2012-03-29 / Sports

The Untouchables

Panther pitching duo pounds the strike zone
By Stephen Dorman


ONE-TWO PUNCH—Newbury Park High seniors Luke Eubank, left, and Chris Murphree have been the Marmonte League’s most dominant starting pitching duo this season. Combined, the pair allowed eight earned runs in its first 38 2/3 innings on the mound. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers ONE-TWO PUNCH—Newbury Park High seniors Luke Eubank, left, and Chris Murphree have been the Marmonte League’s most dominant starting pitching duo this season. Combined, the pair allowed eight earned runs in its first 38 2/3 innings on the mound. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers The great ones did their own dirty work.

Cy Young, Pud Galvin, Old Hoss Radbourn, Luis Tiant, Vida Blue, Nolan Ryan—these guys finished what they started.

In an age of relief specialists and lights-out closers, Newbury Park High’s baseball team has a pair of starting pitchers who are going old school on the Marmonte League.

In his first three starts of the season, NPHS senior right-hander Luke Eubank logged three complete games, going 3-0 with a 1.00 earned-run average.

One of his victories was a no-hitter against Loyola on March 3, only the second no-no in Panther history.

“I want to get my own win,” said Eubank, a Cal State Los Angeles commit. “I have a great defense to help behind me, but other than that it’s me determining if we win or lose.

“It doesn’t always play out like that, but I want to control my own game. Of course, if I’m not getting the job done someone will come in and help me, but that’s not how I want it to be.”

Entering the season, Eubank was a known commodity. Blessed with a nasty repertoire of offspeed pitches and a low-90s fastball, Eubank was penciled in as Newbury Park’s staff ace from Day 1.

Senior righty Chris Murphree, on the other hand, had to earn his spot in the Panthers’ rotation.

A standout travel-ball player as a kid, Murphree sat on the pine for most of his junior year. Arm injuries curtailed his development early in high school, and the Panther coaching staff didn’t know what to expect from Murphree this season.

Following a productive winter league campaign, however, Murphree landed the opening-day nod from the mound and has performed above and beyond expectations.

In three starts, Murphree is 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA. He went five innings against Lancaster, five and two-thirds innings in a win versus Chaminade and tossed a complete game at Moorpark.

“I pulled (Murphree) aside during the winter and said, ‘Look, you came in here and were supposed to be the next coming, and what’s happened is your career got sidetracked,’” NPHS head coach Matt Goldfield said.

“I told him that he has an opportunity to be one of the guys, but he had to go out and show me. And I’ll tell you, the kid has been unbelievable. He’s the reason why we are where we are.”

Newbury Park entered Wednesday’s league contest against Calabasas with a 6-1 overall record, 2-0 in the Marmonte.

Dominating starting pitching from Eubank and Murphree, an air-tight defense and a stacked lineup have the Panthers believing they can capture the program’s first league crown since 2006.

Eubank, 18, isn’t the most ballyhooed hurler in Ventura County— that honor goes to Camarillo lefty Hunter Virant— but he may be the county’s most effective pitcher.

Unwilling to give into opposing hitters in any situation, Eubank specializes in pitching backward, as in he’ll throw offspeed pitches in fastball counts and vice versa.

“ I can start a hitter with any pitch—fastball, curveball, changeup or slider,” he said. “If I’m ahead in the count and see that a hitter is late, I’ll throw a fastball right by them.

“My changeup works real well against lefties because it breaks away from them, so they just swing and miss. And my curveball, that’s probably my best pitch. That’s my out pitch. I can throw it any time I want to and command it well.”

Eubank’s slider could make Albert Pujols swing like Juan Uribe, hacking away with no contact in sight.

“Luke has a nice changeup and this slider that is probably one of the best pitches I’ve ever seen, caught or tried to hit,” said starting catcher Colton Waltner. “It’s just filthy. A batter can know what’s coming and still miss it—that’s how good his slider is.

“And to know that he has a 90-mile-per-hour fastball in his back pocket, you can tell hitters are just guessing against him.”

Murphree, 17, doesn’t throw as hard as Eubank—his fastball sits in the mid-80s—but is effective nonetheless.

When Murphree is at his best, he’s keeping the ball down in the strike zone and inducing a lot of ground-ball outs.

“Murph is really coming into his own,” said Waltner, a junior who has the freedom to call his own pitches from behind the dish.

“He hits his spots really well and lets guys put the ball in play.”

Following Eubank in the starting rotation has been a major source of motivation for Murphree.

“I have to make sure we do good on the days (Eubank) doesn’t pitch,” Murphree said. “I really want to hold my own out there and show people what I can do.”

Murphree heaped tons of praise on the Panther defense, saying it is the reason for his success.

Under the Marmonte’s new format, teams face each other twice in the same week. With Eubank starting the first game of a homeand home series, Murphree gets an upfront look at the opposing hitters he’s set to face two days later.

“As the No. 2 guy, I really like the setup,” Murphree said. “I get to watch all the hitters, and it’s a big advantage seeing what guys can and can’t do.”

Right now the league title appears to go through Newbury Park.

The Panthers’ advantage over the other seven teams is simple. Newbury Park has a pair of starters who believe in the ABCs of baseball: Always Be Closing.

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