'That's Drew:' Boone Grove downs South Central behind Murray’s complete game; takes control of PCC
By CJ PETERS
PORTER TWP. — If May 2 wasn’t already marked in red on Boone Grove’s schedule, it certainly was for Monday's clash with fellow Porter County Conference unbeaten South Central.
“We knew we had to get this one,” Boone senior Drew Murray said. “This was a big one; circled on our calendar, for sure.”
The rare ace who also happens to be a standout football lineman, the beefy southpaw turned in likely his most complete performance of the spring, allowing one earned run in a complete game five-hitter with 11 strikeouts to go with two RBI in the Wolves' 8-2 win.
“I mean, without Drew, this is a whole different team, there’s no doubt about it,” Boone coach Doug Hoover said. “That’s Drew. He’s always effective on the mound. I didn’t catch his final pitch count, but it couldn’t have been too high. He was probably a little more efficient than what he normally is even, he was really on his game.
“Coach (Bryan) Hill was calling pitches, but they were mixing it up more than they do normally and that’s a credit to South Central – they’re a good team and we just felt like we had to keep mixing it up and keep them off-balanced. It looked like all the pitches, whether it was the fastball, cutter, changeup or curveball, were all working.”
Murray faced the minimum in five of the seven innings, including the final three. He walked none and had at least one strikeout in each frame, striking out the side in the fifth for the Wolves (7-3-1, 5-0).
In addition to his masterful mound work, Murray opened the game’s scoring with an RBI double that rolled to the right field fence, adding a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
“I really tried to pound the zone with strikes,” he said. “I wanted to get ahead early and that definitely helped early on. I’ve been getting behind in the counts this season and that’s kind of been my weak point so far, because then I run my pitch count high, but I pounded the zone pretty well and trusted the defense.
“I could throw any pitch for a strike. Obviously, they can swing it pretty well and they’re having a pretty good year so far, so I just needed to throw strikes and get ahead early, for sure.”
South Central coach Zach Coulter thought Murray did a ‘nice job of mixing things up.’
“He kept us off-balanced by all accounts,” Coulter said. “Just a lack of adjustments at the plate will come back and bite you. We had a couple guys put together some good approaches, but we’re swinging and missing a little too much. We have to focus on moving the baseball.
“When you face a good pitcher, you have to have an approach as soon as you get into the box, and it’s ever-changing. I think that’s our challenge as a team, to adapt to the situation at hand.”
Down 2-1 after a two-run third, Boone tied it in the fourth on freshman Xavier Carrera’s RBI single that scored pinch-runner Brandon Ziegler, who stole a base after being called on after Isaiah Steinhilber was hit by a pitch.
Carrera, one of four freshmen in the starting lineup, was 2-for-3 with an RBI, including a bunt single in the sixth that helped spell the end for Grass, as his pitch count rose toward 100 with runners on the corners and no out.
“The kid’s just talented,” Hoover said of Carrera. “You watch his exit velocities and things like that, and the kid can hit the ball. I asked him (in the sixth) ‘hey, can you lay one down?’ and he said, ‘Coach, I’m the best bunter on the team.’
“For a freshman to do that in a big situation like that to not only get the job done, but get on base as well was a big moment in the game, I thought.”
Grass exited a batter and a half later with Zack Hanchar taking over on a 2-0 count to Ben Truby. Following an out at home on a play by Tommy Sullivan kept the Boone lead at 3-2, control eluded Hanchar on the next four hitters. The Wolves had five runs in the inning on only one hit, scoring four straight without taking the bat off their shoulder.
“We just didn’t want to get ourselves out,” Murray said. “We knew coming in we had to have pretty good approaches at the plate and we could have done a little better, but our defense played really well. We stole some bags, had good reads on balls in the first and had that bunt late in the game.
“It was just little things like that which we did well, and that helped us, for sure.”
Coulter credited Grass for stepping up in a pinch. The sophomore allowed five hits, hit a batter, walked two (both in the sixth inning), and punched out 12.
“He kept them off-balanced well and did everything that we asked,” Coulter said. “He knows how to compete and that’s probably his biggest asset to this team, just that bulldog mentality and that fight that’s within him. You can’t really teach that and he’s got it.
“Coming off minimum days rest and having to scratch a pitcher late, I thought he persevered well. Obviously when the pitch count got up close to 100, he lost a little bit of control toward the end, which was unfortunate timing with not having any run support behind him.”
Grass struck out nine hitters over an 11-batter span between the second and fourth innings.
“He threw a heck of a game, he was really effective,” Hoover said. “I was honestly, and quite frankly, concerned if we were going to get to him or not. For our benefit, he started to lose it a little bit.
“He commanded his fastball and what looks like more of a hard slider. He was getting in a groove, would get set and within a rhythm a lot of times, so we tried to have our guys disrupt that.”
Zach Norwine scored twice and had a stolen base for Boone Grove out of the No. 9 spot in the lineup. Seth Pitcock scored on Murray’s double, drawing a bases-loaded walk in the sixth. Trey Pitcock and Aiden McCormick also coaxed walks with the bags packed.
“This was definitely a huge win for us,” Hoover said. “We talked about it as a team that this was the team we needed to beat. Obviously, nothing’s done ‘til it’s done and baseball’s a funky game, and we still have Westville and LaCrosse.
"We knew S.C. would be tough.”
Jacob Oehmen was 2-for-3 for the Satellites (9-7, 5-1) with an RBI single in the third, when he also stole a base. Hanchar (run), Matt Knight (run) and Sullivan added hits.
“We have to learn from it and move forward,” Coulter said. “We’ll get another chance to see them in the conference tournament, should everything pan out the way that we think it will. We played a 3-2 ball game deep into it and we didn’t have everyone 100 percent healthy with a couple guys banged up.
“Asked Zack to come in in a tough spot. His arm’s been a little sore, but he was the guy we trusted in that moment.”