The goal for any starting pitcher is to leave his mark on the mound.
Spring-Ford’s Conor Larkin took it a couple steps further than that, though.
He left two marks behind every time he headed for the dugout.
Every game he pitched, inscribed into the back of the mound behind him were two sets of initials — one of a fallen friend and the other of his battle-tested hero. Admittedly, that had been a driving force for him all season.
“I never felt like it was just me out on the mound,” said Larkin. “I always felt like I had those two behind me.”
Motivated and inspired by a close friend, Dylan Crunick, who passed away from a rare form of cancer in January 2014, as well as his own older brother, Dan Larkin, who had overcome his own grueling bout with testicular cancer over a year ago, Larkin put together an unforgettable senior season with the Spring-Ford baseball team this past spring. It all culminates with Larkin being named as the Mercury’s 2017 All-Area Baseball Player of the Year.
“Seeing how both of them, Dylan and Dan, went through everything — different chemos and surgery — they fought through it all and kept a positive attitude,” Larkin said. “I took that with me on the baseball field, knowing that everything would be okay. I just had to stay strong in tough situations and keep a positive mindset.”
Facing a pitching jam or up against the heart of the opposing batting order was nothing compared to some of the vicious battles Dylan and Dan faced. Oftentimes throughout the year, he’d step off the rubber, take a walk to the back of the mound and look over at the ‘LC8’ and ‘DL’ scratched into the dirt.
Then he’d toe the rubber and get back to work.
“It put things into perspective for me,” said Larkin, who was once a wide-eyed freshman making his first career varsity start in the PIAA Class 4A quarterfinal round in 2014. “A bad situation on the mound lasts what, 10 or 15 minutes tops? Those two were up against it every single day. My battle was almost nothing compared to theirs.”
Never once alone out on the mound, Larkin led his team to a Pioneer Athletic Conference Championship and took the Rams right to the doorstep of the PIAA-6A playoffs. He was masterful on the mound all season, consistently pounding the strikezone with his fastball then pulling the string with his off-speed which features a changeup, curve and a newly-added slider.
All of his features on the mound, though, were just secondary to his leadership qualities when he stepped off it, according to head coach Jamie Scheck.
“There’s a reason Conor received the most votes from his teammates when we were selecting captains,” recalled Scheck. “He’s one of those kids that everyone can look up to — he never got too up or down on himself. He had all the confidence, but always stayed quiet and humble.”
Larkin is the third representative from Spring-Ford named Player of the Year since the 2011 season. He follows in the footsteps of Cam Simmons (2015) and Mike Oczypok (2011).
Always humble, Larkin is also quick to hand off the honor.
“Honestly, I wish I could give it to a lot of guys on the team,” he said. “Everyone up and down the lineup contributed — it was such a team effort all season. Baseball takes every single player on the roster to win a game, and if it weren’t for those guys, there’s no way I’d be here right now.”
For the year, Larkin posted 7-1 record with an impressive 0.80 earned-run average. He threw two no-hitters — one to keep the Rams’ PIAA-6A playoff hopes alive during the District One playbacks — to go along with three complete-game efforts.
Larkin saved his best for last, holding the opposition scoreless through all three of his starts during the postseason. He opened it up with a 13-strikeout gem against Perkiomen Valley during the PAC semifinals. He then kept it rolling right into districts, pitching a one-hitter against Methacton during the opening round, then eventually following it up with a 10-strikeout no-hitter against Downingtown East in the playback round.
“That was the thing about Conor,” said Scheck. “He was that one kid that, when we needed him the most, you knew he would come through. He was that bulldog we needed out there.”
Signed on at Penn State University as a pitcher, Larkin also utilized his senior season as one last chance to step into the batter’s box. He boasted a .368 batting average with six doubles and a team-high four home runs to go along with 19 runs-batted-in and 10 walks mostly batting out of the 3-hole.
“It was so good to swing the bat one last time,” said Larkin. “I told Coach Scheck before the season ‘This is my last year of hitting, so I’m gonna go out there, bring the right approach and enjoy it.’ I tried not to over-think too much and kept my composure even after getting out.”
Even amid a successful year at the plate, Larkin’s home was on the pitching mound.
And of course, every home needs a little maintenance from time to time. After each game, it’s the home pitcher’s duty to rake the mound and get it ready for the next day’s action.
That was always special for Larkin. As he raked down the pitcher’s mound, he always saved one small section of it for last.
“Win or lose, I always knew that I went out there and gave it everything I had,” said Larkin. “Raking down the mound was a way for me to say that the day’s over — now its time to see what the next day holds. During their fights with cancer, that’s what Dylan and Dan did.
“They fought every single day and kept moving forward.”
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