May 23, 2001
By Jack Williams
Someone asked Georgia Tech freshman whiz Matt Murton at what position he feels most comfortable on the baseball field. Murton answered like he usually does-with a bat in his hand.
“My most comfortable position is the batter’s box,” he said, without blinking an eye. “I played shortstop, catcher and the outfield in high school and Connie Mack games. I’m still learning to play the outfield here. But hitting is my favorite thing.”
The guy can say that again!
Aside from the wondrous Mark Teixeira who hit .453 while missing 44 games with a broken ankle, Murton led the 15th-ranked Yellow Jackets in hitting. The newcomer from McDonough, Ga., posted an average of .389 with seven home runs, 14 two-base hits and 35 runs batted in. He was even better in Atlantic Coast Conference games only, batting a lusty .414. He hit an even .500 in the ACC Tournament.
Tech head coach Danny Hall saluted Murton this week. “Matt has worked hard on his hitting,” the coach said. “After everybody else on the team has cleared out, he’s still out there taking his swings. He doesn’t swing at bad pitches and he rarely strikes out. He also has improved dramatically as an outfielder. I have confidence in Matt, and so does he.”
Murton and his Tech teammates go on the firing line again this weekend when play begins in the NCAA Tournament. The Jackets (41-18) take on Coastal Carolina (40-18) in a Regional opener in Athens, Ga. on Friday at 1 p.m. Host team Georgia (41-18) plays Georgia Southern (41-18) in a game Friday night at 7 p.m. The double-elimination competition continues Saturday and Sunday.
Murton, for one, likes the draw the Jackets received. “It’s a great situation for college baseball, placing three teams from the State of Georgia in the same Regional,” he said. “I like the idea of putting emphasis on intra-state rivalries. But all of our focus now is on Coastal Carolina and nothing else. I have confidence we can be a factor in the NCAA if we play up to our potential.”
Confidence is a word that Murton uses often. He says the fact that he was at his best in big ACC games was not surprising to him. “I put pressure on myself to play my best in the biggest games,” he said. “That’s a carry-over from high school and Connie Mack baseball. For some reason, I am a better hitter when I go against the best pitchers.”
Coach Hall says Murton’s key to success is no secret. “He’s got a quick bat and he’s very strong,” the coach said. “He can hit the ball to the opposite field, and that’s rare for a freshman. He also runs very well for a big guy.”
Murton used his speed (6.75 in the 60) to beat out a good number of infield hits this season. “Despite my size, I have an explosive start and run very well the first 30 yards,” he said. “That is what it takes to get from home to first base so that gives me a chance to beat out grounders.”
Looking back at his first Tech season, Murton says there have been a number of highlights. “I’ve been very blessed,” he said. “There were a lot of wonderful moments. One came when I got my first college hit in a game at Georgia Southern. Against Georgia State, I hit two home runs and drove in six runs all in the same inning. In the ACC Tournament, I was fortunate to drive in what proved to be the winning run against Florida State.”
Murton says the early-season injury to Teixeira cost the Jackets dearly. “He’s such a big part of our offense,” Murton said. “Losing Mark really hurt. When he’s in the lineup, it allows our other players to get better pitches. That’s one of the big reasons he was missed so much. But Mark is back now and so I hope we can get back to where Tech was at this stage last season.”
Hitting always has been a Murton trademark. All you need to do us check the numbers he has put up throughout his career. He was a four-year letterman at Eagles Landing High School. As a senior he hit .551 with 11 home runs, 12 doubles and 41 runs batted in. Then in the summer of 1999, he helped guide the East Cobb Yankees to the Connie Mack World Series Championship, hitting .429 with 14 home runs and 52 runs RBIs.
“I have been blessed with talent,” Murton says. “But what really prepared me for college baseball was playing in Connie Mack ball. That was like playing against college opposition.”
Murton grew up in Florida and was a fan of Florida State in his early days. “When we moved to Georgia, I started following the Georgia Tech program more closely,” he said. “I was recruited by a number of schools and narrowed it to four – Tech, Georgia, Clemson and Tulane. I finally picked Tech over Clemson because I was so impressed with the Tech coaches and players.”
The Tech freshman comes from an athletic family. “My dad (Bill) was a catcher in baseball and a running back in football at Baldwin Wallace,” Murton said. “I enjoy playing tennis these days with my father. He’s still winning. My mother (Sue) used to play tennis.”
Matt’s 17-year old sister, Sarah, plays basketball and throws the discus in track and field at Eagles Landing. His 15-year-old brother, Luke, plays basketball, baseball and football at Eagles Landing.
When he’s not involved with baseball or his academic pursuits (he majors in management), Murton spends a lot of time involved in projects at his church, First Baptist in his hometown.
Right now, however, he has little on his mind except the NCAA Tournament. “I think sometimes we tend to get caught up too much on who we are playing,” he said. “We just need to play our game and perform up to our potential.”
It will help, of course, if Murton continues to hit the ball like he did during the regular season. He’s lined up, ready to play in his favorite position – the batter’s box.