There’s a familiar leader in the race for the Region 6 crown, and it’s the Murray Spartans.
With a 17-11 win on the road over East Friday evening, the defending Region 6 champion Spartans improved their region record to 5-0 (6-7 overall) and handed the Leopards their first region loss of the year.
Offense wasn’t in short supply in a matchup that featured 28 runs, but it was Murray who finished with greater firepower in the end.
With 18 hits and seven different players recording at least one RBI, the Spartans received contributions from nearly every player who swung a bat.
Through the first two innings of the game, though, it appeared as if the Spartans would be lucky to get out of the game with a handful of runs, let alone 17. East freshman pitcher Charlie Turner tossed five strikeouts and allowed only one hit through the Spartans’ first nine at-bats.
Murray head coach Eric Christensen complimented his players, who successfully adjusted their play after struggling through the game’s opening innings.
“We weren’t seeing pitches right, but we made a couple of tweaks and were able to catch up to the pitcher,” Christensen said. “That’s a great pitcher that East had, she’s got a lot of movement on her pitch, but we made the adjustments and were able to string runs together.”
Murray senior Ellie Christensen opened up the scoring with a two-run home run in the top of the third and the floodgates opened for both teams, as the game’s remaining 26 runs were all scored after the play.
Carrying a 4-3 advantage into the fifth inning, the Spartans began to separate themselves, scoring five runs to East’s one.
In the bottom of the fifth, however, it appeared as though the Spartans were about to concede as many runs as they managed to score at the start of the inning. The Leopards —who had already scored one run in the inning — were able to load the bases with no outs on the board.
Backed up against the wall, Murray’s starting pitcher for the game, Mary Beesley, dug in for the Spartans, recording two strikeouts and a flyout in consecutive at-bats to retire the side and escape the inning with minimal damage.
The events of the inning were a turning point for the Spartans, who seized control of the game as a result and never saw their lead shrink to less than four runs over the final two innings of play.
“(That was a) huge momentum swing for us there in the fifth inning,” Christensen said of Beesley’s execution to end the inning. “Today, I loved her mental toughness. She hung in there when we loaded the bases — three different times — and managed to generate the outs we needed.”
It was just the second complete game of the season for the junior pitcher, who threw 133 pitches across all seven innings for the Spartans.
Beesley pitched in relief during Murray’s 17-5 loss to Pleasant Grove the just day before and really struggled to find her groove, so performing well against the Leopards was a relief to her despite the soreness she experienced after the game.
“I went out there and told myself it was just like throwing the ball in the backyard with my dad, nothing special,” Beesley said. “Yesterday just wasn’t my stuff at all, so to come out a pitch well was awesome. … My team was the difference, just knowing they’ve got my back even when I’m not pitching well or doing my best.”
Highlighted by Jazzy Vera’s solo home run to start the seventh inning, the Spartans outscored East 8-7 over the final two innings to gain the six-run victory and secure a head start on the path to defending the Region 6 championship.
Success in region has become a habit for Murray, whose last loss to a Region 6 opponent came back in May of 2019 when the team was defeated by East in a playoff consolation game.
With the win, the young Murray squad — which has six new starters — has won six of their last nine games after starting the season 0-4.
“Our focus right now is on region. We want to be competitive, win these games and our goal is to win the region championship,” Christensen said. “We’re almost to the halfway point (of the season) and things are starting to come together for us.”