good,' said Albert, who has made several spectacular defensive plays at second base and shortstop.

'Definitely there are opportunities there,' Jeff Keller added. 'We need to continue to run the bases well and force errors.'

The winner will play the international champion at noon (PT) Sunday for the World Series championship while the loser will play in the consolation game at 9 a.m. (PT) Sunday.

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