MURRAY — It is tough to replace a legend. Just ask Gary Crowton or Ron Zook. For nearly three decades Murray baseball had meant Bill Siebenberg and winning. Replacing a living legend put enormous pressure on first-year coach Derek Hathaway. Fortunately for him, he has a team that has made the transition much easier.

"The nicest thing has been stepping in with a group of kids like this," said Hathaway. "They work hard and play good baseball, and it just takes a lot of pressure off you."

The Spartans demonstrated Friday afternoon why Hathaway has been enjoying a great season. They pitched, hit and played defense nearly to perfection in beating East 10-0 in six innings.

It was apparent early that Bryce Johnson had some of his best stuff on the mound. He was in complete control. For six innings he did not allow a run, gave up only two hits, and struck out seven.

"This was probably his best outing of the year," Hathaway said of his ace. "He usually can throw strikes, but when he keeps the ball down in the zone like he did today, he's very tough to hit."

While Johnson dominated the East batters, Murray was pounding the baseball. Every position, one through nine, had a hit, and seven out of the nine positions scored a run. It all got started with leadoff hitter Cory Shimada.

Shimada is considered one of the best position-players in the state, and he is one of the few that has the potential to be drafted in June. He displayed those talents early and often. Leading off the game with a single, Shimada finished 3-for-4 with three RBIs and a run scored.

"He (Shimada) is just huge for us," said Hathaway. "When you have a lead-off hitter with speed and power it just sets everything up. Cory can beat you in so many ways, his arm, his defense, his bat or his speed on the bases. He's just one of those guys that when he gets on base things seem to happen."

What happened for Murray was its ability to get hits with runners in scoring position. Matt Park knocked in three runs on three hits. Greg Moffitt had an RBI single, and Sean Moysh hit a two-run homer over the left-field wall. By the time the hits stopped flying, the Spartans had inflicted the ten-run mercy rule on a pretty solid Region 5 rival.

"We're one of those teams that when we get it going, we can hit it pretty good," Hathaway said. "Even the guys in the bottom of the line-up really stepped it up." With only two games to play, and with a two-game lead, it appears fifth-ranked Murray(15-4) will win Region 5 and enter the state tournament as a contender. Hathaway says that the key for a successful tournament lies in the basics of baseball.

"We just need to play a full seven innings without any lapses. If we can just get our pitchers to throw strikes, play good defense behind them, and have a good showing at the plate then we'll be in every game."


E-mail: mblack@desnews.com