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College Summer Baseball: Larson fights off nerves to find groove pitching against Team USA

Sean Larson
Sean Larson got the call the Friday night before the game was to be played Monday, July 1.

The USA Collegiate National Team was coming to North Carolina for an exhibition contest against the Catawba Valley Stars, and Larson was to be the starter on the mound for the host pitching against some of the top Division I baseball talent in the nation.

It’s safe to say, the Angola native playing in the Carolina Virginia Summer Collegiate Baseball League didn’t get much sleep the next few nights.

Larson made the trek down to N.C. for the experience of facing a plethora of competition during the summer months after completing his junior season at Fredonia State College. It wound up turning into the opportunity of a lifetime.

In an effort to not squander this chance, Larson gained his composure shortly before game time and then went out and tossed a pair of scoreless innings. Originally slated to only go two innings, Larson actually lasted into the fourth, throwing a respectable three-plus before the college all-star squad filled with top professional prospects started to get going.

“It was nerve-racking going up against top Division I players, big money guys who are some of the top picks,” said Larson, who was a standout playing for St. Francis High School. “It took until about an hour-and-a-half before the game to start calming down. It felt great to go out and see where I stand against the top players at this level.”

After the pre-game ceremonies and tossing his warm-up pitches in preparation to face the national team eventually headed to compete in Japan, it began to feel like any other game.

“You’re excited but then you start to calm down,” Larson said. “I needed to remember that these guys are just like me. They’re college players who hope to go somewhere.”

Larson proved that he belonged on the same diamond with the talent in the other dugout. In fact, after throwing the first two innings the way he did, his manager turned to him and asked, ‘Can you go back out?’

“I told him, ‘I’d love to,’” Larson said. “I just pounded the zone. It was a great accomplishment.”

Larson wound up allowing five runs, four earned, on six hits, while striking out two and walking one. Team USA won 9-2 at L.P. Frans Stadium.

He was most impressed with Team USA’s ability to fight off pitches. Even when Larson made pitches that might get many others out, the standouts from Team USA were at least making contact.

“I’ve always been taught to get ahead and throw first-pitch strikes,” Larson said. “On my only walk, the guy fouled off five or six in a row. He won that fight. They also don’t show any emotion — they’re just doing what they do best.”

Larson, who played summerball last year in Utica, comes off a spring season in Fredonia in which he went 3-3 with a 4.07 ERA with 26 strikeouts and 18 walks in a team-leading eight starts. His ERA was a team-best 2.96 in nine appearances (eight starts) in 2012. He also led the team with 36 strikeouts that season and has won nine games over three seasons with Fredonia.

The Blue Devils posted a 19-16 record in 2013 — the best mark since Larson’s been a member of the team, but they have fallen short of the conference postseason in that time.

“We have a lot of fun and the team has gotten very close but sometimes things don’t go our way,” Larson said. “But the thing is that we still keep fighting. All of my teammates have helped make me better and pushed me to new limits that I didn’t even know I had in me.”

Since his days at St. Francis, Larson has increased the speed of his fastball while developing a few new pitches, including a slider. He also noted that his work ethic has only improved.

Larson hopes to be an integral leader for the team as a senior, which will be an important year for a player aspiring to remain in the game.

He’s helped Catawba Valley to a second place standing through 35 games with the postseason set to begin on Aug. 1. Larson hopes to finish strong, although he said the team has gone through some struggles and naturally, with players being from all over the country, a little bit of homesickness.

But Larson’s been aided by a supportive family, which includes father, Kevin; mother, Maryann; and sister, Kayla; all of whom attended the game against the USA National team. It was a thrill for them all, just as it was for Sean. He hopes this wasn’t the last time he’ll get such an opportunity.

“I would love to play more baseball and go to the next level. Next year is a big year for me,” Larson said.

“That night (afterward), I got to thinking about the game and what a nice experience it was,” he added. “It’s been a while since I felt those kind of nerves and excitement. It’s something I’d love to continue to do.”
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