When Justin Murphy was a youngster on Spokane’s North Side, he was always looking up. And what he saw inspired him.
“We live just over here,” Murphy said last week at Spokane Falls Community College, pointing vaguely north, “so planes fly right over our house into the airport. Ever since I was this tall I wanted to fly.”
Growing up in Spokane International’s flight pattern proved to be the impetus for his future vocation. Nearing completion of Community Colleges of Spokane’s aviation program, Murphy already has his pilot certificate and has been rated for three types of aircraft en route to his goal of becoming a commercial airline pilot.
But it was summer baseball that opened the door to his avocation.
While pitching and playing first base for the Spokane Blue Devils, Murphy caught the eye of CCS assistant coach Tony Byrne, who also doubles as the Blue Devils summer coach.
“I wanted to play ball if I could,” Murphy said. “Coach Byrne said they had a spot if I’m interested, so I kinda went for it.”
But school came first, so Murphy, who played for and graduated from North Central High, skipped the Sasquatch’s fall program while getting his feet planted in the aviation program.
“Just before winter break Coach Byrne gave me another call and said if I was interested in coming out, there was still a spot,” Murphy said. “My schedule was a little easier in the winter quarter.”
“I didn’t know him,” said CCS coach Bobby Lee, who was also a newcomer at the school last year. “I had no clue. He has just a great big, good-looking physical body. His delivery is just real easy, deceptive, (his fastball) might be 83, 84 (mph) but it’s just so loose and smooth, it just gets on you.”
Lee got to know Murphy pretty quickly as the 6-foot-2 right-hander made his mark on the mound with two wins, three saves, a 1.48 earned run average and filled in at first base.
The mound work was just a warm-up for this season.
Murphy has emerged as one of the Sasquatch’s most reliable late-inning performers, winning five games – CCS is 19-15 – and saving two more. His ERA is 1.89 and he has an 18-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s also hitting .308 when given a shot at the plate.
“He’s a very reliable strike thrower,” Lee said. “You can say, ‘Murph, we need a fastball in,’ and he delivers when he has to do that. He’s solid in his mechanics and in his ability to repeat pitches.”
“I’ve just been the right man in the right spot, I guess,” Murphy said.
Being in the right spot has earned Murphy a nickname, one named after a bird. But it has nothing to do with his love of flying.
“He’s vultured a few (wins),” Lee said, citing a moniker given to relief pitchers for years. It refers to one who lets a lead die, before swooping in and gaining the win. “But he’s been solid. We’ve used him in the backside of games because we’ve really placed a huge emphasis on the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.”
Murphy prefers what his teammates call him.
“The joke of the team is that I’m the team sniper. I snipe wins from everybody,” he said. “It’s been pretty cool, with the number of innings I have (19) to be fortunate to get those wins.
Whatever the name, Murphy has earned a look at the next level. He’s already been accepted at the University of North Dakota, where Murphy will continue his studies with the goal of becoming a commercial pilot. But he may have to spend some time grounding a few rallies first.
“I’ve been in contact with the baseball coaches,” Murphy said. “They’re fairly interested in the pitching aspect and they like the thought I can swing it a little too.”
Whitworth sophomore Landon Scott raised his average to .448 over the weekend and leads the Northwest Conference in hitting, just ahead of Linfield’s Kelson Brown (.445). Scott has a chance to be the first Pirate to lead the NWC in hitting since the conference began keeping statistics in the 1990s. The Pirates finish the season this weekend by hosting Whitman. Scott needs to go at least 9 for 9 to break the school record of .479 set by Ryan Clements in 1987.
Doug Cherry hit two of Washington’s five home runs Wednesday to power the Huskies (21-19) to a 12-4 nonconference win over Gonzaga (14-28-1) at Husky Ballpark in Seattle.
Cherry went 8 for 9 during the split two-game series.
Gonzaga tied the game at 2 on Clayton Eslick’s RBI double in the fourth, then knotted the game at 4 on Tyler Chism’s RBI single in the fifth. Washington responded with a three-run fifth.
•Austin Chamberlin went 3 for 4 and Chris Allen earned the win as Community Colleges of Spokane (19-15, 7-11 NWAACC) defeated host Wenatchee Valley 9-4 to earn a split.
The Knights (7-24, 5-13) won the opener 15-4 as Tyler Pavel went 4 for 4.
Jake Graham and Quinn Holt were 3 for 4 for CCS in the opener.