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T.J. Storer is living the dream, one save at a time

Junior T.J. Storer was named a Preseason First-Team All-American by d3baseball.com in January. He has six saves this season, which leads the OAC. (photo/ ONU Sports Information)

T.J. Storer leans back in his chair, cracking a slight grin, and his eyes close ever-so-slightly.

He was just asked about what it’s like to close a game. Storer begins talking about the emotional rush he gets from the moment, and he starts rambling. He is dreaming. He does this often.

“I think about it all the time, just picturing it in my head,” Storer imagines. In one continuous, almost pre-rehearsed thought, he details a situation in which he is pitching in the final inning of a game. There are runners on second and third, “or something like that,” and there are no outs. Storer dreams of getting the strikeout, or strikeouts, needed to get it to two outs, and then he lets his defense finish the job for him. Game over. Polar Bears win.

“The adrenaline rush, especially in a closer situation... I couldn’t think of a pitching situation that I would want to go into more than going in the ninth or eighth inning and just shutting out the game,” Storer says dreamingly. “It’s the most hype part of the game.”

Fortunately for Storer, this dream has been a reality more often than not in his first two-plus years as Ohio Northern’s closer.

Storer was named a Preseason First-Team All-American by d3baseball.com in January, and is coming off of a sophomore season in 2016 when he recorded a 0.49 ERA, which was nearly a whole run ahead of the next-best average in the OAC.

While Storer finished his sophomore season with eight saves, which fell one short of the single-season ONU school record, he is well on-pace to break the record this season, as he already has six saves with 19 scheduled games remaining. He also currently owns the career saves record at ONU, with 19 in his time as a Polar Bear.

The lefty from Loveland was named a Third-Team All-American as a sophomore, also garnering First-Team All-Region honors. Yet, he was left off of one list.

Storer was named ‘Second-Team All-OAC.’

Do you feel like you got snubbed?

Storer, humble and thoughtful, responded quietly, “Not necessarily.”

“I know that the guy that did get it was a senior, so you always want to pay respects to the seniors. I don’t feel too much like I got slighted. They undershot me because I was a sophomore, so they just want to see what I can do.”

Those who coach and play with Storer compare him to a Division III Andy Pettitte, as he throws a fastball, “which is more like a cutter,” according to senior catcher Kyle Schlade. The pitch is deceptive, moving temptingly across the plate between 80-82 miles per hour. While it is not the typical fastball (which is 84-86 mph in the OAC, according to Storer), it is nearly unhittable, as evidenced by Storer’s school-record 1.30 career ERA.

“I definitely don't strike guys out with speed, but I rely more on the movement of my pitches,” Storer said. “Anyone that plays with me knows I can’t throw a ball straight. So, I’m not a strikeout pitcher, although it kind of looks like that with my numbers. I definitely use my defense to my advantage and just let them do the work for me.”

Storer also mixes in a curveball (70 mph) and a slider (72-74 mph), which he uses as off-speed pitches.

“He’s good at hitting his spots, and has some good off-speed pitches, with his curve and his slider,” Schlade said. “All of his pitches get good movement.”

But as perplexing as Storer is to opposing batters, even more perplexing is the idea that an All-American pitcher could simply walk away from the game after his sophomore year.

For Storer, however, that idea was very real.

Storer is a pharmacy major, and as the ever-intimidating P3 year approached this past summer, he thought about retiring his patented cutter to focus on school.

“I did think about that coming into this season,” Storer said of quitting on WONB’s The Pep Talk in February. “This P3 year is notorious for being the toughest year, and I thought about stepping away from the game all summer.”

“I thought about what it would be like if I didn’t play, and it just ate away at me, not having those last two years of eligibility to at least try to play. So that’s why I’m here and what I’m trying to do.”

Luckily for ONU, Storer decided to stick with it. This season, Storer is still putting up All-American numbers again despite the team’s inconsistent success. He has allowed just two runs in 10 innings of work, maintaining a 1.74 ERA and leading the OAC in saves with six.

The Polar Bears have had their struggles as a team this year, however, as they lost six straight before winning their last three. The recent losing streak was the program’s longest since 2009, and they allowed over eight runs per game during the stretch.

Some of the struggles of this year’s pitching staff could be attributed to inexperience. Over 51 percent of the team’s innings pitched this season have been thrown by freshmen or sophomores, as four of Northern’s senior aces last season -- Nick Eltzroth, Ben Glischinski, Ben Eckert and Alex Crabtree -- have since graduated.

The veteran group pitched a combined 49 percent of Northern’s innings last year, and led a pitching staff that was, statistically, unrivaled in the OAC. Last year’s staff led the conference in ERA, hits allowed, runs allowed and walks allowed. Eltzroth received First-Team All-OAC and All-Midwest Region honors, while Glischinski was named Honorable Mention All-OAC.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but we have faith in our freshmen that are coming in and returning players like [senior] Devin Carr,” Storer said in February when asked about replacing last year’s veteran staff. “We believe that they can eat up some innings for us so that the relievers, like Zach Foster and myself, can come in and close games out.”

During that recent losing stretch, freshmen and sophomores started four of the six games. However, despite the team's youthful struggles on the mound this season, Northern has been able to turn the corner recently. They beat Defiance last Wednesday to end the rut and swept John Carroll in a doubleheader on Sunday, improving to 11-10 overall and 2-2 in the OAC.

In their past three wins, Northern has allowed just nine combined runs, and two freshmen (Josh Mohr and Jack Schaller) have started. In game one of Sunday’s doubleheader at JCU, the Bears were up 6-3 heading into the ninth inning. Eight innings of four-hit, three-run pitching from senior Devin Carr paved the way for a late-game call to the bullpen -- it was time to bring in the closer.

With a comfortable three-run cushion, Storer approached the mound. Three-run cushion? Storer has allowed just four runs in the past two years combined.

The first batter grounded out to second. Then the next two reached base, on singles to center field and right field, respectively.

One out, runners on the corners. Tying run at the plate.

T.J. Storer was dreaming again.

The next batter popped up to first base. Two outs. Next up was John Carroll’s freshman shortstop Aaron Zawadzki, the Blue Streaks’ last hope.

Unfortunately for Zawadzki, this was his first time facing Storer, whose fastball turns into a cutter and whose off-speed pitches limp across the strike zone at a perplexingly plodding pace.

Strike three, Zawadzki was called out looking. Polar Bears win. For Storer, another save.

It’s safe to say that the lefty from Loveland is still living the dream.

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