If Will King was feeling any pressure about getting the assignment to start Larkin's opening round playoff game on Monday he certainly didn't show it.
The junior right-hander was brilliant, tossing 5⅓ innings of shutout baseball, to lead the host Royals to a 4-0 win over Rockford Jefferson (5-22) in the play-in game of the Class 4A DeKalb regional. Larkin (15-19) earns a shot at top-seeded Huntley on Wednesday.
King (4-4) allowed just 3 hits while striking out 4 and walking none.
"It was a big step for him," Larkin coach Matt Esterino said. "He's won some games for us, but today we put him in a big spot and he really responded. The big thing for him was throwing strikes and making them put it in play. This is how we have won games all year. Find a way to score a few runs and let our pitching and defense do the rest."
King ran into trouble in the second inning, but worked out of a bases-loaded one-out jam by getting a force out and then striking out the next batter to end the threat. Otherwise, King cruised through the first five innings setting down the side in order in four innings.
"We have a lot of great pitchers, so I wasn't expecting to start," King said. "But when coach told me I was very excited. I was a little nervous at the start, but settled in. I just did my best throwing my fastball for strikes. My curveball wasn't really working, so I stuck mostly with the fastball and just trusted my stuff."
Larkin catcher John Jowaski got the Royals on the board with a leadoff homer over the left field fence in the third inning. It was his first home run of the year.
"I went up with the mindset of looking for a fastball," Jowaski said. "And when he came inside with one I was able to turn on it."
The Royals added 2 runs in the fifth inning. Tyler Kalusa cracked an RBI double to left-center to score Robert Bond, who had reached on an infield single. Kalusa then scored on an RBI single from Brayden Royse.
"When John got the homer we were able to relax," Kalusa said. "All the pieces kind of fell in place after that. I was just listening to my coaches (on my hit). They had me step back in the box a little and I just sat back and drove it."
The Royals added an insurance run in the sixth inning. John Lenz led off with a double and later scored on a double steal.
After two batters reached on errors with one out in the sixth inning, Royse came on in relief to record the last five outs and pick up his third save.
Larkin will face Huntley in the regional semis for the second straight time after losing to the Red Raiders last year.
"We've been in this position before," Esterino said. "We definitely know they are a good team. But you relish these opportunities in life to play the best teams. If we stick to what we know how to do I expect it to be a good game."