After 14 plucky, hard-fought innings of baseball against Kent State on Saturday evening, Winthrop unraveled in the top of the 15th like an old sweater.
Three errors contributed to five runs in that frame for the Golden Flashes, who emerged with a 9-4 marathon victory in the nightcap of the Coca-Cola Classic baseball tournament. The late capitulation soured a solid effort from the Eagles.
"It's the little things right now, the little things that we didn't do and they capitalized on them," said Winthrop head coach Tom Riginos. "That's the difference when you're playing a good team like this, the margin of error is so small."
Winthrop (3-3) spurned multiple chances to win the game. In the ninth, a base-running goof cost the Eagles a run that would have won the game in regular innings, before they failed to execute a bunt and then grounded into a double play in the 11th, both situations with two runners on base.
From there, the game devolved into a ping-pong match, neither team able to mount a productive rally. That was until the top of the 15th. Casey Koch led off for the Golden Flashes and his ground ball was booted by the shortstop. Kent State catcher Tommy Monnot then put down a routine bunt toward the pitcher's mound that also was fumbled, leaving two visiting runners on base.
The third error came when T.J. Sutton hit a shot to second base and the throw home was wild, allowing a run to score. Zach Beckner then delivered a sacrifice fly to make it 6-4 and Jacob Neuschafer followed with another run-scoring hit. Two more runs proved unnecessary when Winthrop failed to score in the bottom half of the inning.
Kent State tallied first in the game, scoring in the top of the third when (14) grounded out to the right portion of the infield. Winthrop assumed the lead with a three-run bottom half of the third inning. Kyle Edwards led off with a single and Brad Kaczka, who was 3 for 7, doubled to put both in scoring position. Leighton Daniels obliged with a single up the middle that scored two and Babe Thomas then singled in Daniels to put the Eagles up 3-1.
Kent State reclaimed the lead with a three-run sixth inning. Alex Miklos, Harley Zalewski and Koch delivered RBI for the Golden Flashes, with Zalewski's hit spelling the end of starter Josh Strong's night. Zach Cook replaced him.
Winthrop entered the bottom half of the ninth needing at least a run to extend the game. They should have had more, but they did get the single tally required to move to the 10th. Clay Altman led off with a single off the pitcher's glove; he was replaced on the basepaths by Luke Maldonado. Kyle Edwards singled into right field before Kaczka smoked an opposite field shot into the right field corner. Maldonado scored, but Edwards got caught too far from third base and had to try and level the catcher. He failed in that regard and the game proceeded to extra frames when Leighton Daniels fanned on a pay-off pitch with the count full.
The Eagles beat Coppin State 8-4 in Saturday's early game. The hosts built an early 4-0 lead through the first two innings, added three more in the sixth and held off a late spurt by the visitors to move to 3-2 on the season.
T.J. Olesczuk got hits in three of his four at-bats, knocking in a pair of runs, while freshman catcher Thomas and second baseman Daniels also added a pair of RBI.
All told, the Eagles played 24 innings of baseball Saturday.
"It was a very competitive day," said Riginos. "I was proud of how we competed. We were out here almost 11 and half hours."
Winthrop will get a chance to close out the weekend on a high note when they face Coppin State again at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Erasing the disappointment from Saturday night’s loss to Kent State will be crucial.
“Got to get ourselves up off the mat real quick,” said Riginos. “Good thing about baseball is you play the next day. Bad thing is you’ve got to flush it and make sure you get to the next day in the right frame of mind. That’s my challenge in the morning when these guys start getting out here.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T