Ryan Leach was going to play a valuable role for the Franklin Pierce University baseball team this season, coach Jayson King insisted.

And what was that role going to be?

“We weren’t 100 percent sure,” King said. “We knew he’d make a contribution, but we just didn’t know where. As the preseason went on, he really started to stand out as a starter. Once the season started we knew he’d be a contributing starting pitcher.”

Leach has flourished for Franklin Pierce (12-9), which competes in the Division II Northeast-10 Conference. The sophomore pitcher is 4-1 in five starts, striking out 30 in 34 2/3 innings. Leach, 19, of Farmingdale, has walked just eight batters and will take a 1.56 ERA into his next start, which comes Saturday at UMass-Lowell.

“Coming out of the fall, I was a bubble starter,” said Leach, a Hall-Dale High School graduate. “I was borderline. But I worked hard all winter and got mentally tough and got stronger. It gave me an edge.”

Leach worked out with teammate Ryan Thompson, a junior pitcher who was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 36th round of the 2011 first-year player draft.

“It put me over the top,” Leach said. “I got a lot bigger and was able to maintain velocity.”

Last season, Leach pitched primarily in relief, making just one start. He finished 2-0 with a 3.08 ERA in 26 innings.

“He had to step up his training, and he did,” King said. “You can really see it in his body now. Most of the better players figure it out after their first year.”

Leach features three pitches: A fastball, changeup and a much-improved slider that he says is his “out pitch.” King says Leach throws all three well and can locate to both sides of the plate.

Leach made an impression to open the season, throwing 15 consecutive scoreless innings in his first two starts. He shut down West Virginia Wesleyan in a 2-0 victory on Feb. 26. He pitched seven scoreless innings, striking out five and allowing just three hits.

Then, he pitched eight scoreless innings in a 6-0 victory over Dowling on March 4. He struck out six and walked just one.

“Getting that second win, it gave me confidence that I could go out and do it every time,” Leach said. “I didn’t want to be a one-time deal. It was relieving to see the hard work pay off. It was just a confidence-booster. Coming into the season, I wanted a starting job. And I worked my way up the ladder to get one.”

Franklin Pierce, located in Rindge, N.H., finished 40-14 last season. It qualified for the NCAA Division II tournament but lost in the East Regional to Southern Connecticut State.

The Ravens, who are gunning for their eighth straight trip to the NCAA tournament, returned an abundance of talent but got off to a slow start.

“We need to keep winning conference games,” said Leach, a sports and recreation management major. “These are big.”

Added King: “We’ve played roller coaster baseball so far. The team has a lot of talent but we need to get going.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640
[email protected]


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