Noah Leib burst onto the varsity baseball scene last year as a sophomore and sprayed line drives everywhere on his way to a .362 batting average.
But Leib’s best day in an Evanston uniform came Wednesday at Northwestern University’s Rocky Miller Park.
Against an Oak Park-River Forest powerhouse lineup that included a half dozen Division I college recruits, Leib turned in a dominant performance on the mound and also went 3-for-3 at the plate with 3 runs-batted-in as the Wildkits scored a slaughter rule 11-1 triumph over the Huskies.
Leib earned his first varsity victory with 9 strikeouts in the 5-inning contest and allowed just 3 hits --- 2 of them on bunts. The left-hander’s effort could turn out to be pivotal for a Wildkit team that improved to 4-7 on the season and is still seeking its identity with new players in new roles this spring.
You could add Leib to that list. He only pitched 2 innings last year and struggled out of the gate in 2019, permitting 5 earned runs in his first two starts while walking 7 and hitting 2 batters. All of that changed Wednesday as the southpaw wriggled out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the first inning --- surrendering just one unearned run.
“My best day? As a team, winning the regional last year was a good one, but for me personally, yeah, this one is right up there,” Leib said. “The coaches are always preaching throw strikes and good things will happen. So I just reflected on some of my past performances and changed my mindset. I knew Oak Park was a good team and I just decided to challenge them and go right at them today. I threw about 75 percent fastballs, 2 seamers and 4 seamers, and only a couple of curve balls.
“I only got to pitch 2 innings last year but I was really just so grateful to be on the varsity (as a starter at third base). I love pitching and I love the physical and mental challenge about pitching. I try to take pride in everything I do and I like to consider myself a complete player.
“Coach (head coach Frank Consiglio) has been telling us that we’re good, that we just have to figure out some things for ourselves. This game could shift our season in a better direction now. I’ll remember this one for awhile.”
So will Consiglio, whose patience hasn’t been tested by the team’s slow start that included a 4-3 loss to Buffalo Grove Tuesday night in which two players were picked off base in the seventh inning with the game on the line.
The veteran coach knew it would take time for the Kits to find a winning formula.
“This was the most complete game we’ve played all season,” Consiglio said. “For the first time all year we saw the complete package from this team. This was a clear example of how strong we can be when we get good pitching.
“Noah was outstanding today and this was more characteristic of him (than his first 2 starts). He’s a ‘feel’ pitcher who usually needs to mix up his pitches and change eye levels out there. I think the worst is behind him now. What hasn’t happened to us before today was any consistency on the mound, but after Noah had that rough first inning, he was really, really good the rest of the way.”
Oak Park (5-3), ranked in the top 25 in Illinois by the publication Prep Baseball Report in the preseason, loaded the bases right away against Leib on a walk to Dylan Whitney and bunt singles by Ethan Reinhardt and Nate Diamond. Leib then struck out the next 3 hitters he faced, but a botched rundown and a subsequent throwing error by third baseman Connor Groff allowed the Huskies to plate an unearned run.
Leib allowed only 3 baserunners after that, walking Whitney two more times and yielding a harmless 2-out single by Zach Silverman in the fourth inning. He also picked Whitney off first.
Evanston jumped on Huskies’ starter Grant Holderfield, a sophomore already committed to play at Indiana University, for 4 runs on 4 hits in the first 3 innings and also beat up on the OPRF bullpen to put the 10-run rule into effect.
Chris Wolfe’s two-out double scored pinch-runner Seth Shimmelfar-Wells after Leib was hit by a pitch in the first. Leib lashed a two-out, two-run single past third base to highlight the second inning rally, and Sawyer Brown’s triple to right center and Groff’s infield out sent Holderfield to the bench after the third.
The winners sent 11 batters to the plate in a 5-run fourth, and in the home half of the fifth the Huskies didn’t retire a single batter, with RBI singles from Brown and Groff finishing off the rout.
“What we saw in Florida (spring break trip) was that the better the pitching, the better the (hitting) results for us,” Consiglio pointed out. “That’s been a real positive so far for us. When you’re not chasing runs you can have some fun and be loose as a goose up there at the plate. We had 10 hits today against some quality arms. What I really liked was the way we used the entire field, because that’s the sign of a dynamic offense.”