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There are 11 Utes with more hits than Biss Larsen this season, but it's hard to imagine someone the team would rather have at the plate with the game on the line.
Just like this: Bliss was up with one out in a 5-5 game against No. 13 USC in the bottom of the 10th. Facing a 2-1 count, the senior sniffed a fastball coming his way, got a swing on it and sent it straight into a left-field light pole at Smith's Ballpark.
The walk-off three-run homer is something the 25-year-old can smile back on for the rest of his life and it came on a pinch-hitting opportunity. That's why Larsen lives by a personal and team adage: Always be prepared.
"You probably wouldn't get too far in athletics if you didn't want to play every pitch everyone wants that," Larsen said. "But when it comes down to it, we play one pitch at a time. If I get that pitch in the ninth inning, and it's my turn to perform, I'm going to be ready to do my job."
It's been another tough season for the Utes, who are 16-30-1 (7-16-1 Pac-12) and only a half-game ahead of Stanford to stay out of the conference basement. Larsen, who is one of two seniors on the team, has started 10 games and played in 28 for his final season with Utah. It would be easy to understand if an upperclassman felt underutilized and frustrated as losses pile up.
But that has hardly been the case. On a team defined by youth, Larsen's maturity stands out.
"You look back and the hits he's gotten us in pinch hit situations are numerous," Utah coach Bill Kinneberg said. "That's a sign of a guy with character and who is steady. Biss never changes his work ethic when he comes to the park."
Larsen was a local prep star at Viewmont, an all-state infielder and an all-region quarterback. He was planning to pave his athletic success outside Utah: He redshirted a year at North Carolina State before serving an LDS Church mission.
Larsen decided to enroll at Utah to be closer to family, and Kinneberg was happy to have him. He initially was slowed by knee injuries, but took on a starting role as a junior mostly at third base.
While Larsen hasn't gotten an everyday fielding role this year, he is hitting by far his highest average (.268, up from .209 in 2014). His home run against USC was his first. Even as a pinch hitter, he finds ways to stay involved until he's called up typically in late innings, and especially against left-handed pitching. It's hard to say which walk-off is his favorite: A game-winning single against BYU last year also is a favorite memory.
Longtime friend and fellow senior Brock Duke said Larsen's long-term impact is his example to younger players fitting in their roles.
"He's always going about his business the right way," Duke said. "That's the main thing: We're trying to elevate the program. We haven't won a lot of games this year, but we want to show the younger guys the little things that will help them make that jump."
Larsen said he feels secure in his long-term future: He's got his degree, and he married Utah soccer player Monica Larsen last July. Both seniors look back on their careers and find it hard to believe it's coming to a close. This weekend's series against Oregon will be their last at Smith's Ballpark.
The journey may have had fewer starts than Larsen wanted, and certainly fewer at bats. But the Utes can be sure that he'll make the most of however many he's got left.
"That's a struggle for a lot of guys when they get here: 'I've never sat around for nine innings before and then had to pinch hit,'" Larsen said. "I think a big thing is you get to be an example to some younger guys on how to step up in situations. And you see some of those guys starting to do that now."
About Biss Larsen
• Viewmont alumnus is hitting .268 in 28 games with 2 home runs and 8 RBIs.
• Hit a walk-off home run in the 10th inning on May 3 against USC.
• Hit a walk-off single last year against BYU in a 5-4 win.