116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The video that circulated on social media highlighted Trey Leonard’s second home run of this college baseball season.
When he finished rounding the bases and approached home, the former Cedar Rapids Washington prep was greeted by a familiar face – former Cedar Rapids Prairie and Kirkwood player Levi Usher, who was on third at the time of the shot.
“It was nice to see Levi there,” said Leonard, who finished the game against Cincinnati with four hits, including three extra-base hits and three RBIs. “It was a good moment with him, a nice bonding moment. It just made us closer.”
The pair played against each other in high school, but they never played on the same team until they moved 500 miles away from home. Now, the Metro standouts are contributing to fifth-ranked Louisville, which beat Florida State, 4-3, Friday night in the opener of a three-game home series.
“It’s kind of crazy to look back at that moment,” Usher said, “and think that two guys from Cedar Rapids are playing on the Louisville Cardinals in Kentucky.”
They are among three Iowans on the Louisville roster, joining former Marshalltown left-handed pitcher Tate Kuehner. The home-state representation is a welcome sight. Leonard said it comes in handy when he gets in good-natured debates with his peers.
“It’s always great to see because a lot of people wouldn’t recognize that or assume Iowa kids are making it out (of the state),” Leonard said. “Another thing that is helpful is I have someone to help in arguments because being the Iowa guy I would lose to the southern kids. It’s nice to have Levi to have my back and let them know what is right, if someone is in an argument with me.”
Both had a hit in the victory over the Seminoles, including Usher’s walk-off single. The production is just the tip of the iceberg for the outfielders.
Leonard, a 6-foot-1 redshirt sophomore in eligibility but senior academically, leads Louisville with a .403 batting average, playing in 24 of 29 games and starting 18. He has 17 RBIs and 29 hits with five coming in the last three contests. Leonard has tallied six multi-hit games.
The focus was on helping his team in any way, instead of an individual breakout season.
“I’ve been trusting the work I’ve put in during the offseason and trusting my abilities,” Leonard said. “I was looking to help the team any way I could. Whether that was being an everyday starter, coming off the bench, hitting, running or whatever mold I fit to make the team the best, I was going to do it.
“The time I did get in I felt prepared. They went well, which was great.”
Leonard reclaimed his love for the game this season, reverting back to a past and simpler approach. The kind he sees when he watches his younger brother’s team play baseball with a carefree attitude and pure exuberance.
“I’m smiling, having fun, enjoying the game and going back to how it was as a little kid,” Leonard said. “When I watch my brother play, they’re all smiling and having fun. I’m making sure I have that mindset, regardless of the circumstances.”
Usher has started in 21 of 29 appearances. Even though he’s hitting just .222, the left-handed hitting sophomore owns a .354 on-base percentage and 11 RBIs with 17 runs. Usher’s team-high 22 stolen bases are twice as many as the next Cardinal.
“(Louisville) Coach (Dan McDonnell) still wants me to play good defense,” Usher said. “He wants me to run the bases. I’m just trying to stay sharp.”
Usher has 91.7-percent success rate stealing bases. He compared his struggles at the plate and running productivity to a person losing one sense and another becomes enhanced. The always quick and speedy Usher worked with a strength and conditioning coach to improve his starts. He has learned a lot from McDonnell to refine his skill.
“It starts in practice,” Usher said. “He’s pretty knowledgeable when it comes to stealing bags, so I think that has helped me quite a lot as well.”
The Cardinals are 19-10 overall and 11-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Leonard and Usher have helped elevate the team into a national title contender. Louisville will attempt to reach the College World Series for the third time in the last five seasons, matching 2019 and 2017 finishes.
“We’re playing really well,” Leonard said. “I think we continue to get better in the little things each game and practice. When we fully click and everything is working, it’s going to be a lot of fun.
“We haven’t reached our full potential, yet. We have higher expectations we know we can reach.”