EVANSVILLE, Ind. – By any account the pitching of the 2014 Lake Erie Storm was the best the program has seen in its 13-year history. And by a corresponding and fair account of the Drury Panthers (Mo.) offense, that pitching was tested and bested on Saturday afternoon at the NCAA-II Midwest Regional Tournament.
A high-octane Drury attack cranked out 25 hits and scored in seven innings en route to handing the Storm a season-ending 16-3 loss. The top four batters in the Panthers order went a combined 11-of-20 as Drury advanced to the fourth and final day of the six-team regional brackets in Evansville, Ind.
On Friday Lake Erie (32-22) won an NCAA tournament game for the first time in program history, as the Storm downed Indianapolis, 4-3, in a pitcher's duel. That kind of game was not in the offing on Saturday.
The Panthers (43-12) pounced for seven runs on 10 hits through the first three innings of the game, and they scored in each of the game's first six innings.
"This was a tough way for a season filled with so many successes to end," said Head Coach Brian McGee.
That tough ending included the Drury Panthers collecting more hits in a single game than any LEC opponent since March 5, 2010.
The Panthers then continued their onslaught with four straight hits, including a leadoff triple, in the top of the second. After another extra-base hit – a two-run double off the bat of cleanup hitter Caleb Cole – starter Russ Hogue was removed from the game and replaced by Heath Kelley.
By the time Lake Erie got its first hit – a leadoff double by Dylan Yankle in the bottom of the third – the Storm were down, 7-0, on the USI Baseball Field scoreboard. LEC went on to lead the bases in that third inning but would manage just a lone run.
Drury – a team that ranks 27th in the nation in scoring (7.1 runs per game) and 10th in ERA (2.69) -- wasn't held off the board until the seventh, and by that time the Panthers led, 13-2.
Senior Kevin Sweeney – a 6-foot-4 right-hander who went into Saturday with a 1.99 season ERA – was highly effective in holding Drury's commanding lead. Sweeney allowed just three hits through the first five innings of play and did so with an efficient pitch count.
Drury outscored Lake Erie, 3-1, over the final three innings of play. Sweeney went 7-1/3 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits. He walked two and struck out five.
For the Panther offense, five different players recorded three hits on the day. DU's hitting exploits added up to 20 singles, four doubles and a triple. The Panthers went a red-hot 18-of-29 with runners in scoring position.
The Storm finished their 2014 season with a program-record 32 victories.
"This game doesn't take away from a great season," said McGee. "This year was a step forward for our program, the bar is set higher and we're excited for that fact."
Notes: Lake Erie – which went 6-18 on the road in 2013 – finished the season with a combined 22-17 mark in road and neutral-site games. … LEC is now 1-8 in nine all-time games played in the state of Indiana. … Lucas Raley had two RBIs in the game – both on outs. He finished his freshman campaign with 46 RBIs, one off the Storm's all-time record of 47 set by Ryan Rua in 2009.
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