"Murph" may be silent leader, but play is loud
Senior J.R. Murphy, or “Murph” to those who know him well, is 6 feet 4 inches tall and throws a mean fastball, a nasty slider and an occasional changeup to keep hitters honest. But just like San Francisco Giants pitcher Jason Schmidt demonstrated (Schmidt throws in the high-90s and routinely adds velocity in the later innings) in a dominating one-hit, 13-strikeout shutout against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night, pitchers like Murphy and Schmidt rarely need to use an off-speed pitch when their fastball is so much better than their respective league’s standard.
So is the case with Murphy, a lengthy right-hander who throws in the 80s and “lives with his fastball,” in the words of his coach Jason Estabrook. On the strength of his fastball and slider, Murphy has an NIAA single-season state record 139 strikeouts, and he can add to it in this weekend’s state championship tournament.
Over his three-year varsity career, he has 286 strikeouts, also the new NIAA career record, eclipsing the old mark of 262. In that same span, he has 20 wins and six saves. In 2004, he is 11-3 with a 1.32 ERA.
Murphy has excelled on the field, but the most endearing part of Murphy’s game is that he goes about his business in a respectable fashion. Estabrook calls him a “silent team leader.” Instead of rousing teammates with his mouth, he lives by the old sports cliche of letting his play do the talking ” minus the arrogance.
Only time will tell if the senior’s fastball is worthy of the college ranks as he heads off to Yavapai College in Arizona next season, but he has blown away high school hitters at a phenomenal rate ” 1.64 an inning to be exact. Over half his outs have been by way of strikeout, and he barely made the defense behind him move in an 18-strikeout one-hitter against Rite of Passage on April 24.
There are characteristics of his game, starting with his non-flashy work ethic, that can only help him in the higher levels of competition.
Complementing his mature attitude toward the game, Murphy possesses the poise to succeed in pressure situations. Those elements make him a viable candidate to succeed in the higher levels of baseball competition. But that is the future, and Murphy’s future beyond the high school level will depend on his motivation and willingness to improve his game.
For now, Murphy has led Truckee to its first state championship in five years. He has dealt late in the season when it counted most and Truckee’s fate hung in the balance. He had a significant part in beating the Fernley Vaqueros in the 3A Northern League Tournament. In 11 innings, Murphy earned both Truckee wins in the three-game series, struck out 10, gave up two earned runs and held Fernley scoreless in its final four at-bats in the decisive game three.
The weekend prior to the Fernley series, Murphy threw his most critical game of the season on May 8 in game two of a doubleheader at North Tahoe. After the Lakers had thrashed Murphy’s Wolverines in a 17-6 game one laugher, the senior put a serious halt on the Lakers hit parade, striking out 14 and only surrendering three hits to a potent lineup that has hit around .380 this season. The win not only made the Lakers hitters look silly, it locked up homefield advantage for Truckee in the Northern 3A regional.
Murphy also gets clutch hits with the bat. He hit a game-tying triple late in game three versus Fernley and also got a huge two-run double in a 3-1 victory over Bishop Manogue that broke the Reno school’s 91-game regular season winning streak against Northern 3A opponents. Not too shabby for a .357 hitter who in a recent post-game interview said, “Hitting well is just an added bonus.” As Truckee’s No. 4 hitter, Murphy leads the team in homers (7), RBIs (34), triples (6), runs (39) and slugging percentage (.723).
As impressive as some of those things are, they pale in comparison to the pressure of a state championship game. When Murphy steps on the mound Friday morning against Boulder City, it will be the biggest game of his young career, facing a lineup he has never seen on the biggest stage Northern Nevada high school baseball has to offer. If he lives by the fastball, he will also die by the fastball; he has only walked 24 batters and will challenge a hitter before walking them. His walks/hits per innings pitched is an amazing 0.88, and he has only given up one home run. Opposing hitters are batting a meager .159 against Murphy.
Sports has a cruel way of remembering the big games, and the new Truckee baseball season ” the state championship ” starts Friday. Win or lose, Murphy and his teammates will remember it the rest of their lives.
Also an exceptional punter in football, Murphy apparently turned down a few football scholarships to concentrate on baseball. He definitely hasn’t hurt his baseball resume this year.
Does he have what it takes in college? With a lot more work, Estabrook thinks so.
“He just started pitching as a sophomore, and he really has a long way to go,” Estabrook said. “But he’s worked hard, and he’s gotten better. He’s going to be a force in college.”
Matt Brown is the sports and outdoors editor at the Sierra Sun.
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Students frustrated at the cancellation of sports waved signs and delivered speeches at a Truckee High School protest in an attempt to return to the field this year.