Jamie Murray always has a lot to say and do.
Ask the Jacobs baseball coach a question and he is likely, in baseball parlance, to spray to all fields and talk for five minutes. At practices or in games, he rarely is in one spot for long, constantly looking for something to do or some advice he can offer to a player.
“He’s definitely full of information,” Golden Eagles senior designated hitter Aaron Meciej said. “He’s always doing something; he’s never just standing there. He’s always walking somewhere or talking to someone. He wants to get us prepared.”
The high-energy coach led his team to a 21-11 regular-season record, which marked a school record for victories, although the Eagles finished sixth in the tough Fox Valley Conference Valley Division at 11-8. But their best baseball came in the postseason.
Jacobs won its first regional in school history and advanced to the Class 4A Rockford Supersectional before being knocked out. And for the Eagles’ historic run, Murray is the Northwest Herald Baseball Coach of the Year, selected by the sports staff with input from area coaches.
“The outcome goals – 25 wins, first regional, first sectional – people talk about that,” Murray said. “Jacobs has been around 38 years. What makes this group special is they were the best team at Jacobs. They may not have been the most talented group in the history of Jacobs, but they were the best team. And that’s what I think we’ll remember the 2013 team for, being able to fulfill those outcome goals.”
While Murray lauded his players over and over for “buying what the coaches are selling,” the players appreciated what he brought as well.
“[Murray] had a big role,” senior catcher Greg Sidor said. “Playing for him is a lot of fun. He doesn’t get down on you when you make mistakes. He’ll pull you to the side and tell you what to do next time. I liked how he did that, and a lot of other people did, too.”
Murray, a former pitcher at Bradley, was in his second year at Jacobs. He thought the Eagles’ 3-2 eight-inning victory over Hononegah in the Huntley Sectional semifinal was a snapshot of what they were about. Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth, Connor Conzelman worked a walk and four consecutive bunts later, Jacobs was headed to the sectional championship.
“A lot of teams could have thought they were done,” Murray said. “That, to me, was the defining moment of everything we put in as a staff. We fought back and bunted our way to a win. That tells you they think about the team and not themselves.”
Meciej said the players did not mind when practices occasionally went well over the allotted time because they understood how badly Murray wanted them to get it right.
“He really wanted us to work hard and win this year,” Meciej said. “It really paid off because we’d have what was supposed to be a two-hour practice and it would end up being 31/2 hours. We would constantly go over the basics and try to get everything down so we wouldn’t make any errors or have problems in games.”
By tournament time, the Eagles were on top of their game. Starters Evan Blunk and Nick Ledinsky were sharp, the offense scored early and usually often, and the defense was solid.
“We have $30,000 spent on Iron Mike [pitching machines] and turf and batting cages, and the last couple weeks of the season we started swinging the bats there,” Murray said. “I said to the kids, ‘You guys smell something?’ They’re like, ‘What?’ I said, ‘It smells like a lot of confidence around here.’ They’d laugh.”
The Eagles did not need a great deal of convincing, Murray said, that they could be a postseason threat.
St. Charles East, behind starter Matt Starai, eliminated Jacobs, 7-2, one game short of the state tournament. The Eagles took some consolation in the fact it took possibly the best pitcher they saw this season to knock them out.
“I’m really proud of those seniors and what they meant to our program,” Murray said. “They won over 90 games, they’re winners, on and off the field. They bought into good pitching, play good fundamental defense and get some timely hits. As coaches, we’re proud of them because they did all the things we asked.”