EPHRATA — They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but 18-year-old right-hander Kaeden Murphy seemed to know the old ones pretty well.
Murphy found the groove after walking two in the first inning to shut down Pro Hammer of Tuscon, Ariz., Thursday night and the Columbia Basin River Dogs advanced to Senior Babe Ruth World Series semifinals with a 1-0 victory.
Murphy, who is one of just four 18-year-olds on the team, struck out six, walked five and allowed just one hit in six innings of work.
“I just tried to go right at them. I'm always thinking strike outs and throwing hard, but I did throw quite a few curveballs tonight. It's more like a slider, so it wasn't too hard on my arm,” said Murphy, who is playing in his fifth summer with the program and third with the U18 team. Murphy tweaked an elbow two weeks ago in the Seattle tournament and has been used sparingly with the bat and not at all on the mound during his third Senior Babe Ruth World Series. This was his first start for the young club and he overcame a shaky start in a big way. He walked two and plunked one to load the bases in the top of the first inning.
“It's nothing I haven't seen before. I just had to settle down and throw,” Murphy said.
The River Dog right-hander proceeded to strike out the side to get out of the first inning jam, then strike out the first two batters faced in the second for five consecutive strikeouts to set the tone.
“(Murphy) battled back in the first inning. It was a real momentum changer for our team. We got the momentum back from them getting bases loaded. He set the tone early,” Columbia Basin catcher Tristan Garland said. “He dominated and the key was the off-speed stuff. We started off-speed and mixed it backwards. We had them off-balance and it just well worked tonight.”
The only run of the game came on a two-out rally in the third inning. Duncan Favor reached on an error and Joe Taylor doubled down the right-field line. Tuscon right fielder Jessie Carmona came up throwing, but missed the cutoff man as Favor took third. The ball sailed to the fence behind third base, allowing Favor to score.
That was it. The River Dogs and the guys from Arizona showcased why they are two of the top six teams in the country. But Columbia Basin did have the defensive play of the night in the sixth inning.
Arizona's Danny Perez reached on a throwing error that skipped into first baseman Nick Lopez's glove, handcuffing the Columbia Basin 18-year-old. The ball bounced up as Sean Fanning took off for the plate to score the tying run. Lopez corralled the loose ball put a strike on the plate for Garland to tag out the sliding Arizona runner to end the inning.
“It was one of those one-hoppers that I love,” Lopez said, rolling his eyes skyward. “To be honest, I didn't really think. I saw the runner going home out of the corner of my eye and I threw it on the run. I knew I had to throw it on the money to have a chance. I hit Tristan and he put the tag on.”
Arizona made one last run at the River Dogs in the top half of the seventh with three straight singles off reliever Joe Taylor, who retired the first two hitters faced. Taylor managed to get one last fly ball and the game ended with just seven combined hits and one run.
Columbia Basin will face top-seeded Midway from Nederland, Texas, in one semifinal. Cape Cod, Mass., will play Charleston, Mo., in the other semifinal, beginning at 5 p.m.
Rodney Harwood is a sports writer for the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at email@example.com.