Armed with an electric fastball, a nasty curve and revenge, Nick Leonard pitched Mountain Vista to a victory over top-ranked and defending Class 5A state champion ThunderRidge.
Leonard, a senior who has signed to play at Washington State, allowed four hits and struck out 13 batters in a seven-inning, 3-0 win in the April 16 Continental League confrontation played on a cool afternoon at ThunderRidge.
Scouts from the Colorado Rockies and Miami Marlins watched Leonard and ThunderRidge starter A.J. Jones lock up in an entertaining pitcher's duel that wasn't decided until the sixth inning on Michael Dunnebecke's bases-loaded triple.
ThunderRidge, which scored seven runs in the first inning and rocked Leonard in a 16-3 second-round Class 5A state tournament triumph last May, looked to have the right-hander on the ropes after the first two batters reached base in the first inning.
Leonard issued his only walk of the game to Grizzlies leadoff batter Aaron Germani, and he moved to third on a misplayed double to centerfield by Josh Brown.
That's when Leonard had recollections of last May and he went into a revenge mode striking out ThunderRidge's third, fourth and fifth batters to escape unharmed.
"I remembered my performance in the playoffs last year against these guys," explained Leonard. "They tattooed me early. They pretty much beat me in the first inning. I didn't get the second out.
"I just made a conscious decision after that second batter that I wasn't going to let that happen again. That was a little motivation. It was time for a little payback."
Leonard retired 13 straight batters, nine via strikeouts, after the start when ThunderRidge had runners on second and third with nobody out in the bottom of the first.
"I had good fastball command and my off-speed was breaking pretty well," said Leonard. "I felt pretty good once I got past that first inning."
"My mentality is just to pitch effectively, get as many outs as I can as quick as I can. If it turns out I get strikeouts, it's an added bonus. My mentality is to keep runners off base. If that means I have to get groundballs, fly balls or whatever it takes."
Leonard, who earned his sixth win of the season, lowered his ERA to 0.85 and he has struck out 53 batters in 41 innings.
His fastball was clocked in the low 90s and his breaking pitches kept the ThunderRidge hitters off balance in a masterful performance.
"I heard I was throwing a little harder than usual," said Leonard who labeled Dunnebecke as the game's Most Valuable Player. "Usually I'm at 88-89 but I had a lot of adrenaline in me. The past couple starts my curve has been inconsistent. Against ThunderRidge, I decided I was going to throw the pitch and throw it with conviction and hopefully gets some outs.
"Playing ThunderRidge and especially since they are the defending state champions, it was a big game. They have always been our hometown rival so we like to come out and play against them. A.J. Jones is one of the best pitchers I've ever faced. That's the kid I wanted to pitch against. When we played them last year it was me against him."
Jones gave up four hits and fanned eight, but walks in the sixth inning were his downfall as the Golden Eagles scored three times on just one hit.
He walked Dylan Formby and Marc Mummer and following a sacrifice bunt, Will Dixon was intentionally walked. Dunnebecke followed with his triple to left-center field.
"I was just thinking, hit the ball hard and hopefully something will happen to help Nick out," said Dunnebecke. "He threw a great game."
The victory kept Mountain Vista tied with Regis Jesuit for first place in the Continental League while ThunderRidge dropped into a tie for third place.
"We beat a good program," said Mountain Vista coach Ron Quintana. "It was a great pitching performance by both of pitchers. That's what you expect or at least that's what you hope with those two guys."
"By far it was Nick's best performance as far as his fastball and off speed. That first inning striking out three, four and five kind of got his confidence going. Last year was in the back of all of the guys' minds. They had that bad taste. That old cliché one game at a time but this one was huge game. ThunderRidge against Mountain Vista is a big rivalry."
ThunderRidge coach Joe White tipped his cap to Leonard.
"He threw a great game," confessed White. "He came out and just stuck it to us. He did a great job. I'm so proud of A.J. He threw great. Both pitchers threw great. It was a great high school game. He was dealing and A.J. was too.
"I tip my hat to Leonard. He beat us. That's what is going to happen in this league. Every team in this league can beat anybody. You get pitched to like that and that's what is going to happen. We'll be all right. We're going to keep working. There are a lot of games left. We are in a gauntlet now. We have a long ways to go. When that kid (Leonard) is pitching, they are going to be able to beat anybody."