Cougars’ Murray red-hot entering NCAA tourney

College of Charleston outfielder Brandon Murray is batting .528 (19 of 36) with 11 RBIs over the last eight games for the Cougars, who play Georgia Tech on Friday.

Legend has it that baseball began in the Bahamas in the 1940s when American sailors, docked in the port at Nassau, went ashore with their bats and gloves. Cricket star Andre Rogers became the first major league player from the island nation in 1957, making his big-league debut just five years after he first saw a baseball.

Rogers’ career — he succeeded Ernie Banks at shortstop for the Cubs — fueled a baseball boom in the Bahamas, which is located off the coast of Florida and north of Cuba. Six Bahamians have played in the majors, and during the 1960s and 70s, baseball was arguably the most popular sport on the island.

“Baseball used to be big in the Bahamas,” said College of Charleston sophomore Brandon Murray, who grew up in Nassau. “Then it sort of declined, but we’re trying to bring it back to where we can compete with other Caribbean nations.”

If the Bahamas keeps producing players like Murray, a 5-10, 200-pound outfielder, it might soon be competitive with baseball-mad countries like Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Murray is the hottest hitter on College of Charleston’s roster heading into the third-seeded Cougars’ date with No. 2 Georgia Tech on Friday in the NCAA regionals in Gainesville, Fla.

The left-handed hitter is batting a cool .528 (19 of 36) over the last eight games, with 11 RBIs, four doubles, one triple and one home run in that span. In the space of three weeks, Murray raised his batting average from .276 to .324 to go with 12 homers and 39 RBIs, earning second-team All-Southern Conference honors.

“He’s come so far from the beginning of the season,” said Cougars senior Rob Harding.

Murray has come a long way, in general. The product of a prominent Bahamian baseball family — his grandfather was one of the island’s best-known pitchers, and his father Bertram played at Kentucky State and works with the Bahamas Baseball Federation — Brandon left home at age 14 to move to Florida, seeking education and baseball opportunities.

On the advice of a family friend, he enrolled at Trinity Christian School in Lake Worth, Fla. There, he played baseball and soccer, was valedictorian of his senior class and was discovered — by accident — by College of Charleston coaches.

Cougars coaches were scouting a pitcher on Brandon’s travel squad when they saw Murray face off against Cam Bedrosian, the son of former Braves pitcher Steve and a first-round draft pick of the Angels in 2010.

“He turned on a 92-mph fastball and hit it out of the park,” recalled Cougars coach Monte Lee. “And we said, ‘OK, who’s this guy?’ ”

College of Charleston beat out schools such as Florida Atlantic and Florida International in recruiting Murray, and he showed promise as a freshman, batting .290 in 21 games, mostly as a designated hitter.

But the Cougars needed much more from Murray this season, and he has produced. With Murray available to hit third in the lineup, Lee was able to move SoCon player of the year Marty Gantt to the leadoff spot, boosting the Cougars’ offense.

“We knew Brandon had to step up big for us,” said Gantt, “and he’s done it. It’s big when you can count on a sophomore, and it will help him and the team even more next year.”

Murray, who plays left field next to Gantt in center, credits Gantt for much of his success.

“He’s like my big brother,” Murray said. “He does everything the right way. He doesn’t go out or party a lot, he just works hard and plays baseball, and that’s how I try to be.”