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Valley Journals

A key injury – and foul weather – have been conspiring against the Murray High School baseball team

May 07, 2018 04:30PM ● By Carl Fauver

MHS senior Easton Brinton is the Spartans number one pitcher, after injury sidelined a teammate. (Mike Adams)

By Carl Fauver | carlf@mycityjournals.com

A senior-laden Murray High School baseball team suffered its biggest blow of the year, long before the snow was off the grass enough to practice. And now, with last year’s ace pitcher out for the season – following a basketball injury – the two-time defending Region 6 baseball champs face an uphill battle in their quest to ‘three-peat.’

“It was the first region (basketball) game of the season, against Highland,” Jake Hardman said.  “I jumped to block a shot, but hit the bottom of the backboard. All my fingers went numb and an MRI later showed I had torn my UCL.”

I’m sorry, your what?

Most of us have likely heard of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – the one that runs behind your knee. The UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) runs through your arm. So tearing it is not good for a baseball pitcher.

Hardman underwent UCL reconstruction, commonly called “Tommy John surgery.” In 1974, John – a former Los Angeles Dodgers Pitcher – was the first to undergo the procedure, which requires a surgeon replace the injured ligament with a tendon from elsewhere in the patient’s body.

Now Jake finds himself in a brace most of the time, as he undergoes rehabilitation.

“It’s my first serious injury,” Hardman added. “It’s really hard to go to the baseball games and just cheer. But that’s what I’m doing, trying to support the team as best I can.”

Jake still hopes to walk on with a college baseball program next year, once he’s healed.

“That’s really the story line of our team so far this season,” said Murray’s seventh-year head baseball coach Marce Wilson. “Jake was unbeaten in region as a pitcher last season, as a junior. So now we’ve just got to have our other pitchers step up.”

And that puts another Spartan senior in the hot seat.

“At this point we have one, clear-cut number one pitcher, Easton Brinton,” Wilson added. “Jake and Easton were one and two last year (in the Murray pitching rotation). So now Easton is our one, while we have several players working to be number two.” 

“I don’t mind (the pressure of losing Hardman and being the number one pitcher),” Brinton said. “It’s fun. I’m sure sorry Jake got hurt; but I know I just have to step up.”

Brinton has already signed to pitch next year at Mesa Community College in the Phoenix area.   

In addition to the Spartans’ key injury, the team also had to contend with Mother Nature early in the season. Rain wiped out a number of their games, causing Murray to only play five preseason games, before the start of their Region 6 schedule. 

“Our Ken Price field (in Murray Park) is a place many teams like to play, so we end up scheduling a lot of preseason home games,” Wilson said. “But it’s a clay-based field that doesn’t drain off (rain water) very well. So when it’s wet, we end up losing a lot of games, while many other fields around the valley are still playable.”

Despite the dearth of preseason games, Murray did open its Region 6 schedule with a 3-game sweep of East, winning 19-2, 16-2 and 8-3. But Wilson expects East and Highland to be the “have nots” of the region.

“Olympus is definitely the team to beat this season,” he said. “They have probably their best team in a decade. After that, I see Skyline, West and us battling it out for seeds two through four into the state tournament.”

As the two-time defending region champions however, the other schools likely figure the Spartans to be favorites, despite their key injury and lack of warm-up games.

Among the other seniors expected to be critical to Murray’s success this season is Kam Myrberg, who started at third base last year but has switched to shortstop this spring.

“I like the switch to short,” he said. “It’s different (from third base). I have to cover more ground. But it’s a good change.” 

Myrberg also agrees with Wilson, the Titans will be tough.

“Olympus has two lefties on the mound with some good stuff,” Kam said. “They’re hard to hit. But it’s definitely still our goal to win a third straight region title.”

After press time, Murray had a pair of 3-game region series against Skyline and Highland. Starting May 1, the Spartans have six games scheduled over nine days. West and Olympus both have the home field advantage, each scheduled to host two of the three games.