Though it had been together for nearly a week, the San Gabriel Valley Babe Ruth 16-18 All-Star baseball team already knew its main strength — a dependable starting pitching rotation.
For San Gabriel Valley to return to the World Series for the first time in two years, it would have to rely on its starters going deep into games at the Pacific Southwest Regional Tournament while protecting slim leads. The rotation proved to be up to the challenge, with Kyle Murray getting things started.
San Gabriel Valley turned to Murray, who struck out seven and allowed one hit in five innings to spark San Gabriel Valley to a 6-0 opening victory against Central California San Bruno on July 22 at Modesto Christian High.
"It's our first game and I felt like I had to go out there and keep us in the game," said Murray, one of eight local players on San Gabriel Valley, which will meet Middle Atlantic in an American Division pool-play game of the World Series at 11 a.m. today at Ephrata High in Ephrata, Wash. "We were able to do that.
"I was a little antsy because I went out there feeling like the team needed a good effort from me. I put pressure on myself, but I like it better when there's more pressure because you have the adrenaline kicking in."
Against San Bruno, Murray allowed only a third-inning hit. San Gabriel Valley, seeking the program's first World Series championship since 2007 and eighth overall, allowed just five runs in four tournaments games in Modesto.
Murray, a right-hander who will be a senior at Crescenta Valley High in the fall, will be counted on again at some point in the World Series. The teams figure to be a notch better and the batters perhaps more patient, leading Murray to be creative with his pitch selection.
Whenever he's given his next starting assignment by San Gabriel Valley Coach Phil Torres, who also serves as Crescenta Valley High's coach, Murray will be prepared.
"Our pitchers like to put the team on our shoulders," said Murray, who will be joined in the rotation by Elliott Surrey, Daniel Zamora and Gary Acuna. "If we can get a run or two, we feel like we have the guys who can go out there, pound the strike zone and win.
"In the game [against San Bruno], I went out there and we definitely needed a win. Had we lost, it would have been a lot harder trying to get out of the loser's bracket."
Thanks to Murray, who went 5-2 with a 1.50 earned-run average en route to receiving All-Area first team and All-Pacific League second-team accolades, San Gabriel Valley never encountered that situation. Following Murray's performance, San Gabriel Valley won three one-run games in a row to return to the World Series following a one-year hiatus. San Gabriel Valley clinched a berth in the World Series with a 5-4 victory against Watsonville on July 26.
Torres, who has piloted San Gabriel Valley to three World Series titles since 2004, said Murray proved to be the logical choice to open the Pacific Southwest Regional.
"Kyle got us rolling with that game," Torres said. "We trusted giving him the ball and, had there been [an if-necessary championship game in the regional], he would have been our starter.
"His stuff has gradually improved. His velocity has improved, too. He's been pretty dominant and his confidence has continued to grow over the summer."
Quality pitching and defense normally go hand in hand. San Gabriel Valley has received that in its first four postseason contests.
San Gabriel Valley outfielder/relief pitcher Troy Mulcahey, the reigning All-Area Baseball Player of the Year, said things became simpler when Murray took the mound against San Bruno.
"You stay sharper on defense when your pitcher is getting outs," said Mulcahey, one of eight local players on the team. "We knew when we got him some runs in that game that he would be able to finish it.
"He definitely started the whole thing by shutting down the other team. That helped us a lot. Kyle going out there and doing what he did was big."
Murray's work is far from being complete, as he's set to make his first appearance in the World Series.
"It's going to be a real good experience for me," said Murray, who struck out 73 and walked 17 in 56 innings last season with Crescenta Valley. "It didn't sink in at first when we clinched a spot in the World Series.
"When you see the guys who have played on this team before, you go out there wanting to keep the tradition going. I feel like I have something to prove the next time I go out there."