There's no telling how big the celebration or sighs of relief will be once Winthrop puts it all together and wins a tight ballgame.
Until that day comes, the Eagles will have to continue dealing with losses like Saturday's, where an inspired early three innings turned sour in the late frames, becoming a 5-3 loss to Kent State.
"It's a nine-inning ballgame. It's not a stinkin' three-inning ballgame," growled an infuriated coach Joe Hudak after the Eagles dropped their fourth straight. "At some point, somebody's got to step up and get something done. I'm stinkin' sick of losing."
Maybe it wouldn't have hurt so much if the beginning hadn't been so perfect. Seven Eagles -- Bryan Bogue, Tony Brunetti, Matt Staub, John Murrian, Tyler McBride and captains Billy Froehlich and Eddie Tisdale -- showed up at The Winthrop Ballpark with their hair done in Mohawks. Tisdale in particular looked as menacing as Robert De Niro sporting the same look in "Taxi Driver."
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"It was time for a change," pitcher Mike Ritson said. "Three-game losing streak, we tried to figure out something to do."
When freshman Hamilton Bennett -- sporting a Marine-style flattop -- pitched three spotless innings and struck out five of six batters while his teammates jumped to a 1-0 lead, it was hard to see how the Eagles could play much better. They fought to scratch their first run across, relying on small-ball bunting instead of swinging for the fences, and were playing footloose defense.
Then, in a sudden reverse, it changed. The Golden Flashes (2-4) scored two runs in the fourth, pitcher Kyle Smith (1-0) regrouped to silence the Eagles' bats, and when Bennett (0-2) ran out of gas, Kent notched three more runs.
A two-run shot over the scoreboard in the seventh gave the Flashes the lead, and although Winthrop battled, scoring another run in its half of the seventh, it wasn't enough. A couple of mental errors in the eighth led to another Kent State run and when Tisdale grounded into a double play to snuff a two-on, one-out situation in the bottom of the ninth, Winthrop (2-5) was looking at a miserable 0-3 record in its own tournament.
"I don't even know what to say," Ritson said. "It all happened in the blink of an eye."
It began in the fourth, when Bennett threw too low to second on a pickoff throw and Chris Tremblay, moments after notching Kent's first hit, moved to third. Doug Sanders drove him in with a single, but the Eagles picked themselves up.
Froehlich made a sensational diving catch and doubled up Anthony Gallas at first base to end the inning, although Kent pushed another run across. The out at first was enough to provoke Flashes coach Scott Stricklin into a tirade, escorting the umpire across the infield until the ump finally had enough and tossed Stricklin out.
The Eagles tied the score in their half and kept rolling, Brunetti echoing Froehlich with a tumbling catch in the fifth, and Bennett rebounded to strike out three more batters. With a 2-2 score heading into the seventh, the ball dropped.
Aaron Bonomi booted a grounder to lead off the inning and Brad Winter made it hurt, teeing off on Bennett for a two-run homer. Winthrop scored one in the bottom of the frame but stranded two more runners, and then fell victim to another couple of miscues.
A leadoff bunt from Jared Humphreys was caught by Tisdale but nobody was covering first base. Tremblay repeated the play, bunting in front of the plate and seeing Tisdale pounce on it.
Tisdale threw too late to second and Tremblay was safe at first. Each runner moved up a base on Sanders' sacrifice bunt, and after Gallas was intentionally walked to set up the double play, Bennett plunked Greg Rohan to force in a run.
The Eagles escaped with no further damage, but their ninth-inning rally, despite the first two batters reaching, went nowhere. They had to stare at their escalating left-on-base tally -- through seven games, Winthrop has stranded 54 -- and realize that while there's still almost a full season to play, the ship needs to get righted now.
The Eagles again play Kent State at 2:30 p.m. today in the tournament's third-place game. Ritson said while there's naturally a depressing mood in the clubhouse, the team is nowhere close to giving up.
"We got to stay motivated," Ritson said. "Everyone's trying their hardest. We're hitting the ball good in games, we've gotten on base. Things just aren't falling for us right now."
• NOTE: Third baseman Bryn Henderson and Froehlich returned to the starting lineup after a one-game absence. Froehlich got the nod in right field instead of his usual left, which was again manned by Brunetti.