ROYERSFORD >> Conor Larkin wasn’t about to surrender his spot on the pitchers’ mound Wednesday.
Not with the memorable performance he was turning in. And certainly not with Spring-Ford in a fight to prolong its postseason life.
Larkin found a way to stay in the action to the end. It paid very big dividends for the Rams, who rode Larkin’s no-hit pitching effort to a 3-0 victory over Downingtown East in their District 1-6A fifth-place playback semifinal at Ram Stadium.
“I really was,” Larkin said of the determination he felt to not miss completing the no-no. “After we got the lead, I was determined to finish.”
Spring-Ford’s senior right-hander found himself in a race with the mandated 100-pitch count heading into the seventh inning. Going into the frame with 87, he opened by walking East leadoff batter Kelsey Launi on five pitches.
But he needed just six throws to dispatch Connor Munnelly and Danny Amicon for two outs. That put him in position to finish the game by retiring pinch-hitter Joe Cestar, which he did on a fly ball to left field.
Larkin’s pitching, coupled with the sixth-inning run he set up by a leadoff double to left field, qualified Spring-Ford for Thursday’s fifth-place final with Hatboro-Horsham. The winner of the 4 p.m. game at Plymouth Township Park will get the district’s final berth in the PIAA Class 6A tournament; the loser goes home for the spring.
“I didn’t have a lot to work with,” he said. “But we put the ball in play, and that was the key.”
Larkin finished the game with 10 strikeouts while yielding just two walks, the first to pinch-hitter Joe Janick in the sixth. The greatest danger to his shutout was Janick getting to third base with two out in the frame, but he retired Mike Rodriguez to keep the no-no intact.
“I feel confident when he’s on the mound,” Spring-Ford head coach Jamie Scheck said. “If we get only one or two runs, it can be enough.”
The district’s third seed got insurance in the sixth from Ryne Moore’s booming home run over the left-field fence. The blast scored Ethan Hellberg ahead of him.
It effectively ended the pitchers’ duel Larkin had going with East’s Will Peiffer, who had his own no-hit designs in place through the first five innings. Peiffer survived walking the bases full in the second inning, and issuing another pair of free passes in the fourth, en route to finishing with six strikeouts.
“Their pitcher is good … a lefty who throws hard and mixes his pitches well,” Scheck said. “After the first we were able to get guys on base. But we definitely have to capitalize when we get guys on base.”
Larkin and the SF defense kept the Cougars from getting a baserunner until the fourth when, with two outs, Kelsey Launi reached base on an error. Launi and Janick ended up being East’s lone baserunners, due in part to Larkin striking out the side in the second and fanning for two outs in the fourth and fifth.
“I was struggling with my curve the first three innings,” Larkin said. “Then I found the release points, and it worked better in the later innings.”
The Rams’ eventual game-winning run was plated by Jake Skrocki, who came on as a courtesy runner for Larkin in the sixth. Skrocki moved to third off Nick Brauer’s sacrifice bunt on the third-base side, and he scored off a wild pitch.
“He (Peiffer) threw me curve balls the first two times,” Larkin said. “He wasn’t going to throw me a fastball. I put the turn on it and got it at the right spot.”
For Thursday’s do-or-die game with the second-seeded Hatters, the Rams will be shooting to reverse their fortunes in 2016’s fifth-place game. They faced Marple Newtown and lost 4-1, ending their season one win short of states.
“I hope so,” Scheck said. “We have a lot of leaders on this team. The team has been in this spot before, so we’re going to come out and play as good a game as possible.”
In a bit of deja vu, Larkin pitched his team’s 9-0 victory over Upper Dublin in last year’s fifth-place semi. He worked a three-hitter, yielding just two walks while fanning nine.
“We’re really forward to this game,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t get it done. But this isn’t like last year.”
NOTES >> Peiffer just beat the 100-pitch limit, throwing 99. His total was beefed up by the 24 he threw in the second and sixth innings. … Larkin was able to throw less than 20 pitches in any inning. His biggest totals were 18 in the second and fourth. … Hellberg had two stolen bases to his credit on the day. … Scheck indicated Kelchner will get the mound assignment for Thursday’s game.