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OLYMPIC LEAGUE BASEBALL – Jones, Murphy overpower Heritage Christian on the mound as Valley Christian sweeps

April 10, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

Valley Christian High head coach Tim Blume knows it would take a miracle his team, or anyone for that matter, to run down Maranatha High for the top spot in the Olympic League. So, the next best thing is to set sights on second place and the Defenders capped off last week in stellar fashion, thanks to senior Gavin Murphy and junior Riley Jones.

The former, who is also the team’s top catcher, went the distance to throw a five-hitter in the second game of a doubleheader last Saturday against Heritage Christian High. V.C. easily won 7-0, which followed a four-inning, one hit performance from Jones in the first game in which the Defenders posted a 15-2 win. V.C., which also slammed the Warriors 22-9 on Apr. 2, has now won 16 straight games over Heritage Christian with the last eight meetings and 10 of the last 12 coming when V.C. has scored at least 10 runs. The Warriors came into the doubleheader with a 5-10-1 overall mark and one win in six league contests. Still, Blume wasn’t overlooking the fact that they were in last place.

“It’s really important,” he said. “We know Maranatha is a powerhouse, but they’re not in the same division as us. With these upcoming games, we have Village Christian coming up, then we turn around and face Whittier [Christian] again. These are really, really important games in the next couple of weeks for us that will basically determine if we’re going to extend our season or not.”

Jones retired the first five batters he faced on 16 pitches before walking Crosby Hirtensteiner. The only trouble Jones faced came in the top of the third inning when he gave up a two-out infield single to Nicholas Boldt and walked Angel Rios and Christian Boldt before getting Nick Aguilar to groundout to end the frame. Jones then struck out all three batters in the fourth to finish the day with 65 pitches, four strikeouts, three walks while facing 16 batters. He improved his record to 5-3 while no other V.C. pitcher has more than one victory.

“He’s figured some things out,” said Blume. “He and I have discussed him trying to understand who he is and to not try to be anybody else; be himself and be his best self. That’s what he’s started to figure out at the right time when stuff is really starting to matter. He’s doing a good job. There’s no question about it; he is our ace. We can’t ask for more out of him.”

Offensively, the Defenders jumped all over Hirtensteiner in the first game, scoring five runs in the bottom of the first inning, six in the second inning and five in the third inning. Junior right fielder Weston Lynott’s run-scoring double plated junior shortstop Chip Mertz to make it 2-0. Three pitches later, Murphy singled to center, driving in Lynott. Murphy would later come home on an error and a base hit down the third base line from sophomore designated hitter Nolan Dietz allowed junior first baseman Seth Dahlenburg to score the fifth run.

Hirtensteiner didn’t do himself any favors in the second inning by hitting three batters, including sophomore third baseman Lucas Witt and Lynott in back to back fashion. Witt would have a two-run double in the third inning and drove in three for the game, along with Dietz and Murphy.

Dietz and sophomore left fielder R.J. Estrada would each have two of the eight hits the Defenders would collect and junior center fielder Austin Abrahams, Dahlenburg, Estrada, Lynott, Murphy and Witt would all score two times.

The game took an hour and 45 minutes to complete and half an hour later, the second game, which had been postponed from last Friday, got under way with Murphy retiring the first five he faced as well on 13 pitches. The only hits Murphy gave up were a two-out double from Hirtensteiner in the second inning, a two-out double from Nicholas Boldt in the third inning and a one-out single to Nick Lombardo in the next frame.

Two runners would get to third base, but he got Josh Park to ground out to end the third and would strikeout Brayden Fenderson to end the fourth, which marked the first of 10 straight batters he retired to end the game.

“He stepped up as a senior, came in and threw strikes,” said Blume. “He just did a very, very good job; just exactly what we needed.

“He was just very good in his location of his pitches and a lot of confidence,” he later added. “Being a senior really makes a difference. He’s got a lot of confidence, and he did a great job.’

Murphy tossed just 82 pitches and faced 25 batters. Offensively, Abrahams, Estrada, Mertz and Witt, the top four in the lineup, went a combined five for 15 with five runs scored and five runs driven in. Witt had a solo home run in the third inning to make it 3-0 and Mertz put the game away with a three-run knock in the sixth inning. The combined 15 hits in the two games was three shy of V.C.’s offensive barrage in the 22-9 win.

“We swung the bat a lot in the first game and put up a lot of runs and I think that’s what you always worry about as a coach; you turn around and play a doubleheader and how invested are the kids going to be in that second game,” said Blume. “I liked our plate discipline a little better in the second game, and I thought we attacked pitches a little early and aggressively in game one. Either way I’m glad we got two W’s.”

The Defenders, who lost to Village Christian High 5-3 this past Tuesday, fell to 9-8 overall, 5-3 in league as the two teams will meet on Friday at Valley Christian. The Defenders will then host Whittier Christian on Tuesday.