BOYERTOWN >> As Conor Larkin strolled back into the home dugout while cheers rang through Bear Stadium Tuesday afternoon, he slapped his fist into his glove and wore an expression that mixed satisfaction with desire.
The Spring-Ford ace was one out away from a complete-game effort, but had just hit the 100-pitch plateau which forcefully ended his day early.
“Hey, whatever it takes,” he said. “Whether it’s me pitching or someone else — as long as we get the win.”
Larkin was dominant from the mound throughout, holding Perkiomen Valley to just one hit en route to a 4-0 during the opening round of the Pioneer Athletic Conference playoffs.
With the win, the No. 2 seeded Rams will return to Bear Stadium for the PAC Championship on Thursday night against Boyertown/Pope John Paul II. The Rams will be seeking their first conference title since 2015 when they beat Owen J. Roberts 7-2 in a nine-inning thriller.
Larkin, a Penn State University commit, went toe-to-toe with No. 3 seeded Perk Valley ace and West Virginia commit Brock Helverson. The right-hander allowed just one hit across 6-2/3 innings to go along with just three walks and an impressive 13 strikeouts.
“It’s a game we all look forward to,” said Larkin. “When you have two Division I kids on the mound in the playoffs, that makes for a great atmosphere. I always like to be part of a pitchers duel — luckily in this one we were able to get an edge.”
“We knew what we were up against coming into this one,” said Spring-Ford head coach Jamie Scheck. “With those two pitchers, you won’t get a blowout either way, so we had to generate some offense.”
Larkin also finished with Spring-Ford’s first two hits — his single to lead-off the bottom of the fourth inning eventually culminating into courtesy runner Chase Simmons scoring on a passed ball to give the Rams a lead they’d never relinquish.
For the game, Spring-Ford racked up six hits, scoring solo tallies in the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings before JC Reed came off the bench to blast a two-run double and break it open in the bottom of the sixth.
“I was sitting curveball,” said Reed, who blasted a shot to right-center on a 2-2 count. “I was taking a couple of warm-up swings in the dugout and came up in a good spot. It felt like it was time to deliver.”
Helverson was effective through the first few innings before running into trouble. Always fast-paced on the mound, the right-hander scattered four hits, four walks and eight strikeouts across five full innings of work before giving it over to lefty Mikey Gama.
It was the PV offense that didn’t come through, though.
The Vikings stranded runners on first in second in the first two innings and hardly generated any sort of pressure on Larkin from that point on.
Both those missed opportunities stuck with head coach Ryan Hinkle afterward.
“We had opportunities early that we didn’t take advantage of,” he said. “We’ve been talking to the guys all week, telling them ‘When you’ve got opportunities like that, you can’t waste them.’
“Larkin’s too good of a pitcher to not take advantage of a situation early. We’ve got to hit the ball. That’s what it boils down to.”
Dylan Boyd had PV’s lone hit — a single back up the middle in the top of the second inning yet PV never once put a runner on third base.
Larkin was uncharacteristically out of command during the first couple of innings. He walked two of the first three hitters he faced then allowed another walk after Boyd’s hit in the second inning.
“The first two innings definitely didn’t start out the way I’d wanted to,” he said. “I struggled to locate anything between my fastball.
“I think the big thing for me was that I stayed positive. After those first two innings, I found a groove and just worked through it.”
Similarly to their ace, Spring-Ford’s offense has been on a groove of its own over the past four weeks. The Rams, now winners of 12-straight, are outscoring the opposition 102-6 with eight shutouts since ending a four-game losing streak in mid-April.
“We’re taking much better approaches at the plate,” said Scheck of the Rams’ recent offensive prowess. “When we were on that four-game losing streak, if a guy had us down 0-2, we were striking out. Guys were swinging at bad pitches, looking at strikes.
“Now the kids constantly battle at the plate. It’s just been something that’s clicked in. Hopefully we can keep it going Thursday.”