Madison baseball player Ethan Leach (sitting center) with his mother Kristen Kosenski (left) and father Steve Leach (right) along with standing, from left) Madison baseball head coach Shannon Barger, assistant coach Bob Kring and Indiana Southeast head coach coach Ben Reel. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
Madison baseball player Ethan Leach (sitting center) with his mother Kristen Kosenski (left) and father Steve Leach (right) along with standing, from left) Madison baseball head coach Shannon Barger, assistant coach Bob Kring and Indiana Southeast head coach coach Ben Reel. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
Just days after wrapping up his junior year at Madison, Cub third baseman Ethan Leach looked well beyond even his upcoming senior season to sign a letter of intent to play college baseball at Indiana University Southeast.

Somewhat of a local rarity in that he's a single-sport athlete, Leach has been well-focused on a future in baseball for some time so when the NAIA program in New Albany offered a scholarship, he quickly accepted.

"I definitely know that's where I want to go. I've had that feeling for some time," said Leach, who signed soon after his junior season rather than extend recruitment into the spring of 2015. "It's a great fit."

"He's fun to watch. He's from a storied program ... and I recruited his cousin, Jordan Leach, three years ago," Grenadiers head coach Ben Reel said of Leach. He said Leach will receive a half-tuition scholarship "which is like a full ride for us."

Perhaps as important, Leach will get an opportunity to make an immediate impact at a program that is a perennial power in its conference, a contender in the NAIA nationally and place where eight major league baseball draft picks have played in recent years.

"It's just a great opportunity for him to be able to come in to our program," Reel added. "Our third baseman is a senior this coming year so he will have a chance to come in and start right away as a freshman with his skill set."

Although Leach played football, basketball and baseball when he was younger, he has focused on baseball since his sophomore season at Madison because his desire to play baseball outweighed all other sports.

"He's got all the physical tools in the world. It's just a matter of putting them all together," Madison head coach Shannon Barger said of his power-hitting infielder. "He's a college player. He's really comfortable with Coach Reel, he visited down there, he's had a cousin play for them, he's been to games down there and the coaches have seen him a few times.

"I think for him this is a really good fit. It's a small campus with a really good baseball tradition and it's a good school academically," Barger added. "They've won the conference quite a few years and Coach Reel is from around here - he's originally from South Dearborn - so he kind of knows our area, too, which is a big help because he needs to feel comfortable with Ethan as well."

Reel can recall Madison baseball all the way back to his playing days for the Knights when he battled against the likes of future pros Chris Bass and Bryan Bullington. He went on to play at Indiana Southeast and serve as an assistant coach there before taking over as the Grenadiers' head coach. As a result he's been back to Madison many times over the years to recruit Cubs for his program and none have been better suited for that task than Ethan.

"He's a pretty hard-nosed kid. He's going to get after it," Barger said of Leach. "I think he likes competition and that's what people have to realize once they get to college. Everybody is at the top of their game in high school - that's why they get recruited to go to college - now how do you compete with your peers? He's the kind of kid that likes the competition and will thrive in that."

"The main thing is just the character," Reel said. "Obviously he's young, he's emotional but you can see that he wants it. He's an athlete and he plays with a lot of confidence, a lot of heart. Down the road when he learns to control all that, he's going to be really special. I really believe that.

"We recruit a little differently. We kind of pick and choose in this area ... we recruit from coast-to-coast but I look at a lot of local guys and it's hard to find a local guy that we think can come in and give us help right away - and we're blessed with Louisville in our backyard - but Ethan is one of those guys."

"Coach Reel is a great guy and a great coach," Leach said. "He'll be on me and I need that. He'll get me to where I need to be in college and maybe get me to the next level."

That "next level" is professional baseball. It's the ultimate athletic goal for Leach, but before any of that he wants to focus on getting a degree at IUS to prepare him for another goal he's had since he was a little boy.

"I want to major in criminal justice - I've wanted to be a police officer or a state trooper since I was little - and I plan to stay all four years," Leach said. "I hope to be drafted some day but I really want to stay all four years and get a degree.

"And I think my parents (Steve Leach of Madison and Kristen Kozenski of Oldham County, Ky.) would probably kill me if I didn't," Leach laughed.

With his college choice decided, Leach can now turn his focus to a summer of playing Legion baseball with Madison Post 9, where he will face plenty of college level pitching, and following a workout regimen recommended by IUS to be stronger his senior season and as a college freshman in the fall of 2015.

"He's got a lot of growth to do between his junior and senior year," Barger said. "We're the only sport he plays. He's a full baseball guy so that's always a good thing ... so we're looking forward to his continued development."

Barger said having guys like Leach go on to IUS much like Ryan Thurston signed with Western Kentucky a year ago, is great motivation for his young Cubs to keep working hard and chasing their dreams.

"It's good for our program. Anytime you've got kids who are going to go on and continue their career it just shows our younger guys that it can happen," Barger said. "We've got a history of that happening and this continues that ... anytime you get that exposure it's great for your program."