Life for the Winthrop Eagles baseball team and coach Tom Riginos has been like the movie "Groundhog Day" lately. They’ve been pitching well enough to stay in games but have not been able to put together enough timely hits to get over the hump. For the second day in a row, Sunday against the visiting Rhode Island Rams, the Eagles got the potential tying run in scoring position with less than two outs, but two strikeouts ended the threat and their chances of winning.
Although not allowing an earned run, Winthrop fell 2-1 to end up on the wrong side of a three-game weekend series sweep at the hands of the Rams. In all three games, the Eagles held Rhode Island to four runs or fewer, but the offense only managed three total runs for the series.
On Saturday, the Eagles had runners at second and third with one out in the ninth. Sunday, a leadoff walk by Jace Whitley, sacrifice bunt by Luke Maldonado, and infield single by Max Vogel put runners at the corners with one out in the final inning.
Stephen Wallace struck out looking and Mark Lowrie walked to load the bases with two outs, but the umpire said pinch-hitter Reid Langdale went around on a 1-2 check-swing at a ball in the dirt to end the game.
“We’ve given ourselves a chance to win,” Riginos said. “It’s all close games. We need to learn. We’re playing all these young guys and we’re a little bit injured right now, we’ve just got to get over the hump.”
Coach Riginos feels that the hits will come and the Eagles will turn the corner.
“Hitting is contagious. That’s the number one thing. Once you get one or two guys going, it permeates all through the team. Confidence is a big part of hitting and right now some guys are hoping up there rather than doing. We can’t hope, we’ve got to do it.”
Winthrop senior right-hander Tyler Klitsch deserved a better fate. He only surrendered two unearned runs on five hits over 5 2/3 innings but was saddled with a loss. Klitsch had only allowed two hits through 4 2/3 innings but a ground ball got through the legs of third baseman Chad Smith with two outs in the fifth to open the door for Rhode Island.
Chris Famiglietti followed with a double down the left-field line to bring the first run all the way around from first and Jeff Roy drove him home with a base hit to give the Rams all the offense they would need. Freshman Joey Strain, who notched his first career win last week, relieved Klitsch and gave up only one hit in 2 1/3 innings of work.
“Every time out the last two years, between Klitsch and Pierpont, those guys are going to give you six, seven innings," Riginos said. "I call them ‘steady-Eddie’s.’ They’re consistent and you know what you’re going to get out of them.”
Rhode Island starter Steve Moyers did not allow a base hit out of the infield through seven innings. Winthrop’s first batter of the game, Nick Bateman, was awarded an infield hit on a tough call, which turned out to be the only hit Moyers gave up.
Bateman hit a slow roller towards first and Moyers fell just as he tried to scoop the ball and was unable to throw to first. The Eagles could not drive Bateman home after Kyle Edwards bunted him to second.
Moyers retired the side in order in each of the next five innings before walking a batter and hitting another with one out in the seventh. He escaped trouble by inducing consecutive fly-ball outs from Clay Altman and Vogel.
Winthrop greeted new pitcher Tyler Bowditch with a lead-off base hit from Wallace in the eighth. Tony Brandner singled with one out to put runners at the corners and a pitch that got away from the catcher allowed Brandner to reach second. A walk to Bateman loaded the bases and Kyle Edwards’ hard smash down the third-base line was snagged by third baseman Mike Lebel. He stepped on third for the second out of the inning but was unable to get Edwards at first as Wallace crossed the plate with the Eagles’ only run. Had the ball got by Lebel, the game would have been tied. Cody Dolan struck out looking to end the inning.
The Eagles continue their homestand Wednesday at 6 p.m. against East Tennessee State, who they beat March 12th. They will start Big South Conference play by hosting Presbyterian for three games next weekend, and Coach Riginos is optimistic.
"We always talk about there being three parts of the season. We just finished our first third and now the middle third is the most important part. I told them all of our goals are still out in front of us. Getting in the conference tournament, winning the conference tournament, winning the conference championship ... everything is still in front of us. Now we’ve just got to make that next move."
WP: Moyers (2-0), LP: Klitsch (1-3).
Leading hitters: Rhode Island: LeBel (2-4).