NORFOLK, Va. (Release via ODU Athletics) – The youth on a new-look Old Dominion baseball team showed in the Monarchs’ opener Friday night.
ODU competed hard, but left 11 runners on base and fell to St. John’s, 7-6, in 10 innings at Bud Metheny Ballpark on a cold blustery night to open the 2023 season.
The Monarchs lost 27 of 43 lettermen from the team that won 41 games last season, including three taken in the Major League Baseball draft. Six of ODU’s top nine hitters are gone, and they combined for 80 home runs and 301 RBIs last season. ODU also lost four key pitchers.
Head coach Chris Finwood added more than a dozen newcomers, including four junior college transfers who start, and said he believes this team will win a lot of games.
“We didn’t play good enough to win,” Finwood said. “We played just good enough to get beat by one in extra innings.
“I thought we competed hard. I thought we pitched pretty well. They chinked a few in there where we weren’t. But that’s just baseball.”
The Monarchs had eight hits in 39 at bats and Finwood said, “I thought we were a little jumpy offensively.”
The game was delayed 3 ½ hours by storms caused by a cold front that rumbled through Hampton Roads. The temperature plummeted from the low 70s in the morning into the mid 40s and it felt even colder because of a steady wind.
ODU led, 5-4, through six innings, but St. John’s took a 6-5 lead in the top of the seventh when, with the based loaded, Aaron Mann drove in Jackson Tucker and Tate Ballestro with a single to right.
ODU stranded the bases loaded in the seventh and a runner in scoring position in the eighth, but third baseman Kenny Levari, one of ODU’s most experienced players, tied it in the bottom of the ninth with a towering home run that landed past the scoreboard in right field.
That sent the game into extra innings.
The Red Storm rallied in the top of the 10th thanks in part to a misjudged fly ball that feel into the outfield that put the go-ahead run on base. With two outs, Luke Orbon drove in pinch runner Ben Beauchamp with a single to left.
St. John’s pitcher Chuck Sanzio, who gave up the Levari home run, retired the side in the bottom of the 10th.
St. John’s starting pitcher Sonny Fauci retired the first seven batters, but then with one out in the bottom of third, the Monarchs jumped on him for four runs, including two that were unearned.
Josh Trujillo walked and shortstop Kyle Edwards, ODU’s ninth batter, pulled a single down the right-field line. Trujillo was running on the play and advanced to third.
Thomas Wheeler then hit a hot ground ball to Mann at first base. He stepped on the bag for the second out as Trujillo scored ODU’s first run.
Chris Dengler then walked and Hunter Fitz-Gerald, a junior college transfer from Margate, Florida, drove a double to the right side that scored Edwards. Dengler scored on a passed ball and Fitz-Gerald scored from second when the throw from the catcher got past Fauci, who was covering home.
St. John’s tied it up in the top of the fifth with four runs, but because of two ODU errors, all four runs were unearned.
Levari drove in Fitz-Gerald with a single in the fifth inning to briefly give ODU a 5-4 lead. Levari, Fitz-Gerald and Dengler each had two hits.
Asked if it might take some time for his young team to come together, Finwood said “possibly a little bit. We’ve got some different guys out there that will play tomorrow. We’ve got to figure out what the best group is going to be.”
St. John’s and ODU meet again Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at noon.
The Monarchs host VMI on Tuesday at 3 p.m. Both Finwood and assistant coach Jonathan Hadra graduated from and were previously head coaches at VMI.
ODU visits William & Mary on Wednesday and then hosts Fordham for three games next weekend.