MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Dayne Leonard was one of multiple heroes Sunday for West Virginia.
His three-run, bases-clearing double in the sixth inning gave the Mountaineers a lead they would not surrender in the series finale against Texas.
At the plate, Leonard tries to keep things simple: see ball, hit ball.
While there is a simplicity to his approach at the plate, there’s a toughness that he brings with him to the ballpark each day that has led him to success.
“He’s one of the toughest kids ever,” said WVU head coach Randy Mazey. “I didn’t know this at the time [we were recruiting Leonard], but he was a hockey player growing up. And I’ve got a fondness for hockey players. Had I not known that I probably could guess that, because of the way he is.”
Growing up in Wisconsin, it’s probably natural that Leonard grew up with a hockey stick in one hand. He lettered in hockey for three years at River Valley High School, playing defense for the Blackhawks.
Asked about the remarks from his skipper after Sunday’s win, Leonard said he tries to bring that toughness to the ballpark each day.
“I like to think I am [tough]. I like to think I bring some grit with it,” he said. “I think being a JUCO player, there’s always the stigma around them that we’re gritty and tough, and I like to take that, too.”
Leonard has shown his skipper a picture or two of him from his hockey-playing days. One, in particular, that he’s shared with Mazey is a snapshot of Leonard leveling an opposing player near center ice.
Mazey has shared videos and pictures of both of his children, Weston and Sierra
According to the head coach, Leonard is likely facing some sort of surgery whenever the Mountaineers’ season ends.
“He’s playing all banged up all the time, but he just doesn’t even care,” Mazey said. “He’s just out there trying to represent this university that he knew nothing about a year ago at this time.”
Leonard was sidelined a few games earlier this year with a hand injury but has come back, and swung the bat well since.
Last week he hit for a .400 average with a pair of extra-base hits and six runs batted in. His solid week at the dish was rewarded with Big 12 Co-Newcomer of the Week honors.
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Even better, he has collected at least one hit in five of his last six games played. Over that span, Leonard has hit for a .556 average with four extra-base hits and eight RBI.
Leonard is tied for third on the Mountaineers with a .310 batting average. He leads the team with a .425 on-base percentage and is third on the club with an .865 OPS.
While he has swung the bat well, he’s also been a solid addition to the team, both behind the plate and at third base.
Catcher is a position Leonard didn’t play much of until he got to college. Since then, he hasn’t played much on the left side of the infield, where he grew up playing on the diamond. He has been important both as the WVU backstop, and more recently at the hot corner.
“He hasn’t played much over there this year, but he’s played great for us,” Mazey said of the Virginia Tech transfer’s ability at third base.
The Mountaineers are 5-6 over the course of their last 11 games, but have twice denied an opposing team of a three-game sweep on the final day of a series.
Leonard noted the skill and potential that he saw in this team when he first arrived in Morgantown after a year with the Hokies. Skill and potential aside, it’s his toughness that has shown throughout the WVU roster this season.
“Our team, as a whole, we’re resilient. We don’t like to lose, especially in the manner that we did [Saturday],” said Leonard. “I think the way our team is, and the personality we got on our team, it kind of showed today that we don’t give up. It’s who we are.”
Leonard and West Virginia host Pittsburgh Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the team’s final nonconference game of the season. After that, they will face a good Oklahoma team before ending the regular season at home against a Kansas State club that is in the bottom third of the league.
After that, the Mountaineers will begin what they hope is a lengthy run in the postseason at the Big 12 Championship in Arlington, Texas. If another appearance in the NCAA Tournament is in the cards for this team, they will more than likely be on the road.
But that doesn’t bother this group.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this team can compete with any team in the country,” said Leonard.