Utica tops Birmingham-Bloomfield on USPBL opening day

Unicorns begin title defense with a victory

By: Timothy Pontzer | Shelby - Utica News | Published May 12, 2017

In front of a sold-out Jimmy John's Field, the United Shore Professional Baseball League kicked off its sophomore season May 11. The opener featured a rematch of last season's title match, as the reigning champs, the Utica Unicorns topped the Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers 4-0.

Utica pitcher Donny Murray earned the win, pitching five scoreless innings. He allowed two hits and struck out seven.

"I had a good rhythm, I was able to keep that flow the entire game, and I had great defensive play behind me tonight," Murray said. "It's a good building block for the team and the whole pitching staff, especially when we start the year with no runs allowed."

One of the top pitching prospects in the league, Murray earned a 2.47 ERA last year including tossing the USPBL's first-ever no hitter. Before the contest, he received a championship ring and was joined by his father after the game, who had flown in from Boston to see him start.

"It was really cool to be out here tonight, especially with my father here," Murray said. "It was a great atmosphere, truly a blast to be out on the mound. It is cool to be able to pitch in front of so many great fans and represent the team on Opening Day."

Murray's manager, Jim Essian, praised the right-hander's prowess.

"Donny really had it tonight, he threw nothing but strikes at the knees," Essian said. "He was in and out, just very efficient and never really got in trouble. We had good pitching overall, both in starting and relief."

A former skipper of the Chicago Cubs, Essian is in his first year at the helm of the Unicorns. After Murray, Essian's pitching staff only allowed three more hits to complete the shutout.

Utica outfielder Brandon Rawe delivered a two-RBI triple in the bottom of the fourth to take control.

"That was a timely hit by Brandon, we really needed that," Essian said. "We had some great defense and no errors or passed balls. We struck out a lot ourselves, but you expect that a bit when it is the first night, especially against their top starter, one of the top arms in the league."

Essian was referring to Beavers pitcher Randy Wynne who pitched four innings, giving up four hits, three runs, while striking out five. Jake Welch and Jared Koeing came on in relief, combining for only two hits allowed and seven more strikeouts.

"I think the pitching is going to be a strong point for us," said Birmingham-Bloomfield manager Chris Newell. "They hit one ball in the gap and the next thing you know we were down 2-0. It could've gone either way, but with the two pitchers going tonight, I thought whoever scored one run was going to win tonight."

Despite the loss, Newell is excited for what the season will bring.

"I feel real good about these guys, that's why they're here," he said. "Overall this was a great day for us and the entire league, another home run in terms of atmosphere and the fans. Baseball is a game made to be played every day, and I'm excited to get out there again."

The Beavers host the USPBL's newest club, the Westside Woolly Mammoths at 7:05 p.m. May 12; the Mammoths and Eastside Diamond Hoppers clash at 7:05 p.m. May 13; and the Unicorns and Diamond Hoppers meet at 1:35 p.m. May 14. All contests take place at Jimmy John's Field in Utica.