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Maidu Giants overcome Folsom National in TOC opener

Murphy stars on mound and at plate
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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The ending seemed to fit the story that unfolded all afternoon long Saturday as the Giants of Maidu Little League took a 6-5 victory over the Folsom National Braves in an opening round game at the District 54 major division Tournament of Champions at Kuntz Field in Folsom. Miscues were the order of the day, as both squads seemed to struggle with a case of the postseason jitters in a game that featured 11 errors and 11 hits, some of which could have been scored in the error column. In the end, two game-changing moments tilted the balance in favor of the kids from Maidu, all leading up to a decisive moment in which a pair of defensive miscues brought the contest to a sudden conclusion. Folsom National took advantage of its early opportunities, as Zach Richardson led off the game with a double, and then scored on a throwing error as he attempted to steal third base. The Braves tallied twice more on a bases-loaded two-run single by Colin Russell that followed a walk, a misplayed pop-up single and an error by the Giants. Summoned early from the bullpen, Maidu’s Michael Birch recorded a pair of strikeouts to escape further damage. With Folsom National pitcher Tanner Clark allowing just a Nolan Murphy single through the first three frames, his team had a chance to blow the game open in the third until a paperwork snafu stopped things in their tracks. After two errors put a pair of Braves’ runners aboard in the third, a walk appeared to jam the bags with just one out, but the Maidu coaching staff did its job and the tide was turned, as the runner was erased and called out for batting out of order. Instead of a bases-loaded, one out situation, the Braves were left with two on and two out, and Birch got the ensuing batter to roll one back to him for the inning ending out that kept the margin at three runs. Three walks and a Richardson two-bagger got Folsom National another run in the fourth, and a grounder to short led to defensive indecision for Maidu, allowed an additional tally. Down 5-0 with the bases juiced, the Giants summoned Murphy to put out the fire, and the right-hander delivered. Murphy sandwiched two strikeouts around a fielder’s choice force out at home on a nice play by Maidu’s David Trujillo at the hot corner, and pitched out of the mess with no more runners crossing the dish. A leadoff single by Murphy and a two-out run-scoring knock by Michael Oldenberg finally got Maidu on the board in the home half of the fourth, and then the Giants posted a crooked number in the fifth to back the outstanding relief effort by Murphy. He allowed just one hit and struck out six in three innings of work and kept his team in the game long enough to deliver the big blow himself. In game in which the defense was sometimes sloppy, Murphy distinguished himself with a strong performance on the mound, and catcher Sam Nichols also delivered a solid performance. “(Murphy was) pretty dominating,” said Maidu coach Chris Nichols. “Sam caught four solid innings behind the dish, getting dirty and taking bruises, and also a broken facemask compliments of a nasty foul ball.” Singles by Jacob Monsour and Wyatt Salinas started things well for the Giants in the fifth, and only a great catch in centerfield kept Birch from adding to the hot start. Two errors allowed a second run to score and put Jake Rodrigues on base for Murphy, who launched a game-tying two-run rocket over the left field barrier to square the contest. With the score deadlocked at 5-5 in the bottom of the sixth, Chase Hawkins drew a base on balls to open the stanza, and he would be the last official hitter in the game. The outfielder broke for second, and with no one covering for Folsom National, the catcher’s throw sailed into centerfield, allowing Hawkins to advance another 60 feet. In an attempt to stop his progress, the Braves’ centerfielder threw the ball in the direction of third, only to have his throw sail over the top and ricochet off of a fence pole and out into left field. With the ball loose in the outfield, Hawkins raced home with the game-winner, into the arms of his jubilant teammates. “(It was) a great team effort overall with the boys never once hanging their heads,” Nichols said “(They were) always up on the dugout fence and cheering their teammates on.” Maidu plays its second round game at 7 p.m. Sunday night at Kuntz Field against Divide, a team that will be playing its first tourney game after enjoying a first round bye.