By David Willis
---- — Even with all the stats, even after all of the hits and outstanding innings on the mound, Ben Murphy still struggles to grasp this summer.
“Going back to where I was a few years ago,” said Murphy. “Going back to getting cut, I really can’t picture myself where I am now. It has been one amazing summer.”
Cut from the JV baseball team just two years ago, a JV player as a junior and strictly a pitcher for Andover High this season, Murphy has emerged as the top hitter and a go-to pitcher for the Andover Legion team this season.
“He’s been more than a surprise,” said Post 8 coach Joe Iarrobino. “He wasn’t on the club this season, but this year he has done so much. He is willing to do anything asked from him and he wants the baseball.”
Heading into the week, Murphy was hitting a team-high .396, while striking out 31 with a 0.35 ERA in 19 2/3 innings on the hill.
“I had a great time during the high school season,” said Murphy. “But once I got to the Legion team everything kind of just came together. It has really been great.”
Murphy could never have anticipated this emergence in the spring of 2010, when he was cut from the JV team and was encouraged to move on from baseball.
“It was really tough to get cut,” he said. “My parents really wanted me to do something else, like join the volleyball team. But I couldn’t see myself going away from baseball.”
Instead, he became the manager for the JV team, and continued to work on his skills. A year later, he earned a spot on the JV team, and began to find some success.
But Murphy felt like far from a lock to make the varsity team this spring.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to make it coming into the season. But then I had a few good pitching appearances in the preseason and I started to get confident.
“Coach (Dan) Grams called me in for a meeting and told me I had made the team as a pitcher. I was so happy I made it that I didn’t care what my role was.”
Murphy earned the closer role for the Golden Warriors, appearing in 10 games and notching a pair of saves, including one against rival Central Catholic. He then showed his versatility late in the season, taking over at catcher for the final three games of the season after an injury to regular backstop Brian Ganci.
“I go to a lot of the high school’s games and loved how versatile he was,” said Iarrobino. “He isn’t overpowering, but he had a good slider and changeup and was willing to play catcher, third base, outfield. He did anything asked of him.”
But it was when Legion season arrived that Murphy truly flourished, both as a pitcher and a hitter.
“I was pretty confident I was going to pitch,” he said. “But it wasn’t until the start that I knew I was going to be able to hit. I was nervous, but soon I got into the swing of things. But I didn’t expect this kind of success.”
Through Sunday he led Post 8 with a .396 average (21 for 53) and had struck out the fewest of any hitter in the order, batting first lower in the order before moving to the No. 2 spot and playing outfield, DH and serving as backup catcher.
On the mound, he had allowed just five hits and walked only five in 19 2/3 innings, while striking out a whopping 31. He had not pitched for the last two weeks because of a hip pointer.
“I know I’m not an overpowering pitcher,” said the 5-foot-11, 150-pounder. “I throw a fastball in the low 80’s, a slider and a curve. I throw a lot of strike, and I release the ball from behind my head so it is hard for batters to pick up.”
But his most memorable outing was his 9 2/3 inning relief outing in which he retired 28 of the 30 batters he faced and struck out 16.
“We definitely were not expecting this from him,” said Iarrobino. “But he has been unbelievable. He is a great team player, a great contact hitter and wants to be out there. If he gets stronger, he can be a very good college player.”
Murphy will next refine his skills in a postgrad year at the Pomfret School, and is already in discussion with Division 2 and 3 colleges about 2014 and beyond.
“I am so happy to be out here doing well,” he said. “I definitely want to play in college. I never wanted to give up on the sport.”
David Willis is a sportswriter/videographer for The Andover Townsman.