PAINESVILLE, Ohio – You can't sweep a three-game series without winning the set from start-to-finish. A 3-2 win in Saturday's opener was the start; a 5-3 victory on Saturday was the finish. And from end-to-end and everything in between, Lake Erie was a baseball team not to be denied in search of a sweep over a ranked team and a move up to first place in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings.
"Start-to-finish" is the mantra of the 2014 Storm, a team that now finds itself 10 games over .500 (17-7) in league play. Head Coach Brian McGee and the LEC coaching staff describe the start-to-finish philosophy as "way to focus on consistency in everything we do – every practice, every inning and every game."
That style of play was certainly on display for the last two days at Braggs Field. "The way we handled our business in every facet of the game was start to finish, said McGee. "This team shows so much camaraderie; it has a special chemistry. And our coaching staff is the best we've ever had. We're on the same page, and I see how impactful our coaches are. It carries over to how this team executes."
For a third straight game against the No. 7 (National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association) Lakers (24-11, 15-6 GLIAC) – a team came to Painesville, Ohio, having won 8-of-its-previous-9 – the Storm (23-14, 17-7) won on Saturday. And for a third straight game, LEC pulled off a win in comeback fashion.
Russ Hogue started for Lake Erie and yielded the first run of the contest when Grand Valley plated one run in the second. The Lakers upped their lead to 2-0 in the fourth when a Stuart Eisler sacrifice bunt scored Jesse Abel. But Hogue escaped even more trouble in that inning, leaving two GVSU runners aboard when he struck out Ariel Aracena-Sanchez.
Lucas Raley singled, stole second and came around to score on an error in the Storm fourth. An Aaron Lindgren double in that same frame knocked in a second run. Lake Erie would then take a 3-2 lead when a Josh Hudeck RBI single scored Lou Peterlin.
GVSU came back to tie the game with a solo run in the visitors' half of the sixth.
Lake Erie got to Grand Valley starter Evan Nietfeldt for a go-ahead fourth run in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs, shortstop Sean Mathews got something going with a single to left-center. His single was followed by singles off the bats of Lucas Raley and Zack DeCamp. The DeCamp hit plated Mathews.
D.J. Stastny, who came in relief of Hogue in the sixth, kept the Lakers off the board in the sixth, seventh and eighth.
LEC then got a big insurance run in the bottom of the eighth when Alex Lind came through with a two-out RBI double.
Right-hander Brandon Grunda came on to pitch the ninth. In and around allowing two hits and a walk, Grunda got out of the inning without allowing a run. And he finished the game in style, striking out the final batter of the series.
GVSU's Stuart Eisler went 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Garrett Emling, Josh Hudeck and Lucas Raley all had two-hit games for a Storm squad that has now won eight straight, a program record.
Hogue scattered three runs on eight hits and a walk. He struck out four.
For Lake Erie, winning three straight games against a national top-10 may be uncharted territory. But going "start-to-finish" is nothing new. Those three words have been part of every drill, every practice, every at-bat and every inning since the fall. And on Saturday evening, Lake Erie players and coaches could say that for the last three games, they took those words off the bulletin board and played them out on the field.
Notes: D.J. Stastny earned his fifth "vulture" win of the season on Saturday; he is now 5-0 on the year. Brandon Grunda registered his fourth save. … Lake Erie's previous best win streak was a six-gamer in 2012. … LEC pitching has allowed more than three earned runs just once over the team's last eight games. Over that stretch, the Storm pitching staff has lowered its season ERA from 3.75 to 3.46. … Over the three-game series, Storm pitching held GVSU batters to a .217 on-base percentage when leading off an inning. … Lucas Raley's two-hit game marked his 11th multi-hit game of the season. That ties him with Zack DeCamp for the team lead. For the season Raley is now batting .349/.401/.571 (batting/on-base/slugging). … LEC swept the three games from Grand Valley despite the Lakers scoring first in each contest. The Storm are now 11-10 this season when their opponent scores first. … The Green & White are 5-0 this season when leading after seven innings. … The cozy confines of Braggs Field have been a haven for the Storm in 2014 – LEC is now 7-1 at home. … The only other time Lake Erie has ever been 10 games over .500 in conference play was in 2011 when the Storm were, at one point, 22-11. LEC finished at 22-14 in GLIAC play that season, and that stands as the program's best season since the inception of Storm Baseball in 2002.