LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In an oft postponed and delayed baseball game, it was Lake Erie's delayed-but-effective offense that came through just in time to post a 4-1 victory at Bellarmine (Ky.) on Thursday.
After a day-and-a-half of shuffling game dates, start times and game sites for the next four days, the Storm continued the program's best start to a season with a come-from-behind effort in a pitcher's duel that saw no less than 16 scoreless half innings. The Lake Erie (4-1) offense was hamstrung and hindered through much of the contest played on a 40-degree night in Louisville, Ky. But the Green & White worked their way to four runs in the eighth inning, lifting LEC to a win on a night when it's pitching and defense was nearly flawless.
Sophomore right-hander Connor Fuller started for Lake Erie and was opposed by Bellarmine sophomore left-hander Austin Warner.
Warner and the Knights (0-3) were lifted to a 1-0 lead when a pair of two-out singles plated Jes Staples who had singled earlier in the inning. Fuller and Warner then began trading zeroes on the scorecard. At one point Fuller – making his first career start – retired five Knights in a row. He then got into trouble in the home half of the fourth when Bellarmine worked two walks to go with a single. But Fuller got a clutch strike out of No. 9 hitter Andrew Bryant to end the threat without allowing a run.
Both teams made mound changes in the fifth. Freshman port-sider Michael Messier relieved Warner; junior lefty Heath Kelley came on for Lake Erie. They picked up where the starters left off and more scoreless innings rolled by.
Kelley got in a jam in the Bellarmine seventh, but senior reliever D.J. Stastny came on to get three key outs without allowing a run. In the ensuing half inning, the Lake Erie offense seemingly grabbed that momentum, and it led to the first crooked number of the game on the scoreboard.
Shortstop Sean Mathews got aboard with a single, and he advanced to third when Aaron Lindgren doubled down the right field line. After an intentional walk to Garrett Emling and a pitching change, the stage was set with the bases jammed, Lucas Raley at the plate and junior right-hander Ryan Dixon on to pitch for the Knights.
And Raley delivered. The freshman left fielder knocked in a pair with a single to second. Sophomore third baseman Zack DeCamp followed Raley, and he singled as well, knocking in Emling. With Raley and DeCamp aboard, catcher Dylan Yankle worked a six-pitch walk and that reloaded the bases.
Perhaps Yankle's come-from-behind-in-count walk rattled Dixon, because the veteran righty then walked in a run when he threw a strike and four straight balls to No. 8 hitter Lou Peterlin. It took another BU pitching change, but the Knights finally extricated themselves from the four-run frame.
Stasny hit a batter but otherwise deftly protected LEC's new-found 4-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth. He faced Bellarmine's three, four, five and six batters in the process. He set up junior right-hander Brandon Grunda to get a one-two-three save in the ninth.
Both teams finished with six hits in the game. BU committed one error, while Lake Erie, for a fourth straight game, played errorless baseball.
Emling, Raley and Rutger Luebke all reached base twice in the game. Walks were a key stat of comparison in the game – LEC pitchers walked just three; their BU counterparts walked six.
Connor Fuller allowed one run on four hits and three walks. He fanned five. The Storm bullpen trifecta of Kelley, Stastny and Grunda went five frames, allowing just three base runners. The combined performances of those four hurlers lowered Lake Erie's season ERA from 1.67 to 1.50.
Notes: The Storm had been 1-15 all-time against Kentucky programs prior to the 2014 season. LEC is 4-1 against Bluegrass State foes this season. … Center fielder Aaron Lindgren has hit safely in all five games this season, as has Zack DeCamp. Dating back to last season, Lindgren has a hit streak of seven games. … Lake Erie is already two-thirds of the way to its 2013 road-game win total. LEC is 4-1 on the road this season; the Storm went 6-18 on the road a year ago. … Lake Erie yielded 55 runs over its first five games in 2013. The Green & White yielded all of seven runs over its first five games this season. ... LEC has now outscored foes, 17-1, over the sixth, seventh and eighth innings this year. … Storm pitchers allowed batters to reach when leading off an inning just twice on Thursday night. For the season, LEC has held opponents to a .333 on-base percentage in such situations. Conversely, Lake Erie batters have thus far worked a .568 on-base mark when leading off innings.