If Winthrop could have bottled up whatever it had in the first inning and saved it for the duration, perhaps it would have been different.
But baseball games last nine innings. And offensive juggernaut College of Charleston only needed one more frame after the first to do its damage.
The Eagles dropped their fifth straight on Wednesday, a 17-6 wash to the Cougars after a 2-0 first-inning lead disappeared in a puff of resin. Charleston (11-4) sent 12 batters to the plate in the second inning, erasing the lead on the first seven pitches and scoring seven runs for an insurmountable cushion.
Then the Cougars' Casey Lucchese (2-0), part of a staff that checked into the game with an ERA of 7.30, did his best impression of Cy Young by squashing the Eagles' bats after the first. Winthrop added four hit batters, a balk, two bases-loaded walks and three wild pitches to its own bonfire and it all ended as the ninth loss in 10 games, not to mention a spiraling season that's getting harder to straighten out with each day.
"We can't get any lower than we are right now," coach Joe Hudak said, the pain of 10 losses clearly etched on his face. "This game right here is about as low as you can get. I've been here a long time and I don't remember feeling as badly as I do right now."
The previous trend had been the Eagles' pitchers threw well enough to win, but couldn't get enough run support. Then the starting pitching was roughed up against Southern Cal last week but the bullpen performed well.
On Wednesday, it was the first time all year Winthrop's pitchers lost control en masse. Catcher John Murrian spent so much time diving out of his crouch tracking down dirt balls that he resembled a Jack-in-the-box.
Starter Dave Carbonell (0-2) breezed through the first inning on seven pitches. His teammates gave him a two-run lead in the bottom of the frame, continuing their two-out offensive magic from an 8-7 loss to Elon on Tuesday with two two-out RBIs.
But CofC either figured out Carbonell after those first three outs or Carbonell sat in the wrong place on the bench between innings. His second pitch of the second inning was smoked to center field for a single and Michael Kohn hammered the seventh over the left-field wall to tie the score.
That's where a tiny mistake further opened the door. Matt Leeds grounded a perfect double-play ball to Aaron Bonomi, who prepared to glove it and throw to Kevin Nolan at second. But Bonomi rushed it or planted too early or made one split-second yip, the ball didn't glide into his glove and although he managed to throw out Leeds at first, the Cougars were still alive.
"It's still 2-2 at that time and it's two outs and nobody on, you don't know what might happen at that time," Hudak said, spreading his arms wide. "They still might get seven but they might not get anymore and it's a whole different ballgame."
What could have happened turned into what did happen. The scorebook read walk, hit batter, hit batter, walk, walk, CofC was suddenly up 7-2, the Cougars added runs in the third and sixth innings and closed the book with another 12-batter inning in the seventh.
Winthrop soothed some of the sting when Billy Froehlich connected on his first homer of the season in the eighth inning and Louis Ullrich hit a mammoth pinch-hit two-run shot in the ninth, but that just made the final tally a wee bit more respectable. Hudak gathered his flock around him and told them to immediately forget it, because it's not like the next game's any easier.
The Eagles (3-10) play at No. 15 Rice in the first of a four-game series at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.
"I guess a combination of seeing everybody else getting hit, got nervous ... can't do that and expect to do well," said freshman Cam Walters, who gave up four runs in a third of an inning. "Our team chemistry's still the same, we're coming together, we just got to wait until everything clicks."
Walters confirmed the team's confidence is still intact, but more and more losses can't be good. The Eagles are doing something well every game, but it's just not enough to win.
"We're struggling right now, but we're not going to make any trades, not going to call somebody up from the minors," Hudak said. "We got to fight our way out of it. Only thing I know to do is to keep working hard."