Hot, tired and frustrated, RJ Neal walked to the parking lot with his equipment bag slung over his shoulder, ready to end a day that began with promise.
The USC Beaufort center fielder's attitude was shared by many of his teammates after the Sand Sharks were swept Saturday by SCAD Savannah, 5-1 and 6-3, at Hardeeville's Richard Gray Baseball Complex. The Sun Conference series was key to the Sand Sharks' postseason hopes. And after USCB won the opener Friday with an offensive burst, hopes were high for the weekend.
"We were more than capable of sweeping this team," Neal said. "It just doesn't fall our way, apparently."
Saturday played out as it has much of the season for USCB. The Sand Sharks dropped the final two games of a series for the third time this season.
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Needing a series win to improve their chances for the conference's sixth and final tournament berth, the Sand Sharks likely need to sweep their remaining conference series with Florida Memorial and receive a lot of help from teams ahead of them. If not, the Sand Sharks (22-17, 10-14 Sun Conference) will miss the postseason for the first time.
First baseman Spencer Jackson and the Sand Sharks' other seniors were honored between games. Jackson sounded down after the Saturday sweep, saying he wanted to end his career on a positive note.
"We knew it was do or die," Jackson said. "We came up short today. It seems like it's been happening all year."
The frustrating part, Jackson said, was that the Sand Sharks have the talent of the conference's top teams. But when they have had the chance to prove the better team, USCB has faltered.
SCAD (26-20, 14-7) has had the opposite experience much of the season, more than once losing the first game but battling to win the series.
"Our team's been resilient to come back and do a good job on Saturday," SCAD coach Doug Wollenburg said. "I know it's not easy for them or coaches to wake up Saturday morning after a Friday loss, but we have to give some credit to our starting pitching today."
The Bees received two complete games from their starting pitchers Saturday. Matthew Rogers started his first conference game since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2009. Before Saturday, he had appeared primarily in relief. His only run allowed during the day's first game came during the third inning, when he balked in a runner from third.
The Bees' Game 3 starter, Payne Alderman, used a fastball/changeup combo to keep the Sand Sharks off balance. After a two-run first, USCB struggled to find any momentum. Alderman faced the minimum batters in seven of his final eight innings.
"They threw the ball well, but we took ourselves out of some at-bats," Jackson said. "As a whole, we just have to execute."
On the other side, USCB pitchers struggled with their control, combining to hit 10 Bees with pitches.
The momentum turned sharply from Friday, when USCB pounded out 11 hits and tagged SCAD's bullpen for seven runs. On one of the warmest days of the year, the Sand Sharks appeared drained by the end.
"We're hot, making errors and in the field too long," Neal said. "It gets very frustrating."
SCAD 5, USCB 1
SCAD 100 200 200 -- 5 9 1
USCB 001 000 000 -- 1 9 2
WP: Matthew Rogers (3-1) 9 IP, 9 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K.
LP: Michael Heesch (4-4) 6 2-3 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 9 K.
Top hitters: SCAD -- Jamison Sweat 3 for 4, RBI. USCB -- Ty Main 2 for 3, R; Keifer Youmans 2 for 3.
SCAD 6, USCB 3
SCAD 000 312 000 -- 6 6 3
USCB 200 001 000 -- 3 3 3
WP: Payne Alderman (2-4) 9 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K.
LP: Adam Miller (2-5) 6 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K.
Top hitters: SCAD -- Mike Hines 3 for 4, R, HBP. USCB --RJ Neal 2 for 4; David O'Neil 1 for 2, 2 R, BB, HBP.