Storm Heads Into 2010 Campaign with High Expectations

PAINESVILLE, Ohio - With the late winter snow still falling on the Lake Erie College campus, the Storm baseball team has been working drills in the Jerome T. Osborne Family Athletic & Wellness Center's gym to prepare for its Feb. 20 season-opener at Virginia State.

With a full stable of young returning players, Lake Erie head coach Brian McGee looks forward to a strong season in his third year at the helm of the Storm baseball program. 
"They're anxious to get going and get out of the gym," McGee said. "Last year, a lot of them were playing college baseball for the first time and they were a little shell-shocked. Now they have expectations and they know what they can do on the field. They have an understanding of how good the competition is and how good they have to be."
The 37-man roster is comprised of 33 freshmen and sophomores with four juniors and no seniors. The Storm, which won 16 games last year in its first Division II season, returns eight starters and has had an influx of freshman talent come into the program.
The list of starters includes four guys from the top of the batting order. Outfielders Brandon James (Mentor, Ohio/Mentor) and Matt Toth (Lorain, Ohio/Admiral King) return to the squad with shortstop Ryan Rua (Amherst, Ohio/Amherst) and catcher Nick Lovick (Mentor, Ohio/Mentor).
James started 48 games for Lake Erie in 2009, hitting .345 with two home runs, 13 doubles, 32 RBI and a team-high 13 stolen bases. Rua, who led last year's team in home runs (11) and RBI (47), also hit .320 and was selected as an All-Star in the Southern Collegiate Baseball League last summer, when he played for the Carolina Stingers. Both were named to the All-Independent Collegiate Athletic Association (ICAA) team. Rua was named to the first team while James was a second-team pick.
Lovick, the team captain and one of the top defensive catchers in Division II, will return behind the plate after hitting .277 with a home run and 11 RBI in 32 starts for the Storm. Toth hit .321 in 31 games with nine stolen bases.
James and Lovick are juniors, while Rua and Toth are coming off fantastic freshman seasons.
McGee will try and keep that veteran group in the lineup while working in the younger players around them. He has brought in other players that will speed up the offense and allow him to be more aggressive as he manages the game.
"Before this year, we haven't really had the tools to be as aggressive as we'd like," he said. "We feel we have a better chance of scoring with a runner at first and no outs than a runner at second and one out with the type of bats and speed we have now. We're going to play a fast-paced, high-energy game."
Two freshmen, Patrick Kilway (Tallmadge, Ohio/Tallmadge) and Zachary Mosbarger (Bellefontaine, Ohio/Bellefontaine) will slide into the lineup as young players.
On the mound, freshman Adam Beach (Vermilion, Ohio/Vermilion) was named the Southern Collegiate Baseball League's Most Valuable Pitcher after posting a 4-0 record with a 1.19 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 46 innings for the Carolina Stingers last summer.
He will fill into the rotation at times, joining fellow right-handers Patrick Mulligan (Brookfield, Ohio/Brookfield), Michael Backes (Hubbard, Ohio/Hubbard) and Glenn Stewart (Strattanville, Pa./Clarion Limestone) on a pitching staff that looks to rebound from a tough 2009. Mulligan, Backes and Stewart are all sophomores.
"We want to build from the ground-up. We'd like guys to work into our system so that when they're juniors and seniors, they'll be ready to produce," said McGee.
It is for that reason fans will not find a junior college transfer on this season's roster.
"We have a high level of expectation from our guys over the span of four years both on and off the field," McGee said. "That's how we build a program."
Part of that expectation is for the Storm to face Division I competition with a pair of games against big-time in-state programs. Lake Erie will play at Cleveland State on March 28, and in its next game, travel to Akron on March 30 to battle the Zips.
"We've taught the players that to be the best, you've got to beat the best," said McGee. "We didn't schedule some of these teams and expect to lose. We expect to beat these teams. It will test where we're at. We have the confidence to go in and win those games."
Lake Erie is scheduled to play 10 of its home games at Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio, home of the Class-A Lake County Captains.
"Classic Park is a huge selling point for this program," McGee said. "It's a high-level, classy facility and it shows how serious we are about competing. It's the backbone of our baseball facilities."
Before playing in Northeast Ohio, though, the Storm will embark on its spring trip to the Carolinas, where they will play 10 games. From that, McGee hopes to develop a lineup he can use on a game-to-game basis.
"We'll battle through the spring trip and when we get back, we want to have a pretty steady lineup for the rest of the season," he said.
The Storm's first 27 games are all on the road, before opening the home season at Classic Park against Alderson-Broaddus for a March 24 doubleheader.
The Storm also has five games against future Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foes Ohio Dominican, Ashland and Tiffin. Those games will act as measuring sticks to see how Lake Erie stacks up against the GLIAC - and McGee, again, expects the Storm to rise to the challenge. He didn't mince words when talking about what he expects from his team in the next couple seasons.
"We expect to make the conference postseason next year. We're putting the right players on the field and next year when those guys are juniors and seniors, we are going to compete."
That is a far cry from where the program was just three years ago when McGee took over the program. He led the Storm to its first-ever conference postseason in 2008, his first season at the helm and the last year Lake Erie was at the Division III level in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference.
"People outside of this baseball family don't understand what's taking place," McGee said. "We are one of the most improved programs in the state, if not the country."
 It is now a program that expects to be somewhere a year from now, a program that believes it can win at the highest level and one that will not take losing lightly.
"As coaches, we instill in them the importance of team play and chemistry and to compete with a ‘win-at-all-costs attitude,'" said McGee.
"[Two years ago] we were starting to get our blocks in place," he said. "Now, we have our team in place and we're ready to climb the mountain. We've gathered all our pieces and everything we need, and we're ready to climb. It's all about the climb."