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Major All-Stars explode in the top of the first, advance to the state tournament

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - The Murrayhill Majors All Star team beat Raleigh Hills 15-1 in the District Four championship game last week.

As 10-year-olds, Murrayhill won the District Four championship only to repeat the feat last summer at the 11-year-old level.

Only a few bouts of bad luck have prevented the red-and-turquoise billed all-stars from representing the state of Oregon at the West regional level.

It should come as no surprise that heading into the Major All-Star District Tournament, Murrayhill was considered the favorite, even when facing a stocked field of local teams. This is a group that's as cohesive as it is talented. Their invaluable experience playing together year after year built a level of continuity scarcely seen amongst all-star programs. And through pool play and the tourney's elimination stage, Murrayhill held serve, beating each opponent with a business-like demeanor.

What Murrayhill did in the district title bout, considering the stakes, the circumstances and the quality of foe, was remarkable, even for the program's lofty standards.

Playing arguably the best it's ever played in their tenure together, Murrayhill raced past Raleigh Hills 15-1 in just four innings the D4 title game at Alpenrose Stadium on July 5. Murrayhill's Landen Sigler, Jack Turnbull, Jack Grass, C.J. Sloan and Derek Hotman went a combined 11-for-12 at the dish with six RBIs. And with pitcher Drew Levin locked in on the mound, Murrayhill left no doubt as to who the best team in the district is.

"It was pretty eye-opening, to be honest," Murrayhill head coach Jesse Levin said. "The kids just came up and rose to the challenge. They've played in games like this before. This was their time to shine. They exceeded all of my expectations. I didn't think the score would be like this because Raleigh Hills is an exceptional team. The score doesn't really indicate how good that team is. They're a class act. We relied on our pitching and defense and our bats came alive, so it all just kind of came together."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Murrayhill hitter Derek Hotman celebrates an RBI double against Raleigh Hills.

Raleigh Hills came into the game undefeated with a stud pitcher on the mound in Charlie Austin and a horde of home run threats up and down the lineup such as Grady Keljo. The all-Beaverton bout was billed as a potential classic, with a large crowd on hand and two prestigious programs going at it for the Friday night affair. It was simply one of those days where everything went Murrayhill's way and anything and everything went against Raleigh Hills.

"I told our parents I wouldn't trade this team for anything," Raleigh Hills head coach Brian Erickson said. "A lot of them were friends early on through t-ball, coach pitch, all the way through now. And they made new friends as well. These boys played well together. They meshed. Today was just not our day by any means. Hats off to Murrayhill, they were the better team today. Historically, they're a really good team and that's the team we wanted to play."

Murrayhill made a resounding statement early, starting the game off with six runs, four of which were unearned, in the top of the first. Sigler and Turnbull both scored on separate wild pitches, taking advantage of balls in the dirt and beating the Raleigh Hills' throws to home on bang-bang plays to go up 2-0. Subsequently, after Sloan walked, Hotman hammered an RBI double to left to extend the lead to 3-0. And Xavier Keeney hit an infield chopper that was thrown home, but not in time to nab Sloan who made it 4-0. Another Raleigh Hills' mixup allowed pinch-runner Bradyn Gray to score. And a ball in the dirt scored Keeney to give Murrayhill a commanding 6-0 lead, all with just one out.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Murrayhill first baseman Jack Turnbull slides safely across home plate against Raleigh Hills.

Murrayhill batted around the order in the frame. Even as explosive as Raleigh Hills can be, a six-run tone-setting stanza like that took the pressure off of Murrayhill and eased the normal pregame angst. Raleigh Hills didn't give up, as Austin drove in a run on an RBI groundout and Keljo reached base on a single to make it 6-1. However, not only did Murrayhill land the early blow, but they chased Austin — the biggest kid on the field with an electric right arm — from the game after just one inning.

"Hitting is contagious, that's not a myth," Jesse Levin said. "When kids start hitting, it creates confidence for the other kids. Getting off on a good foot like that helped everybody, all 13 of our kids."

Murrayhill has two parents, Brian Turnbull and league president Jason Johns, who pitched at the collegiate level and will come in and throw batting practice to the players. Their speed on the bump helped Murrayhill adjust to seeing faster pitching, which is Austin's specialty. For two or three weeks Murrayhill took cuts against the adult aces, ramping up their swings, speeding up their hands and approaches at the plate. Nevermore did that extra pitching pay off than against Raleigh Hills in the Beaverton battle royale.

"(Turnbull and Johns) can crank it as fast as they can go," Jesse Levin said. "So, our kids are very used to velocity. They're not timid in the box when someone like (Austin) is throwing that hard. It was just our day at the plate. Our kids weren't intimidated or backed down. (Against Turnbull and Johns) they were a little gun shy and now they're just shelling. A lot of it is just confidence."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Murrayhill shortstop Laden Sigler tries to tag a Raleigh Hills baserunner in the District Four title game.

In the second, Sloan smoked a deep fly ball to right that cleared the Raleigh Hills outfield and scored Turnbull to go up 7-1. Hotman singled on a bloop shot and Grass scored on an errant relay home to make it 8-1. In the third Sigler drove home an RBI double and the left-handed-hitting Turnbull blasted an RBI single that scored Ethan Pierce to go up 10-1. Pierce was hit by a pitch earlier in the inning. Sloan slapped a hard-hit one-hopper that skipped all the way to the way, scored two, and slid safely into third for the two-run triple that made it 12-1. Sloan then scored on a wild pitch and extended that lead to 13-1. Later on in the third, Maxx Mateer singled and Jaden Meyers drove in two with a hard shot triple to the fence. All 13 of Murrayhill's players reached base at least once.

Murrayhill has lost in the state championship game as a group the past two seasons in two separate nail biters against two great teams. A call here, a bounce there, and maybe it's a different story. Now it's time to make amends as Murrayhill travels to Bend for state.

"Murrayhill has a name," Erickson said. "They're known for being a great program. Everybody wants to play them and everyone wants to beat them. That being said, we just respect them and wish them luck at state. We'll be rooting for them hopefully all the way through Williamsport (site of the Little League World Series). I think they can do it."

Drew Levin pitched 12 innings over the course of the D4 tournament and allowed just one run. The right-hander is mature beyond his years in terms of attacking opposing hitters. Rather than rely on power, Levin moves the ball around like a seasoned veteran, never venturing into the middle of the plate, always nibbling the outer margins of the strike zone and getting hitters to bite. Batters can never seem to get a good swing on the Murrayhill ace, who has a pristine defense behind him, blanketing both the infield and outfield. Raleigh Hills took one day off from the end of the regular season until the championship game, hitting every day, preparing to face a pitcher of Levin's caliber. They simply couldn't get a read on him and finished the game with just three hits.

"He takes the Greg Maddux approach," Jesse Levin said. "He (throws) low-and-away, a couple inches outside, he's a groundball pitcher and his defense was phenomenal. We just kind of play our ball and don't veer from that."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Raleigh Hills pitcher Grady Keljo throws a pitch against Murrayhill in the District Four title game.

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