They believed in themselves. Pure and simple.
And of the 22 Blue Devil ball players, maybe no one believed more than spark plug Joe Murray.
“Our success may be a surprise for some people, but we expect success on our team,” the senior infielder tells The Enterprise. “Every guy, since Day 1, has believed that we can be as successful as we want to be.”
Murray says it’s that confidence — during the good, bad and ugly — that has seen Davis High roll to a 21-6 mark while winning the Delta Valley Conference title in dramatic fashion.
A 3-2 victory Tuesday gave the Devils their second win in three outings against Elk Grove and allowed the locals to finish with a 14-1 league mark, one game ahead of the Thundering Herd.
Davis started fast, struggled at the Fresno tournament, then ripped off 13 straight victories before losing a mercy-rule decision to Elk Grove last week — making Tuesday’s game ultra-dramatic, all-important.
“This year has been special, thanks to the great group of guys who I’m fortunate to go out with every day and play the game I love,” Murray continues. “We’ve bought into the team-first attitude.
“We may not have all the big names like some other schools, but we’ve got guys out here that want to win.”
Fashioning parts of his game after his favorite players, Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson and Woodland’s Dustin Pedroia (Boston Red Sox), Murray says, “Henderson because of his body of work with his power, speed and overall swagger … Pedroia because he’s an inspiration to little guys like me.”
Murray, listed at 5-foot-8 on the Blue Devil roster, has carved some mighty large numbers during a brilliant season that has given him the opportunity to play Division I baseball at Loyola Marymount (Los Angeles) next spring.
While hitting .423, Murray has been a rock at second base and has joined freshman shortstop Ryan Kreidler to form one of the region’s top keystone combinations. Murray leads the team in runs scored (28) and trails Chris Daunt and Kreidler (each with 21) by one for RBI honors — another lofty achievement, considering Murray usually leads off.
Murray has stolen bases on 16-of-19 attempts while walking 13 times and he’s been plunked by another seven pitches for a .535 on-base percentage.
All this while missing a handful of games with a shoulder injury and the last 13 innings of the regular season due to an unfortunate base-path collision last Friday at Elk Grove.
“He’s been our leader: offensively, defensively, energy-wise. He’s just our leader,” DHS coach Dan Ariola says of Murray. “He means a lot to us.”
Anything surprising about the kid’s contributions?
“Not at all,” adds the coach. “I started coaching Joe when he was 8 years old (on a 2004 travel ball team). I knew way back then what kind of player and guy he was.”
Murray is no one-trick pony. He’s a terrific basketball player who, a couple of years ago, chose to leave that game in the driveway.
“I think the decision to quit basketball was tougher on my parents than me,” the oldest of three brothers says with a laugh. “They always thought it was good to cross-train and stay active by playing different sports in the offseason.
“With baseball, I love every aspect of the sport: the games, the practices, the camaraderie and the life lessons that can be taught.
“It ended up being a pretty easy decision.”
The son of Esterlyn and Ken Murray, Joe has two brothers — seventh-grader Gabe and fourth-grader Luke, both budding prep athletes.
And this sports-minded family is dipped in Green-and-Gold, Oakland A’s fans through and through …
“My mom was born and raised in Oakland and my grandpa has been an A’s fan since he came to the U.S. from the Philippines,” Joe explains. “(Being an A’s fan) was just something I was born into, and now I bleed Green-and-Gold.”
Murray says it’s nice to know there are other A’s fans among his Blue Devil pals — Bobby Young, Adam Inouye and Drew Gnos also are aligned with Oakland.
Beyond sports, Murray is a history buff …
“I like the idea that there’s just no way to know everything that’s ever happened in the world because everyone has their own unique story,” ponders the 3.8 GPA student. “I also like writing, but with baseball, it’s hard to fit much else into my schedule.”
At LMU, Murray will pursue a political science degree.
However, with the do-or-die first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs at hand next Thursday (7 p.m. vs. an opponent to be determined at Sacramento City College), college, the A’s and driveway basketball can all wait.
“Our team is a family. We have gelled and come together through the course of the year,” Murray says. “It has been an awesome thing to experience.
“As for the postseason? I don’t see anything holding us back from putting a section title banner up. Do you?”
No, Joe. Everyone in Devil Nation now believes.
Notes: Before Tuesday’s thrilling 3-2 win over The Herd (thank you Matt Trask for yet another walk-off hit), eight senior Davis players were honored in a brief ceremony. All eight are headed to college, many continuing on the diamond. Those honored (in addition to Murray) were pitchers Manny Guerrero (Gonzaga), Jake Miille (Stevens Institute or Chico State), Adam Inouye (Sonoma State), Sander Richardson (Sonoma State), pitcher/infielder Bobby Young (UC San Diego), outfielder Chris Daunt (Cal Poly) and catcher Hayden Duer (Cal State Monterey Bay). … After almost no consideration of an Elk Grove protest during Tuesday’s game, CIF announced the outcome stands and, as expected, Davis is the DVC champ, according to DHS Athletic Director Dennis Foster.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.