Owen Murphy is nearing the final act of a memorable career.
The Riverside-Brookfield senior has helped lead the Bulldogs to 23 wins in their first 27 games, including an outright championship in the Metro Suburban Conference.
Murphy, a Notre Dame recruit and the 2021 Suburban Life Player of the Year, is leading the Bulldogs at the plate and on the mound.
R-B coach Dallas Till said Murphy has produced another memorable season while handling the pressure of being an elite recruit and the possibility of being selected in the upcoming MLB Draft. Murphy has been a constant force at the plate and on the mound, batting .532 with 11 doubles, three triples, 15 home runs and 61 RBIs to go with a .651 on-base percentage and a 1.989 OPS. On the mound, Murphy (7-0) has struck out 109 of the 145 batters he’s faced, allowing just eight hits in 44 1/3 innings.
“Owen has statistically had one of the best individual seasons in IHSA history,” Till said. “His contributions on the mound, in the field and at the plate are irreplaceable. Owen doesn’t feel pressure. He consistently performs at the highest level regardless of the opponent or situation. His demeanor and approach to the game stays consistent every day and he has been a great role model, leader and mentor.
“We feel truly fortunate to have him as a captain and appreciate all of his contributions to the program throughout his four years. Owen is a humble, selfless team-first player. He’s embraced the challenge and handled the exposure and perceived pressure like a true professional.”
Along with Murphy putting up monster numbers, Till said the Bulldogs have received a number of consistent contributions, noting the play of Jack Niekrasz, catcher Brian Twomey, Cooper Marrs, Sean McDermott, Ryan Novak, Connor Chapulis, Luke Yachnin, Rex Dockendorf, Wyatt Murphy and Jax Giampietro.
“We’ve had fantastic pitching all year long, led by Murphy and senior Jack Niekrasz,” Till said. “We’ve played solid defense behind them all season, but their ability to stay ahead of hitters and limit walks has been key. We have had timely hitting from all spots in the lineup and a great approach at the plate from one through nine in our order.
“Owen Murphy is obviously our catalyst, but baseball is a team sport and we have had stellar contributions from our entire pitching staff as well as our position players. We understand that we need to get runners on base, move them over and drive them in. Our pitchers realize that walks are hard to overcome and we try to make teams hit to get on. We have a number of great individual players, but the team realizes that in order to be successful it’s a collective effort and approach on a daily basis.”
Till said Wyatt Murphy, Novak, Marrs, Chapulis and Yachnin have become key standouts this season, meshing with the established veterans to form a solid and deep team.
“Acclimating to the speed of the varsity level can be a challenge and these are just a few of the players that have stepped up in a big way for us so far,” he said.
The Bulldogs open the Class 4A regionals against Argo on May 25. If the No. 3-seeded Bulldogs win, they will play Oak Park-River Forest or Young on May 28 in the regional finals.
“We have accomplished a few of our goals, but the next one is to win a regional championship,” Till said. “We’re currently the smallest school in 4A, so it will be a lofty task, but we feel we are up for the challenge. Anything after that will just be a bonus.”
Downers Grove North gearing up for the playoffs
Downers Grove North has been hit with the injury bug late in the regular season. The Trojans (15-12-1, 11-7 West Suburban Silver) have played without standout junior Ean Czech for almost a month. Then sophomore catcher Jimmy Janicki suffered an arm injury Saturday.
“Up until Saturday’s loss to Hinsdale Central, we had been playing pretty good baseball,” Downers Grove North coach Kyle Briscoe said. “We had won our last six in a row, but we lost our starting catcher. We’re hoping Ian can be back to full strength (soon). We gained one, but lost another.”
Outfielder George Wolkow, who reclassified from a sophomore to a junior, helped absorb some of the production loss from Czech’s absence. The South Carolina recruit is hitting .384 with three homers and 23 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .475.
“George has done a pretty good job,” Briscoe said. “He played as a freshman on varsity, been around the program a long time. We’ve not had any freshman play on varsity in a long time. He decided to reclassify, felt moving up a year would make him more attractive for the (MLB) draft. He’s had a solid year for us, been batting in the two-hole all year long and done a nice job and played well in right field.”
Sophomore shortstop Jude Warwick has become a regular in the starting lineup since being pulled up to the varsity at the midway point of the season. From the leadoff spot, Warwick has batted .458 in 28 plate appearances.
The Trojans have two regular-season games left before the start of the Class 4A playoffs. They open the postseason against rival Downers Grove South on May 25 in a Romeoville Regional semifinal.
“We lost a lot of tight games early in the season,” Briscoe said. “We’re in a tough sectional with a lot of depth. Overall, our offensive approach has been pretty solid all year long with our plan of attacking fastballs early in counts. We’ve faced some pretty good pitching in our conference, so that should help us in the playoffs.”