Inside LU Athletics: Murray powers Vikings’ offense and pitching staff

Posted on: April 18th, 2012 by Joseph Vanden Acker

They broke the cardinal rule, but the sporting gods were on the side of pitcher Shannon Murray.

The Lawrence University softball team was in the midst of blowing out Grinnell College last Saturday at the Midwest Conference Classic when pitching coach Ron Harke asked head coach Kim Tatro what she thought about pulling Murray. The Vikings were in the first of three games on Saturday, and Murray would definitely be needed to pitch later in the day.

“We were talking about making a change in the fourth inning,” Tatro said, “and I said, ‘You know she’s got a no-hitter going.’ ”

Tatro figured that would jinx it, but Murray cruised through the rest of the contest to post her second career no-hitter and only the third in Lawrence history. It is the latest highlight this season for Murray, who leads the team in hitting and is the Vikings’ top pitcher.

“To be honest, it would not have been possible without the entire team,” a modest Murray said of her no-hitter. “We shut them down defensively, and offensively we hit the ball right away.”

It’s her offense that makes Murray very unique among softball pitchers. A junior from Lawrenceville, Ga., Murray leads the team with a .441 batting average, but she is far from a singles hitter. Murray has a team-high eight doubles, is tied for the team lead with two triples and has a team-best 19 runs batted in.

“In terms of being pretty dominant in both areas, that doesn’t happen very often,” Tatro said. “Pitchers often grow up with the mindset that they are going to pitch, and that’s what they’re going to do well. They don’t often become the type of hitter that Shannon is where you can hit for power and hit for average. From that standpoint, she’s pretty unique.”

Murray is oblivious to the numbers she’s posting. In five games last week, the young woman from Georgia nicknamed Peach by her teammates hit a blistering .571 and had a 1.000 slugging percentage.

“To be honest, I don’t really keep up with the numbers. It takes the fun out of the game for me,” Murray said. “I couldn’t tell you if it was my best season, but it’s been productive. I try to go up there and do what’s productive for the team.”

Murray also has been the workhorse of the pitching staff by throwing 80.1 of of Lawrence’s 131 innings this season.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to throw a no-hitter is pretty special,” Tatro said. “The mindset was to get the day off on a good note and get Shannon going. The idea to start the day was to throw her and then come in with someone else if we got a lead.”

The no-hitter threw a wrench in those plans, but that’s not the first time this season the Vikings have seen the best-laid plans altered. Murray was expected to form a great 1-2 pitching punch with senior Emily Perish, but an injury has sidelined Perish for the nearly a month.

“It’s definitely different without Em,” Murray said. “We came into the season not knowing what the freshmen were going to be like. The two freshmen have done a great job of stepping up. As a pitching staff, we’re a good working team.”

Perish’s injury has left Murray as the staff ace with freshmen Kara Vance and Liz Barthels lending a hand. Murray, who hasn’t pitched with a lot of luck this season (almost one-third of the runs she has allowed are unearned), is 5-8 with a 4.36 earned runs average.

“When Shannon came in, we were equally impressed with her skills from an offensive and defensive perspective,” Tatro said. “She has evolved into a team leader and one of the most competitive players we have on our team come game time.”

That competitive fire has left Murray wanting more this season. The young Vikings have struggled to a 6-15 record, but Murray believes the team is capable of piling up some victories.

“Sometimes we’re thinking so much about what we need to do on the field that we’re not doing it,” Murray said. “We’re focusing on just playing and just doing. If we can do that, we will start to have some more wins.”

The Vikings enter a busy stretch where they will play 12 games in the next 11 days.

Stormy weather

The Midwest Conference Classic was canceled after one day of play in Waukegan, Ill., this past weekend. The Classic pits the North Division teams against their South Division rivals and the games count in the conference standings. Because all of Sunday’s scheduled play was washed out and will not be made up, all three of Saturday’s games will not count in the conference standings.

Aces in the house

Ironically, the only other player in Lawrence softball history to toss a no-hitter, Lauren Kost, just happened to be at Murray’s no-hitter against Grinnell. Kost, a 2005 Lawrence graduate, lives in the Chicago area and went to the MWC Classic, which was being played in Waukegan, Ill., for the first time.

Streaking Vikings

The Lawrence baseball team has run its win streak to six games, and that is the longest season winning streak for the Vikings (10-12) since 1980. The 1980 squad won seven straight, and the longest win streak is nine games, which began at the end of the 1988 season and continued into the start of the 1989 season.

Vikings sweep honors

Lawrence baseball standouts Gabe Henriques and Atley Gay swept the Midwest Conference Performer of the Week awards. Henriques, a junior infielder from Chicago, Ill.,was named Player of the Week, and Gay, a freshman right-hander from Manitowoc, Wis., was chosen as Pitcher of the Week.

Henriques led Lawrence to a 6-0 record on the week by hitting .500 (10-for-20) with seven runs batted in. Henriques scored 10 runs and collected two doubles, a triple and a homer.

Gay picked up his first collegiate win and his first collegiate save during the week. Gay went the distance in Lawrence’s 11-1 win at Finlandia University this past Saturday to get his first win. He allowed two hits, struck out four and didn’t walk a batter. Gay earned his first save by pitching the final inning of Lawrence’s 8-5 victory over the Milwaukee School of Engineering last Wednesday.

Tennis records fall

Lawrence women’s tennis star Beth Larson broke one school record last Saturday, and the Vikings tied another in a 9-0 nonconference victory over Concordia (Wis.) University at the Lawrence Courts.

Larson, Lawrence’s No. 1 singles player, beat Concordia’s Meagan Harrington 6-3, 6-2, to record her 22nd victory of the season. That breaks the record of 21 set by Appleton native Linda Tomtshak in 1985.

Lawrence (13-7) picked up its 13th dual meet victory of the season and that ties the mark set by the Vikings in 2005 and 2008.

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