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Walpole’s Murray making a strong pitch for Holy Cross, New Bedford Bay Sox

By Jason Mastrodonato
Globe Correspondent / July 8, 2012
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Murray working his way up the mound

Before Donny Murraywas throwing 90 miles per hour for the New Bedford Bay Sox, before he finished his first season at Holy Cross ranked No. 43 in the NCAA’s Division 1 with a 4.78 strikeout-to-walk ratio, he was just a soft-tossing, 5-foot-10, 160-pound ninth-grader at Boston College High.

And the last player to make the freshman squad.

“I remember my freshman coach telling me he was going out on a limb taking me on the team,” said Murray, a Walpole resident.

“Nothing came easy to me throughout high school.”

Playing with the Bay Sox this summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, Murray has been living proof that even the last player chosen on a high school team can receive nine Division 1 scholarship offers, and compete against some of the best collegiate players around. But the road to get there wasn’t easy.

“He’s an interesting kid,” said BC High head coach Norm Walsh. “He impressed me as a freshman with his mechanics and he had a pretty good work ethic. He wasn’t over-powering, but had a lot of command.”

A “string-bean,” as Walsh described him, Murray had to find a way to get his 75-mile-per-hour fastball running a little bit harder without giving away too much of his control. For someone who thrived on repeating the same delivery, hitting the outside corner and coming right back with the inside heat, he had to be careful.

If he lost his command, it was unlikely he’d find any time on the varsity squad his sophomore year. Murray started doing long-toss every three days during the summer after his freshman season, throwing a lot more than he normally would and spending a lot of time in the weight room.

When tryouts came the next spring, Murray was moved to the junior varsity. “The first start I gave him that year I wanted to see what he could do at the JV,” Walsh said. “He comes out with six shutout innings, 52 pitches, no runs, three hits — that’s pretty good.”

“I went into the game thinking that no one should be able to get a hit off me,” Murray said. “No one should be able to get on base against me. I just had that attitude that I want to dominate every single game.

“Then I was in the weight room one day and Coach Walsh was there. I asked him, ‘All right, am I on the varsity or what?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you’re up here.’ But there was that feeling if I didn’t perform well . . . I could be sent down. I knew he wouldn’t be afraid to do that.”

Murray had no idea how hard he was throwing that spring, whether his offseason workout routine had any effect on his arm strength. But Murray found himself on the mound in the Division 1 state title game to record the final out for the Eagles in their 11-2 win over St. John’s High, and the radar gun got a close look at his fastball: 85.

“And then he has a strong junior year and a terrific summer, and all of a sudden I’m getting all these calls’’ from coaches at Division 1 colleges, Walsh said. “They’re all asking me why they haven’t heard about this kid. They said, ‘What, have you been hiding him?’

“I said, ‘I’m not calling you for a guy throwing 82, you’ll laugh me off the phone.’

“But that summer he was up at 86, 87, 88 — and actually a couple guys got him that fall close to 90. He physically just did an unbelievable job transforming himself.”

As it turned out, being unnoticed as a freshman opened a portal of motivation that Murray still uses today.

“All these kids were getting these MLB scouts coming for them,” he said. “I was getting overlooked and, not ignored, but not looked at. I didn’t have as much interest as some other players and that was motivation in itself. Every time I play guys I faced in high school who got that exposure, it just adds motivation to work harder.”

With his fastball, changeup, and the occasional breaking ball, Murray, now a sturdy 6 feet 2, 200 pounds, earned the midweek starter role at Holy Cross this spring while pitching out of relief in the weekend conference games. By the end of the season, he was the team’s No. 2 starter as the Crusaders advanced to the Patriot League final before falling to Army in a three-game series.

Murray finished the year 4-1 with a 3.12 ERA and 43 strikeouts to just nine walks in 57 innings. The No. 1 pitcher at Holy Cross this season, Nate Koneski, was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 19th round.

And through his first three starts with the Bay Sox, Murray had allowed just one earned run. He’s been working on keeping his left arm tight through his delivery; he used to let it flail open, losing some velocity. “Whatever I can do to get better,” he said.

Here and there

Olivia McCarthy, a 2011 Duxbury High graduate and a four-year Patriot League champion on the school’s lacrosse team, has transferred from Iona College to American University, where she’ll play next year. The 5-foot-6 midfielder appeared in 12 games at Iona this spring and scored three goals . . . Lucy Bergemann (Westwood High, figure skating) and Alicia Reid (Abington High, softball and soccer) earned Future Leaders college scholarships at the Bay State Games. The $2,000 award recognizes outstanding credentials in academics, athletics, community service, and leadership . . . Stonehill College promoted Kristen Redquest to head coach of the equestrian program, after she spent two years serving as assistant coach to Allegra Valberg, who resigned last month.

Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at jasonmastrodonato@yahoo.com.

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