Larkin senior pitcher Brayden Royse epitomized the term "veteran poise" in a gutty relief appearance in a 7-1 win at Belvidere North Wednesday.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander played first base for the first four innings, so he was quite familiar with the 39-degree temperature accompanied by a stiff wind blowing in from left field. Fortunately for Larkin, he is also familiar with getting outs under any conditions.
Royse entered the game in relief of junior right-hander Will King, who was lifted with a 4-1 lead and runners at first and second with one out in the fifth inning. Royse promptly induced a flyout to right field for the second out, then he walked left-handed cleanup hitter Brandon Streed to load the bases.
That brought up another left-hander, sophomore Levon Smith. Royse got the potential go-ahead run to ground an 0-1 pitch to shortstop Jack McCracken, who flipped the ball to second base for an inning-ending forceout.
"That first batter, I just wanted to get the feel of (the ball) and get my hand warm again," Royse said. "I was down 3-1 to the next hitter, so I threw him a curveball just to get a feel for it because I knew I was going to come back with it against the next hitter."
Royse earned the save by holding Belvidere North (0-1) hitless in 1⅔ relief innings.
"That's what he does," Larkin coach Matt Esterino said. "You know what you're going to get out of Brayden. He's a competitor. He's going to come in and shut the door. He was fantastic."
Esterino was equally effusive in his praise for King (1-0), a junior in his second varsity season. King held a Belvidere North lineup that was missing five starters due to missed spring break practices to 1 unearned run on 2 hits. He struck out 5 and walked 4 in 4⅓ innings.
King escaped second-inning trouble when a batter squared for a suicide squeeze. King threw the ball high and inside, as taught. The jammed batter was unable to contact the bunt and the Royals eventually nailed the baserunner charging from third base in a three-throw rundown.
King twice ended innings with strikeouts, once with a runner at third, and he picked off a baserunner at second to diffuse another threat.
"The game plan was to throw fastballs for strikes and trust the defense in these cold conditions, but the curveball was actually working well for me," King said. "I just trusted my catcher (John Jowaski) and threw." The Royals played well offensively, making the most of 6 hits and 3 Blue Thunder errors. They manufactured a first-inning run against right-handed starter Travis Hursch with 2 walks followed by 2 groundouts. They added 2 runs in the third. Jowaski's fielder's choice grounder scored Dan Lenz, who led off with a double, and Jack McCracken hit a run-scoring sacrifice fly.
Larkin (3-0) made it 4-0 in the fourth inning when Royse's suicide squeeze bunt scored leadoff man Rob Bond, who reached base in all four plate appearances and scored twice. The Royals added 3 insurance runs in the sixth inning, and the game was called due to darkness at the end of the frame.
Dan Lenz went 2-for-4 with 2 doubles, 2 runs and an RBI, Royse finished 1-for-3 with 3 RBI and Bond went 2-for-3 with a double.
"I got a lot of swings in the cage the off-season," Lenz said. "I feel good up there right now."