It was a strange two days, and it wasn't just the weather.
Winthrop's Ryan Schwartz and Billy Tinsley, steady and sometimes spectacular through the season's first eight games, were blistered by Southern Cal, 7-3 as the Trojans finished Friday's suspended game and then 9-2 in the second match of the doubleheader on Saturday.
In a 24-hour period that featured sunshine, rain, hail, fog and winds up to 30 mph, the Eagles' starters were ripped early in each game and the offense pulled another disappearing act.
Winthrop stranded a season-high 13 runners in Game 1 and was down 7-0 before notching a run in Game 2. The Trojans (8-4) equaled every Winthrop rally in the first game and found every gap in The Winthrop Ballpark in the second, spraying 17 hits and giving the Eagles their most lopsided loss of the season.
"You look at the way we've played so far and certainly there are pieces of things that are encouraging," coach Joe Hudak said. "Each game seems like we do something well ... just haven't been able to put something together."
The first two games against the Trojans, it was the starting pitching's turn to recede. Schwartz (1-1) was touched for six hits and five runs in 2 1-3 innings and Tinsley (2-1) was barely out of the blocks in Game 2 before he headed to the showers. The senior lefty gave up a leadoff homer to Roberto Lopez and got roughed up for six hits and five runs, only recording two outs.
In an early hole in each game and their offense still struggling to score, the Eagles (3-7) went quietly in each session on Saturday. Following a season-long trend, Winthrop got on base but never got around, stranding a combined 18 runners and making the left-on season tally a staggering 80.
During the two games against the Trojans, Winthrop had the bases loaded four times. The Eagles scored one run.
"We're getting hits to put ourselves in a situation to score runs, then for whatever reason, we fail to make contact," said assistant head coach Mike McGuire, who's in charge of the Eagles' hitters. "It's like we're looking for the perfect pitch once we get runners in scoring position. It's got to be the other way. We've got to be aggressive -- first good pitch we get, we got to swing."
Winthrop was only down 6-2 in Game 1 on Friday before it was called in the sixth inning due to fog. Picking up on Saturday, Trojans pitcher Tommy Milone (2-0), who had nine strikeouts, was on the bench but Winthrop still only scratched one more run across the plate.
In Game 2, with gusts blowing caps all over the field, Tinsley was rocked for four first-inning singles, a double and a homer, each shooting right between two or more fielders. Down 5-0 after one and facing curveball specialist Kevin Couture (1-0), Winthrop only got two hits through five frames.
The defense played excellent baseball, turning five double plays in two errorless games. The bullpen for the most part was very strong.
Even Winthrop's hitters stayed right on their averages, Kevin Nolan emerging with a .400 tally and five other starters hitting at least .257. But the hits and walks could never get across the plate, as time after time Eagles were left on the bag, waiting for their teammates to bring them their caps and gloves.
"Just got to keep working hard," said second baseman Aaron Bonomi, who was 0-for-7 and struck out three times. "Hopefully, someone gets that hit and it just becomes contagious, you know? Hopefully, it just keeps rolling."
If there was any tiny consolation, it was the Eagles likely won't face anything close to the caliber of opponents they've already had when they begin Big South Conference play. But they've got to get there first, and with the next week full of the year's first road trip, to Elon, College of Charleston and four games at No. 13 Rice, there's precious little time to find an immediate cure for the sick bats.
"Doesn't make it any easier right now," McGuire said. "We're seeing some good arms, but sometimes maybe we give them a little too much credit. A lot of us have missed a fastball early in the at-bat."
"They just flat-out beat us, second game," Hudak said. "First game, you leave 13 guys on base, that's been something we've been struggling with all year.
"We just got to come out and play hard again and hopefully play better and hopefully we can salvage a win out of this series."
The series concludes at noon today. Freshman left-hander Hamilton Bennett (0-2, 4.61 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Eagles.
• NOTE: Freshman Sean Sullivan got his first career start, taking over at third base during Game 2.