• Bulldogs junior Lucas Barolet has given pitchers ulcers this season in his role as Murphy’s leadoff man, including a 4-for-5 game in Saturday’s 1A Western Regional Championship-clinching game against Lincoln Charter. Photo by KEVIN HENSLEY
    Bulldogs junior Lucas Barolet has given pitchers ulcers this season in his role as Murphy’s leadoff man, including a 4-for-5 game in Saturday’s 1A Western Regional Championship-clinching game against Lincoln Charter. Photo by KEVIN HENSLEY

Bulldogs ready to battle for state title

    There is only one obstacle standing between Murphy baseball and its first-ever state championship: the West Columbus Vikings.
    Murphy (No. 1 seed) will be the home team for the 1A state championship series against West Columbus (No. 6), which begins Friday at Burlington Athletic Stadium.
    The Vikings are 20-9 this season and finished the season in second place in the 1A/2A Three Rivers Conference. They came from behind to win the final two games of the 1A Eastern Regional Series against Riverside, with respective 13-8 and 11-0 triumphs to their credit.
    West Columbus’ pitching ace is junior Cole Benton, who has seven wins, two complete games and one no-hitter to his credit.
    But it is highly unlikely that Benton and the rest of the Vikings have faced a line-up quite as formidable as the Bulldogs.
    Collectively, Murphy is batting .417 this season, with 26 home runs and 292 runs driven in. The pitching staff has a 1.29 ERA and 285 strikeouts to its credit, while the Bulldogs have successfully swiped 54 stolen bases throughout the campaign.
    A team stocked with 10 seniors has overwhelmed the competition this year, outscoring the opposition 341-42. Royce Peterson currently has a .536 average, with eight home runs, two grand slams and 58 RBI on his resume.
    Caleb Irwin (9-1, 1.43 ERA, four complete games) and Nathan Barolet (6-0, 0.69 ERA, two complete games, two saves, one no-hitter) have consistently been at the forefront of the pitching rotation, with Irwin alone fanning 100 batters.
    Murphy and West Columbus will be sharing the stadium with the 3A state series between Crest and New Hanover, with the 1A series following this schedule:
    * Game 1: Friday, 8 p.m.
    * Game 2: Saturday, 2 p.m.
    * Game 3 (if necessary): Saturday, 8 p.m.
    * If the 3A series wraps up in two games and Murphy/West Columbus needs a third game, Game 3 will be played Saturday at 5 p.m.
    The best-of-3 series will be broadcast on the NFHS Network, which is available on nfhsnetwork.com for a fee of $9.95.