John Murphy’s ERA nearly touched double-digits in 11 innings pitched as a freshman two years ago, but the right-hander emerged as a sophomore last season. The Merchantville, New Jersey, native displayed a drastic improvement from one year to the next, striking out 27 hitters in 31.2 innings and dropping his ERA to a bullpen-best 1.71.
His emergence was never as obvious than in the postseason, when he recorded 12 strikeouts in several high-pressure situations, more than any other Terps reliever. In a tie game against Purdue, with the Terps facing elimination from the Big Ten Tournament, Maryland sent Murphy to the mound in the sixth inning with two runners on base. He struck out the first Boilermaker he faced, and after issuing an intentional walk, struck out the next two hitters to leave the bases loaded.
How bout a little magic from Murph! Strikes out the side to leave them loaded.#DirtyTerps https://t.co/vBwH6ql159
— Maryland Baseball (@TerpsBaseball) May 26, 2017
Murphy’s day didn’t end there, though, as he allowed just one hit in three innings while finishing with six strikeouts. Kevin Smith’s three-run double in the eighth put the Terps up 5-2, a lead that held, and gave Murphy the win.
After beating Nebraska the next day to keep their tournament hopes alive, the Terps called upon No. 37 again, this time against Northwestern. Similar to Murphy’s prior outing, he came into the game with the score tied. The right-hander tossed a scoreless seventh inning, setting up a four-run bottom half to give the Terps a 9-5 lead.
Murphy held the Wildcats scoreless in the final two frames to close out the game, finishing with another pair of strikeouts. While the Terps lost the next day in a rematch with Northwestern in the semifinals, Murphy finished the tournament 2-0 with six innings pitched, two hits allowed and eight strikeouts.
Maryland came one game shy of the Big Ten Championship game, but its three wins in the tournament might have been the deciding factor for a third NCAA Tournament berth in the last four years. After losing the opening game to West Virginia in the Winston-Salem Regional, the Terps beat UMBC in an elimination game, setting up another game against the Mountaineers.
The Terps led 2-0 in the top of the fourth when Murphy trotted out from the bullpen in an awfully familiar situation: with the bases loaded and nobody out. In dominant fashion, Murphy did it again, striking out the next three hitters to thwart the threat. An emphatic celebration ensued.
MURPH IS A MAGICIAN!
Three Ks to get out of a bases loaded jam! #DirtyTerps pic.twitter.com/tgpoiUalL6
— Maryland Baseball (@TerpsBaseball) June 4, 2017
Maryland eventually lost the game, 8-5, and was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament to end its season. Murphy, though, finished the postseason with his only two wins of the season and 12 strikeouts in nine innings, including striking out the side twice to strand the bases loaded. It was a magical run from the right-hander, and he’ll be poised to replicate that success as a leader in this year’s bullpen.