In the past two seasons, Ryan Leone has had a straight-ahead perspective of the Class 2A state baseball championship game.
Leone, a right-hander, was a starting pitcher in both of those games, tossing 13 combined innings and delivering Calvary its third state championship last season.
As the Cavaliers prepare for their 2013 Class 2A semifinal game against University High today at ULM’s Warhawk Field, Leone will approach it from a different angle — as Calvary’s starting right fielder.
“Being in right field is a little different than being in center field, which I’m used to, but I like it out there, so everything’s good,” Leone said. “In center field the ball comes dead on, but in right field, you’ve got those curves. It wasn’t too much more difficult.”
When Cavaliers first-year coach Todd Walker arrived on campus, he came equipped with a defensive plan.
“You need that athlete in right field,” Walker said. “Those are the toughest balls, and he’s proven that this year by making some plays that basically have won games for us.”
In his first three seasons at Calvary, Leone, who has been unable to pitch this season, and Garrett Williams gave the Cavaliers a power-armed one-two punch atop their rotation.
The emergence of Stephen Morrison has helped soften the loss of Leone on the mound, though Leone admitted to missing pitching. With Calvary’s current staff, however, Leone has remained busy in his new position.
“You’ve got these pitchers who throw hard, like Garrett and Stephen,” Leone said. “They’re throwing harder, so most of those balls are hit to right field. They’re depending on me to catch them, and I do my best to catch every ball that’s hit to me.”
Leone’s defensive acumen has been noticed — and praised — by his teammates.
“When coach Walker got here in the fall, he addressed that position first with Ryan,” Weston Steelhammer said. “He let him know with the power arms we have on the mound how much action he’d get in right field. That’s definitely held true. What he’s meant to this defense has been awesome. He’s kind of been our backbone back there.”
Leone, an Ole Miss signee, has embraced the defensive change while excelling at the top of the Cavaliers order.
Entering today’s game, Leone owns a .544 on-base percentage and has drawn 26 walks compared to just 13 strikeouts.
“He’s been outstanding,” Walker said. “He’s gone deep in counts. He’s a really good hitter with two strikes, and he’s played a phenomenal right field.”
Leone has adjusted to the leadoff role as well, utilizing Walker as a sounding board and tutor.
“It’s tough leading off a game,” Leone said. “You’re dictating what happens the rest of the game, helping your teammates out. Todd, sitting there, teaching me everything, it’s made it 10 times easier. It takes the pressure off my back.”