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Knoch junior knocking in runs

| Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Knoch's Austin Leffler says he's seeing the baseball better this spring, and, so far, he has the numbers to prove it.

Through five games, Leffler is 7 for 12 at the plate with two home runs, two doubles, 11 RBI and five runs scored.

But when asked about his fast start, the Knoch junior credited his teammates.

"I'm doing all right," he said. "My teammates are the ones who have been getting on base and giving me a chance to knock in runs."

Another reason why Leffler has had more opportunities to score runs this year could be his new spot in the lineup. Last year, he batted cleanup, but this year, Knoch coach Curt Schnur moved him to third.

"We moved him up this year to give him more at-bats and get him into more hitting situations," Schnur said. "In the past, people pitched around him, and we wanted to get him some better pitches."

The move has paid off with the Knights (3-2) heading into section play.

"We're looking pretty good right now," Leffler said.

Leffler, 17, wants the Knights to redeem themselves after their WPIAL Class AAA first-round playoff loss to South Park last year.

"I want to be on the first Knoch (baseball) team to win a playoff game," he said. "South Park smoked us last year, and I knew we could've played better."

Leffler has stepped into a leadership role this season. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound first baseman moved up to varsity midway through his freshman year, batted .500, and now has more experience than some of the seniors on the team, Schnur said.

"The guys look up to him," Schnur said. "He's been around and is quite a player for us. In the past, he's been a lead-by-example guy, but this year with his confidence growing, he's beginning to be more vocal."

Leffler, a Saxonburg resident, said becoming a vocal team leader is "a question of being ready."

"The older guys have to step up and help the younger guys," Leffler said. "It all goes back to the coaches. I'm just saying what they've told me."

Baseball is Leffler's only sport. He plays on an AAU team in the summer and a traveling team in the fall. He's been 6-foot-3 since the eighth grade. As he's grown into his body, one of the biggest obstacles of his improvement has been losing weight.

"I worked really hard at shedding weight to get faster," Leffler said. "I've improved my 60 time by a second and a half. It's now 7.08 (seconds), which isn't great, but it's further along than it was. I'd like to get under seven."

Leffler's other goals include continuing to get better at his pitch selection, which Schnur said has improved since his freshman year when he chased bad pitches. He also wants to play beyond high school.

He may just have a swing that is powerful enough.

"He's a big, strong kid with a quick bat, and when he makes contact, the ball flies off the bat," Schnur said. "He can hit the frozen rope off the left field fence, or he can sky it up 40 or 50 feet over the fence."

If Leffler continues to see the ball as well as he has so far this spring, he might become one of the most dangerous hitters in Section 1-AAA.

Additional Information:

The Leffler file

School: Knoch.

Class: Junior.

Position: First base.

Notable: Big, strong power-hitting first baseman moved up to varsity as a freshman and batted .500. ... Second-year starter has two home runs, two doubles and 11 RBI through five games for the Knights (3-2).

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