Kentucky baseball commit returns from injury as a force for Frederick Douglass

After losing a full season due to a knee injury he suffered playing basketball, Frederick Douglass senior Leighton Harris has returned to the baseball field and is helping lead the No. 17 Broncos both on the mound and at the plate.

“Coming back from (injury) is obviously so tough. The recovery sucks. I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody,” Harris said last week after pitching six innings with 11 strikeouts against Sayre in a 3-2 win. “But it’s been good to come back out here with my teammates and be 100% for sure.”

Harris, a 6-foot-3 left-hander who also plays first base, is 4-1 with a 0.97 earned run average and 52 strikeouts. He also bats for a .351 average with seven doubles and 14 RBI. Harris was walked four times in Douglass’ 14-4 win over the Spartans on Friday that gave the Broncos a sweep of their first set of games against a 42nd District foe.

“I think we’re finally getting it together,” Harris said last week. “And as soon as bats come alive, I think we’re going to be hard to stop.”

Frederick Douglass left-hander Leighton Harris leads the No. 17 Broncos with a 4-1 record and 0.97 earned run average and hits for a .351 average at the plate.
Frederick Douglass left-hander Leighton Harris leads the No. 17 Broncos with a 4-1 record and 0.97 earned run average and hits for a .351 average at the plate.

A multi-sport athlete, Harris committed to Kentucky baseball way back in September of 2021, his sophomore year. He came off the bench that season for a Broncos basketball team that won the 42nd District title and finished runner-up in the 11th Region.

He initially decided to give up basketball as a junior, but couldn’t resist turning out for an open gym season ahead of the 2022-23 season. The Broncos appeared loaded for another try at a region title (which they accomplished on their way to the Boys’ Sweet 16 semifinals).

“And I was like, ‘Man, I miss basketball,’ because basketball was my first sport,” Harris explained. “So getting to play that one more time was fun. But the second game of the year, I was driving up the court, planted to go the other way, and the knee didn’t sustain the balance I needed.”

Harris tore the ACL in his right knee, ending basketball and baseball for him as a junior. He was determined to come back better than ever.

“From the fall to now, I gained a bunch of weight and got physically stronger. So I feel like that’s helped me go deeper and outings, like (against Sayre), and hold that velocity,” said Harris, whose fastball has been clocked at 90 mph, according to “I grew from it. It was God’s plan for me. And I’m happy to be back.”

New head coach Braden Johnson took over a Broncos program that has been highly successful and highly ranked for the last few seasons. But Douglass has struggled in the postseason, getting ousted in the district semifinals each of the last two years.

This season, Douglass (13-6, 2-0 42nd District) split a two-game set with No. 1 Louisville Trinity and has taken down No. 14 Madison Central as well as No. 21 Sayre (twice). Its other losses have come against ranked teams No. 6 Ballard, No. 7 Apollo, No. 10 Manual, No. 25 Woodford County, and a Tift County, Georgia, team ranked No. 10 in that state.

“We’ve been playing pretty well,” Johnson said. “I don’t think records and numbers always show where we’re at. … We’ve played probably the second toughest schedule in the state of Kentucky, so we’re going to take some lumps along the way. But we’re starting to put the pieces together.”

In the first game against Sayre, a 3-2 win at home on April 9 in a cold drizzle, the Broncos didn’t record a hit. Their three runs came thanks in part to walks and miscues by the Spartans. In the rematch Friday at Sayre, Douglass pounded out 14 runs on 14 hits in a mercy-rule shortened six-inning game.

“We’ve had a lot of guys start figuring things out at the plate,” Johnson said. “The energy was really, really good as a whole. We’ve found a way to kind of start locking it in as far as energy and good vibes from the guys all around.”

Michigan football commit Jeremiah Lowe was among the players locked in Friday. The senior leftfielder/cornerback went 3-for-4 with a team-high four RBI. He leads Douglass with a .431 average.

“It’s a district game and we have eight of them. You’ve got to make every single one of them count,” Lowe said.

Lowe said finishing out his baseball career at Douglass is part of “enjoying my senior year because you only get one of them. So I just come out here and compete and have fun with it.”

Next up, Douglass has a two-game set against district foe Scott County on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Henry Clay and Bryan Station series will come after showdowns against No. 5 Lexington Catholic and No. 15 West Jessamine, respectively.

“We’ve got to take it one series at a time, especially in this district,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s got arms. Everybody’s got guys who can win games.”

Frederick Douglass’ Jeremiah Lowe bats against Sayre on Friday night.
Frederick Douglass’ Jeremiah Lowe bats against Sayre on Friday night.