At one point this season, the Columbia Reds 18-and-under baseball team was 6-3 and looking like a contender.
Following Monday's disheartening 4-3 loss to league-leading Liberty Road on a two-out balk in the last inning, the Reds fell to 14-15 and looked like a team whose fire has dimmed.
"This was the fourth straight game we've lost in the last inning," Reds coach Tom Showe said. "It's been a pretty enjoyable season, but it's getting frustrating now."
The loss all but extinguished Columbia's hopes for post-season competition.
"We'd have to win our last six games and hope the Yankee Rebels lose a few," said Showe. The third-place Rebels were 18-14 Monday. The top three Baltimore Metro League teams receive tournament berths. Liberty Road is in first place with a 23-6 record, and the Bedouins rank second with 20-8.
Part of Showe's frustration has been his inability to keep the same lineup on the field for more than a few games. Vacations, injuries and no-shows have kept him juggling the lineup, with detrimental results.
The injury list is deep. Starting catcher Tony Scarzello missed a few games after getting beaned during an all-star game. He suffered a mild concussion.
The Reds' other catcher, Kevin Nickey, missed two weeks after cutting his glove hand while lifting weights.
The absence of those two players last weekend forced center fielder Brian Lopez to catch three games on Saturday and Sunday.
Pitcher Brent Mertes tore a muscle in his back two weeks ago and is out for the season.
Infielder Bill Ferguson cracked some ribs in a collision on the base paths three weeks ago and hasn't played since.
Pitcher/shortstop Brian Dunn missed the first week of the season with a sore back. Dunn was also absent at Monday's game.
In that game, Joe Nestor was the victim of the balk call. The Campbell University left-hander stepped off the rubber with the wrong foot and the infield umpire made a delayed call that brought Showe racing to the mound.
Showe thought it was a bad call, because it decided the game.
"That's the same umpire who threw me out of a game a couple of weeks ago," said Showe.
Nestor pitched a decent game, but his control got him in trouble. He allowed just five weak hits but walked seven. Two of those walks scored.
The Reds were beaten for the third time this season by Liberty Road's slow-balling right-hander Tim Trotta, who is 6-0.
"All I throw is a slow curve and a little bit of a knuckleball," Trotta said. "I just move the ball around, and it seems to work for me."
Columbia batters repeatedly swung at pitches in the dirt, and Trotta fanned four with a fastball so slow that it could barely break a pane of glass.
The Reds scored single runs in the first and second innings to go ahead 2-0. Brian Lopez, aboard in the first inning on an error, reached third on Brian Van Deusen's double and scored on Joe Goldberg's sacrifice fly.
In the second inning, Bill Mills singled and Brian Gick drove him home on a double.
Liberty Road went ahead with a three-run bottom of the third inning on two walks, a single and two errors.
Columbia tied it in the fifth inning on a single by Lopez and a double by Goldberg.
In the seventh, Nestor gave up a one-out single, followed by a walk. A ground out moved the lead runner to third base, from where he scored on the balk.
Columbia had six hits. Mills led with two hits, while Lopez, Van Deusen, Goldberg and Gick each had one hit. Austin Groves reached base all three times on two errors and a fielder's choice. Scarzello reached twice on a walk and after being hit by a pitch.
Columbia won only two of seven games against Liberty Road this season -- and one of those wins was a forfeit.