ROYERSFORD >> He’s been a standout pitcher for Spring-Ford the past couple years.
Conor Larkin also has a potent, power-laced bat … and he’s not afraid to show it off.
Larkin gave the Rams the best of those two aspects Wednesday in their District 1-6A playoff opener with Methacton at Ram Stadium. The Penn State-bound senior threw a two-hitter while producing the game’s ultimate winning RBI in their 4-0 victory over the Warriors.
“As a pitcher, you always want to help yourself,” Larkin said afterward. “The home run gave me confidence. I was struggling with my command the last couple innings.”
Mound issues for Larkin weren’t noticeable in the early going. He struck out four of the first six batters he faced, had a no-hitter going for three innings and faced his biggest jam situation in the fourth, when Conor Smith led off with a double and got to third as Demetrio Rodriguez reached base on an error with one out.
But he worked from a position of strength. Larkin had a 1-0 lead after parking a 1-1 Ben Christian pitch over the fence in left-center field — a lead that held up until SF scored twice in the fourth inning and added insurance in the sixth.
“This year, I’ve enjoyed hitting,” Larkin said. “I won’t be batting in college because I’m going to pitch. I hope to keep it up.”
“He’s been one of our best hitters all year,” Ram head coach Jamie Scheck said of Larkin, who also accounted for the team’s second run by drawing a bases-loaded walk. “That was his fourth home run of the year, and three of them have been here.
“They’re not cheap home runs, either. He’s a contact hitter.”
His critical self-assessment notwithstanding, Larkin had a methodical day on the hill. He yielded three walks along with hits by Perry Corda and Smith, but compensated with nine strikeouts to keep 14th-seeded Methacton, coming off a walkoff 1-0 win over Bensalem in Tuesday’s weather-delayed opening round, from countering Spring-Ford’s offensive production.
“We weren’t able to put it together,” Methacton head coach Paul Spiewak said following his team’s season-ending setback. “They’ve beat us three times this year. I think we played well, but not perfect.”
In complement to Larkin’s economical pitching performance — he needed to throw just 87 in his complete-game stint — the Ram defense turned a pair of double plays.
Ryne Moore initiated the first twin-killing in the third, the Spring-Ford shortstop fielding Corda’s bouncer toward second, getting the force on Jason Eckman, then relaying to Ethan Hellberg at first to end the inning. In the sixth, it was Hellberg handling Smith’s bouncer toward first, getting the out and relaying to Moore to tag out Corda for the second out.
“The defense helped with those two double plays,” Scheck noted. “Conor had a couple first-pitch outs, too.”
The Rams broke open the pitching duel Larkin had with the Warriors’ Ben Christian in the fourth, starting with successive singles from J.C. Reed (2-for-3) and Jake Kelchner. Sean McHugh was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Larkin walked on four balls to force Reed.
Nick Brauer followed with a fly ball to right field, deep enough to enable Kelchner to come home. That 3-0 lead foretold the eventual end of Christian’s day, the sophomore righthander replaced by Zack Griffin with one out in the fifth.
“Ben battled,” Spiewak noted, “but he had one tough inning.”
Spring-Ford’s final run in the sixth saw Sean McHugh (2-for-3) double to the right-center gap to bring home Ben Wichacky. Pinch-running for Reed (single), Wichacky stole second to set the stage for McHugh’s blast, the capper to the Rams’ advance to the 6-A quarterfinals against North Penn.
“We left too many on base,” Scheck said. “But a win is a win, and we’re looking forward to playing here Friday against North Penn.”
For Methacton, it was another instance where Larkin ended their post-season dream.
“He got us four years ago, beating us in the final eight of states,” Spiewak recalled. “He’s had our number in district playoffs. But he’s a good kid … respectful, supportive of his teammates. I’m happy for him and them.”
NOTES >> Methacton’s defense played error-free while Spring-Ford’s had one on Rodriguez’s hit to the mound in the fourth.
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