Playing hard and not winning ballgames is one thing.
Playing badly and still losing is another.
"It was a case of playing a bad ballgame," a resigned coach Joe Hudak said after Wednesday's 9-3 loss to Elon. "Every phase of the game.
"We're not good enough that we can play that type of ball and beat a good club. We're not good enough to play that type of ball and beat a bad club."
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Winthrop dropped the fourth of five games in a session where mistakes were plentiful and hits weren't. That could be somewhat excused with a gritty effort.
But playing with no emotion, no zip, when the window for saving the season is shrinking quickly ... well, there was a reason captain Eddie Tisdale, normally one of the most energetic players on the team, was hang-dogging it afterward.
"Anybody who was in the stands today, we definitely didn't give them their money's worth," Tisdale said. "We've come out a little flat in the last few games."
Mathematically, Winthrop (16-24) could catch the eyes of the NCAA tournament selection committee with a surging finish. Realistically, an at-large berth is gone.
But it's not impossible -- as long as there's hope. Hudak said last week he was going to continue to coach as if it was right there. Dropping everything and thinking the conference tournament was going to be the salvation wasn't the only option, not yet.
"We're a better club than that," Tisdale said. "We feel like if we put all of our eggs into winning the conference championship, we're kind of short-changing ourselves."
Elon (31-13) is a solid ballclub, leading the Southern Conference and fresh off an offensive barrage in a win over Wake Forest. The Phoenix scored two runs in the first but Eddie Rohan jacked his team-leading seventh homer of the season in the second to tie the score.
After that, everything exploded. The Eagles cycled through six pitchers trying to put a compress on the burst vein but nothing worked. Elon scored seven runs to set up a comfortable lead and held the Eagles to just one more run, Aaron Bonomi's solo homer in the fifth inning.
The stats read like a horror story. Winthrop gave up nine runs on seven hits, walked the leadoff man four times, committed three errors and only had six hits.
Worse, they continued to play with little fire with only two days before third-place Liberty visits for a three-game series. Winthrop has nine conference games left to lock down a top-four seed for the Big South tournament, thus assuring itself of not playing in the single-elimination first round.
"We talked last week about how we're running out of time," Hudak said. "I don't know whether some of our guys have already decided to put all their eggs in the conference tournament basket or what, but we sure weren't ready to play tonight."
"We just didn't come out," Bonomi said. "We've got to find something to get us going."