JACKSONVILLE, Ill. – Lake Erie closed out its "Relocation Tour" with an 8-6 victory over Illinois-Springfield on Sunday. The win included a solid 11-hit performance by a Storm offense that scuffled in a 6-2 loss on Saturday night. And the 11th hit was a big one – it came in the form of a ninth-inning, two-run, walk-off home run off the bat of freshman left fielder Lucas Raley.
After LEC had allowed a game-tying three runs in the top of the ninth, leadoff man Dillon VanDyne was hit by a pitch with one out in the bottom of the inning. And then Raley smacked his second career home run over the fence in left to secure the win.
The neutral-site victory closed out a busy week of travel, postponements, delays and relocations for a Lake Erie squad that managed to go 3-2 on the week. Sunday's tilt – at the relocation Jacksonville, Ill., site – was delayed an hour due to cold temperatures. But the game was at least played in bright sunshine, and LEC's win was a sunny end to what was a 2-2 split between the Storm (6-3) and Prairie Stars (4-3) over the weekend series. The four-game set was originally slated as a five-game series to be played in Millington, Tenn., near Memphis. Inclement weather and poor field conditions forced an end to that idea.
And perhaps Head Coach Brian McGee forced an end to the idea that the Lake Erie offense could sit back and let runs happen. That was McGee's refrain on Saturday after the Storm had managed just five hits in a lackluster performance against UIS.
On Sunday the LEC offense was front-and-center in a victory that runs the team's record to 6-3, a program-best for a nine-game start to a season.
Lake Erie batters produced 11 hits, including two doubles and the Raley homer. The 11 hits tie a season high. The Storm also rambled around the bases to the tune of a season-best-tying five steals.
"There was no complacency today," said McGee. "I saw a sense of urgency out there. Our hitters backed our pitchers today, and we had good focus from start to finish."
Third baseman Zack DeCamp had a big day for the Green & White. DeCamp had two of those five steals; at the plate he went 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI.
Shortstop Sean Mathews also reached base three times in the game. Mathews had two singles and a walk in the 10 a.m., two-hour-and-55 minute contest.
The Storm batted as the home team and scored two in the bottom of the first after starter Heath Kelley had retired the side in order in the top of the inning. Kelley protected that lead by getting out of jams in both the second and third innings.
LEC upped its lead to 3-0 when Aaron Lindgren and DeCamp got back-to-back hits in the home half of the third.
Kelley stranded a UIS leadoff double in the fourth, again keeping the Prairie Stars off the scoreboard when a run looked imminent. The Storm offense helped out its pitcher by extending his lead to 5-0 in the bottom of the fourth.
Kelley allowed a leadoff double in the fifth, and an LEC error would plate that runner. Brandon Grunda then came on to pitch for the Storm. Grunda gave up a run-scoring single but stopped the damage at that.
Kelley's final line on the day: four innings pitched, two runs allowed (none earned) on four hits. The lefty from Mentor, Ohio, walked one and struck out four.
The Lake Erie bullpen steadied things throughout the middle innings, and Lake Erie extended its lead to 6-2 when the Green & White put together three hits in the bottom of the sixth.
Senior Adam Unes cut that Storm lead to 6-3 when he hit his third home run of the season, a solo shot to right in the eighth. The Prairie Stars got two more hits in the eighth but failed to capitalize. For the game, Illinois-Springfield would go 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
Lake Erie went quietly in the bottom of the eighth. The ninth was an adventure.
Illinois-Springfield culled together three hits, two walks and a wild pitch to score three in the top of the ninth. The big hit in the Prairie Stars' ninth was a two-out, two-run, game-tying double off the bat of junior Alex Bradley.
The bottom of the ninth was no less of a circus.
After a strikeout to lead off the inning, Dillon VanDyne was then hit by a pitch. That brought freshman Lucas Raley into the batter's box. And the lefty-swinging freshman may well have been bringing some baggage with him. Raley had gone hitless in each four at-bats on the day. In fact, dating back to Friday, he was at the time 0-for-his-last-9 at the plate.
Moments later he was 1-for-10, with a home-run baseball bouncing to an eventual stop beyond the wall in left field.
Raley – and the LEC offense as a whole -- had given Brian McGee and the coaching staff what it wanted. And what the team needed to win.
Notes: Aaron Lindgren went 1-for-3 with a double, a walk and two runs scored. Lindgren has hit safely in all nine LEC games this season. He is batting .379/.457/.586 (batting/on-base/slugging) on the year. … The Storm had their first multi-error game of the season on Sunday. With no errors in five of its games, Lake Erie owns a nifty .982 fielding percentage on the season. … Brandon Grunda went four innings on Sunday. The outing was his longest of a season that has seen him pitch in four games. Grunda allowed one run against UIS on Sunday and for the season owns a 1.12 ERA.