A move to the bullpen early in the season is paying dividends for Hall-Dale High School graduate Ryan Leach and the Franklin Pierce University baseball team.

Sunday, Leach pitched six innings of one-run relief to lead the Ravens to a 5-1 win against Wilmington University in the NCAA East Regional championship game. Franklin Pierce advances to the Division II World Series for the sixth time since 2003 on Saturday when it faces Atlantic Region champion Shippensburg State in Cary, N.C.

Leach welcomed the move to the bullpen in late March after struggling as a starter on the team’s spring trip. After starting the season at 0-3, his statistics have steadily improved. He’s currently 6-4 with an earned run average of 2.86. He’s also averaging 10.91 strikeouts per nine innings with 80 Ks in 66 innings.

“I haven’t started since the beginning of the season,” the junior right-hander said. “It’s been nice to know I’m coming out of the pen.”

Leach, who pitched 3 1/3 innings of relief on Friday, was prepared to go long in the championship game.

“Our starter was throwing on one-day’s rest,” he said. “It’s pretty much dig down and see what you got.”

Leach was lifted after walking the first batter of the ninth inning Sunday. Over six innings he fanned three, while allowing three hits and an unearned run over 86 pitches. He expects to be in the same role in the upcoming tournament, but added “if we needed a spot start in the World Series, I’d probably do it.”

It took a few games for Leach to find his breaking ball, but since he has, it’s been his out pitch. He throws a slider between 74-77 mph — his fastball averages 88-91 — and he’s hitting his spots with it.

“It’s been my most reliable pitch,” he said. “For me it’s like repetition.”

Sunday was the culmination of a big week for Leach. He recently signed a contract to play this summer for the Chatham Anglers in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League, a result, he believes of some players not returning to the team as well as his season with Franklin Pierce.

“I think I’ll be out of the pen,” he said. “We had a (Franklin Pierce) player reach the all-star game last year. That’s going to be my main goal this summer. That and reduce my walks.”

Leach walked 24 batters this year, but many of those came earlier in the season.

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

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