Scott Barnes wasn't as good as advertised, but he was good enough to win.
St. John's unanimous preseason All-Big East pitcher got an early cushion and battled through shaky control to beat Winthrop 4-3 on Sunday in the Eagles' second game of the Johnny Gill Memorial. The Eagles never gave up, playing some fine defense and getting some big hits, but the one base knock or throw that could have cemented the rally never materialized.
"He's a good pitcher, won't see many better than him," Winthrop coach Joe Hudak said. "We got some big hits, but didn't get enough of them. Our kids played hard, just didn't play quite well enough to win."
Barnes, pitching in front of at least three major league scouts, struck out three of his first five hitters but struggled afterward. He ended up walking six, striking out the same number, while Winthrop (1-1) could never quite solve him.
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Barnes left after the sixth inning, but the story was the same with reliever Jared Yecker. The Eagles cut a 4-2 deficit to 4-3 after Eddie Rohan lasered his first collegiate home run over the left-field wall, but closer Colin Lynch came in, retired all five of his batters and the Red Storm (2-0) walked off winners.
The Eagles will play St. John's again on Tuesday and again on Friday, but knowing what they'll face wasn't too comforting. As Hudak and starting pitcher Hamilton Bennett (0-1) pointed out, the Storm will be familiar with Winthrop, as well.
"It comes down to who can make the better changes," said Bennett, who pitched a good game after first-inning troubles but ended up with the loss. "Who's going to pitch better or who's going to hit better."
The Fort Mill High School alum got in immediate trouble, giving up a hard-hit two-strike single to open the game. He recovered by flashing that tantalizing curve of his to Carlos Del Rosario -- the ball appearing to be headed for the batter's head before braking and plopping into John Murrian's glove -- to notch his first career strikeout.
But then Chris Anninos turned on a hanging change-up, depositing it into the trees behind left field for a quick 2-0 lead. Bennett stepped up, only allowing four more hits and a run for the duration, but with the Eagles' hitters stymied by Barnes and Co., the cushion was just enough to stay ahead.
"I made one mistake, leaving my change-up up, they made me pay for it," Bennett said. "That's what good teams do."
The Eagles turned two double plays and recorded their second pickoff at second base in two games to keep themselves in it, but squandered a bases-loaded situation in the second. Tyler McBride finally broke up Barnes' no-hitter in the fifth inning and first-game hero Kevin Nolan kept up his torrid pace, driving in the game's first run with a single.
But even with the rally seemingly about to take off, it never materialized. Nolan was caught in a rundown on the very next play, ending the inning.
Winthrop ended the Red Storm's seventh when Billy Froehlich gunned Scott Ferrara at the plate and with Barnes (1-0) on the bench, the Eagles eyed their chance. Yecker began the frame by whiffing Eddie Tisdale but walked the bases full immediately after.
Bryn Henderson was rung up for the second out, but Nolan again delivered, shooting a hard single just over second base that Gino Matias nabbed. Nolan hit the dirt to beat Matias' throw and was rewarded with the safe sign, cutting the score to 3-2.
The crowd was into it and the fight song was playing, but Murrian popped up to first to end the threat. Rohan smashed his homer in the eighth but St. John's had added another run before then, taking advantage of a passed ball, a balk and a hit batter.
The game ended with another too-close chance, Tony Brunetti driving a pitch that was caught on the track and Henderson lifting a pop fly into shallow right that was in the middle of three fielders before it was gloved. Nolan fouled out to first to end the threat and Winthrop packed up for another day.
"We had some opportunities," Hudak said. "Good college baseball game ... two good clubs. We played hard, just couldn't quite get it done. I have no negative thoughts about it at all."
The Eagles will conclude the tournament at 4 p.m. today against Gardner-Webb. Left-hander Billy Tinsley is scheduled to start.
n NOTES: Evansville left fielder Jim Viscomi was in uniform but did not play in the day's first game, Gardner-Webb's 17-3 win over the Purple Aces. Viscomi crashed into the left-field brick wall chasing a fly ball on Saturday and did not return in an 11-1 loss to Winthrop. According to coach David Seifert, Viscomi will be out for a while with a banged-up knee -- Viscomi was heavily limping in the dugout -- but no concussion was found. "I thought I'd go out there and find worse than I did," Seifert said. "He's real lucky."