St. John's escapes with win; Eagles still seeking big hits

Winthrop's Aaron Bonomi tags out St. John's Jeff Grantham at second.
Winthrop's Aaron Bonomi tags out St. John's Jeff Grantham at second.

Winthrop had never played St. John's before the Red Storm were invited to Rock Hill for three games in six days this season.

After this, Winthrop might never schedule St. John's again.

The Red Storm finished a three-game sweep of the Eagles with a 3-2 10th-inning win on Friday, giving Winthrop a three-game losing streak and an 0-2 mark as host of the Coca-Cola Classic. The loss dropped the Eagles into the third-place game on Sunday and their spirits, as well.

It was only the sixth game of the season and there are at least 52 more to play, but after the Red Storm snuck away with 4-3, 2-0 and 3-2 wins, well, nobody could blame the Eagles for cleaning up the field afterward wearing hangdog expressions.

"I didn't have any words for them this game," coach Joe Hudak said softly. "We played our hearts out. From the first pitch to the last pitch, we were in it the whole ballgame.

"We just got to figure out a way to score a few more runs."

A lack of big hits cost the Eagles (2-4) in their first game with the Storm (6-0). A lack of hits, period, cost them the second.

In the third, Winthrop notched two runs in the first inning and had the bases juiced with one out. But when Louis Ullrich and Tyler McBride went down swinging to kill the rally, the Eagles' entire offense disappeared.

From the second inning through the eighth, Winthrop got two hits and a walk. No one got past second base and the 2-0 lead to which the Eagles had staked themselves vanished by the fourth.

The Eagles got a runner on in the ninth but lost him to another ground ball. Then when St. John's pushed a run across in the 10th and Winthrop had to either tie or win the game, Kevin Nolan was left 90 feet from home as Eddie Rohan looked at a called third strike.

"I just think we're working out the kinks," said captain Billy Froehlich, who didn't start but came through with a pinch-hit single in the ninth. "We're doing good stuff in certain situations. We just got to come through at the right time."

Hudak mentioned he'd preached over and over that in tight games, it often comes down to what happens in the early innings. When Winthrop loaded the bases and got consecutive one-out, two-strike RBI singles from John Murrian and Tony Brunetti, the Eagles were in position for a big inning.

But they couldn't do it, and while there was an eternity to play, once the Storm got their 10th-inning run, that wasted opportunity glared on the stat sheets.

"The strikeout with one out was huge," Hudak said. "All you got to do is put a ball in play. One more run would have won that game."

Ryan Schwartz was lifted in the fourth inning after two errors on the same play tied the game. But a complete meltdown was averted, thanks to freshman Robert Lake.

The big righty racked up five strikeouts and only gave up two hits as he cut through the St. John's lineup, keeping the Eagles in it until Josh McDonald relieved him in the ninth. McDonald had no troubles in the ninth but the 10th rolled around and the Red Storm rallied.

Carlos Del Rosario smoked a shot just to the right of first base that Eddie Tisdale tried to glove on his hip. The ball took a bad hop and bounded into right field, and Del Rosario was sacrificed to second one batter later.

Paul Karmas drove a pitch up the middle that McBride scooped, eyeing Del Rosario rounding third. His throw was an eyelash too late at the plate.

"We knock that first ground ball down, we might have had a chance to get him out," Hudak said.

Aaron Bonomi walked to lead off the Eagles' half of the 10th but was thrown out at second when Nolan's sacrifice bunt rolled right to the pitcher. But fortune briefly smiled when shortstop Jeff Grantham, seeking a double play, fired the relay into Winthrop's dugout, giving Nolan second base.

With one out, Tisdale grounded out to second but Nolan scampered to third. That brought up Rohan, who worked a 3-1 count on closer Colin Lynch before Lynch burned strike two past him.

With each dugout standing and urging on its respective teammate, Lynch paid no mind to the jitterbugging Nolan at third. He placed the ball on the outside corner, Rohan held off and watched umpire Mike Garry ring him up.

"Our pitching staff's been great all weekend and all last weekend," Froehlich said. "We're hitting the ball, we just need to get the right hit in the right spot."

The good news was the loss meant Winthrop won't have to face St. John's again in the Coca-Cola Classic. No matter what happens between St. John's and No. 4 North Carolina today, the same two teams will play again on Sunday for the tournament championship.

The Eagles will play Kent State at 1 p.m. today and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. The Golden Flashes (1-4) also lost to UNC and St. John's in their tournament games.

"We need to continue to pitch well and hopefully the hitting will come around," Hudak said. "There's no way I can be upset with them. I'm disappointed we aren't scoring more runs, I'm disappointed we aren't winning ballgames. Just got to find out a way to score more runs."

n NOTE: Starters Froehlich and Bryn Henderson took a seat in favor of Rand Baughman at third base and Brunetti in left field. Ullrich returned to his right field spot. ... Lake's "Welcome to College" moment might have occurred in the sixth inning. With St. John's Gil Zayas on second base, Lake wheeled around to try and pick him off. The throw drilled Zayas between the 1 and the 6 on his back while he was standing on the bag.

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