May 9—Blue Ridge scored eight runs in the first one-plus innings Thursday against Lackawanna Trail and was threatening for more with the bases loaded.
Lions coach Todd Peters needed someone to put out the fire and keep his team in the game. So he turned, as he frequently has this season, to Luke Leventhal.
The freshman lefthanded pitcher got the final out of the second inning, then proceeded to throw 5 1/3 more scoreless innings, allowing just two hits, walking three and striking out 12 on 105 pitches.
Sparked by Leventhal's performance, Lackawanna Trail rallied to tie the game, 8-8, before falling in nine innings, 12-8.
"Even though he's a freshman, he's a kid I can bring in who has got a lot of poise and confidence that he can come in in situations and shut it down," Peters said.
Leventhal pitched in each of the Lions' first nine games, almost exclusively in relief. In 20 2/3 innings, he has allowed just three runs (one earned) — but none in his last 14 innings, spanning four games. He has given up 11 hits with five walks and 39 strikeouts.
It is one of the reasons why Lackawanna Trail is battling for first place in Lackawanna League Division IV.
Some other jams Leventhal has escaped this season:
—Susquehanna scored three runs in the top of the fifth inning to cut Lackawanna Trail's lead to 8-4 on April 13. Leventhal came on to get the final two outs of the inning and the Lions responded with six runs in the bottom-half of the fifth to win via the 10-run rule.
—On April 24, Montrose closed within 7-4 in the sixth inning. Leventhal came on and got the final four outs — three by strikeout — to quell the Meteors' comeback and save the victory.
—Two days later, in a 9-3 win over Mountain View, he pitched a perfect seventh with two strikeouts to finish off a three-hit, 10-strikeout gem by Owen Lisk.
He has started two games this season, although in one he threw just 16 pitches in a scoreless first inning because Lackawanna Trail erupted for eight runs in the top of the first and, with a game the next day, Peters decided to save Leventhal's pitch count.
His other start was May 1 against Elk Lake. He left after six innings and 101 pitches leading, 3-0, allowing just three hits, walking one and fanning 14. He received a no-decision, however, when the Warriors scored three times in the top of seventh to tie the game. But the Lions won in eight innings, 4-3.
"He's definitely a competent starter," Peters said. "We just can use him more effectively and have a lot of confidence when we bring him in relief."
Since this is his first varsity season, Leventhal wasn't sure what to expect. He thought he might pitch a game here or there.
Not every game thus far.
He said he feels very fortunate and is relishing his job as a relief pitcher.
"I've enjoyed the role of closing out a lot of the games; coming in for an inning or two and giving it all," Leventhal said. "If there's guys on base, it's a great feeling knowing that you can pick up the team by getting them out of a big inning."
His two favorite pitches are his fastball and his slider, which Peters said has a lot of bite when he throws it correctly, causing opposing batters to chase it.
"I'm always confident with my fastball. I feel I can command that most days," Leventhal said. "When I need an out, I'll go to my slider. I feel I can get a lot of swings and misses with it. And when there is contact, it seems to be light contact and groundouts."
Whenever he gets the call to come into a game, no matter the situation, Leventhal said he tries to remain calm and keep the same mindset.
"Just always make good pitches and know that the fielders behind me have my back," he said.
Peters said Leventhal's teammates refer to him as the "Freshman Phenom."
"When he comes in, our whole team attitude, the mojo that we have, changes," Peters said. "They all get pumped up because he's a freshman and he's been doing so well for us. It excites our team and they get fired up."
And, the opponents' fires get put out.
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