New coach Murray set to lead Riverview baseball
Each workout this winter was a chance for Riverview's baseball team to learn a little more about new coach Bill Murray.
At the same time, he studied them.
Hired in December to replace a longtime coach, Murray quickly got to work figuring out his roster and the skill set of each player. He studied all he could find, and even located a three-year-old scorebook for hints.
“I really didn't know these kids at all,” said Murray, who even checked the box score from when he faced Riverview as Highlands' junior varsity coach three seasons ago. “There are a lot of these kids that I really didn't get to know until late February into early March.”
So far, he's found a team light on numbers but with a solid senior core that reached the WPIAL semifinals as freshmen. The 16-player group has five seniors, three juniors, five sophomores and three freshmen.
To maximize the roster, Murray stressed position flexibility.
“Being that we're so young and have a lot of moving pieces, everybody's learning infield and outfield positions,” Murray said. “They have to be ready to play anywhere.”
Murray's arrival was an adjustment for a program that saw veteran Rick Griser resign as coach after 16 years. Griser built a 184-122-2 record at Riverview, reached the WPIAL finals once, the semifinals three times and won four section titles.
“He runs it a lot different than coach Griser did in the past,” said senior catcher Jake Hanus, noting some different drills and techniques. “Some kids would argue that we did something different last year, but who cares how you did it last year?”
Murray, who played college baseball at Slippery Rock, is a self-described disciplinarian but not a yeller, he said. He likes lively practices and scrimmages often.
“At first I thought (the transition) was going to be hard,” senior center fielder Brandon Davis said. “Coach Murray came in and changed some stuff, but I think it was all for the better.”
Now, Hanus and Davis are team anchors. The right-handers will lead the team's pitching staff. Each was a key contributor a year ago when Riverview finished 7-11 overall, 2-8 in Class A, Section 4. This year the Raiders moved to Class 2A.
Another top pitcher is senior Jake Anderson, a lefty who missed his junior season to injury. Anderson also can handle first base or a corner outfield spot.
Murray anticipated a deeper roster this season, but some would-be holdovers from last year's roster didn't rejoin the team.
“We had a number of guys who didn't come back,” Murray said. “I told the guys that are playing now, ‘We're not worried about who's not playing. My job is the guys who are playing.' … There are a lot of kids who didn't play much varsity last year that are going to get a lot of playing time this year.”
Murray embraces a build-up-the-middle approach for his defense. That success will rely on sophomore shortstop Ben Blacksmith, who started some games as a freshman, and junior second baseman Jordan Zatawski.
“I'm getting to know these kids by putting them into game situations and seeing how they react,” Murray said. “That's really all you can do with a new squad.”