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Spring-Ford downs Perk Valley for eighth straight win

GRATERFORD >> There may not have been a team in the entire state that limped into the Easter break the way Spring-Ford did last month.

The Rams went into the holiday weekend in the midst of a four-game losing streak — losing all four by a combined seven runs.

Since, though, Spring-Ford has found its groove. The Rams used the hot bat of Jake Kelchner to go along with a solid six-inning mound performance from Conor Larkin on Monday night to seal a 5-2 win under the lights at Perkiomen Valley for their eighth-straight win.

“We’re all taking better approaches at the plate,” said Kelchner, a Saint John’s commit who posted a key two-run RBI in the top of the sixth inning. “We’re working our at-bats — seeing pitches, making guys work. That’s been the main difference from where we were before.”

With the win, Spring-Ford improves to 11-3 in the Pioneer Athletic Conference and 13-4 overall. The Vikings, who came in amid a six-game win streak, drop to 10-3 in the PAC (10-4 overall).

Designated hitter Nick Brauer and left fielder Tom Hughes each finished with two hits apiece as the Rams crossed runs in the first and fourth before Kelchner’s two-run double broke it open in the sixth. Courtesy runner Ben Wilchacky came around to score twice — including the game’s opening run where he scored from first on Brauer’s single to right field.

Larkin pitched into the seventh inning and was tagged for just two runs on six hits and a pair of walks to go along with nine strikeouts. The senior Penn State commit relied heavily on his off-speed, including a slider as well as curveball, then mixed in his fastball to keep the hitters guessing all night.

“I know that PV is more of an aggressive team,” he said. “They like to try to get on the fastball right away. So I tried to work behind a little bit — get ahead with the off-speed then pound the zone.

“My slider’s been coming around all season. It’s a pitch I’d wanted to learn all offseason, and I think it’s been getting better and better.”

Similar to Larkin and his slider, the Rams’ newfound approach at the plate is exactly what they’d been waiting on all season, explains head coach Jamie Scheck.

“When we were struggling those four games before Easter, we were striking out a ton,” said Scheck of Spring-Ford’s hitters. “We weren’t battling at the plate — we’d go down on three, four pitches. Honestly, in the past two and a half weeks or so, these guys have been battling every at-bat. Even if they’re not leading to hits, they’re not giving up easy outs.”

The Rams strung together nine hits total and spoiled an otherwise solid outing from Perk Valley’s Tyler Strechay, who finished up at 97 pitches in six innings.

Right on the heels of last Friday night’s miraculous come-from-behind win over Boyertown with a five-run rally in the seventh inning, the Vikings again showed a late spark. With the team trailing 4-0 on the bottom of the sixth, first baseman Brock Helverson ripped a two-run single to right field to score Anthony D’Abbene and Matt Szczesny to get the Spring-Ford faithful pacing the grounds again.

Three batters later, Larkin shut the door on the rally with two straight strikeouts stranding runners on second and third.

“Offensively we struggled,” said Perk Valley head coach Ryan Hinkle. “I don’t think we had good approaches when we were ahead in the count. We could have done a better job, especially of capitalizing in the sixth inning.

“We just need to improve our timing, that’s all. We were late on his (Larkin’s) fastball all game. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to face these guys again.”

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