Press release courtesy of Harry Minium, ODUSports.com.
HATTIESBURG, MS- With a pitching staff patched together with spit and gum, and exhausted from playing five games in four days, the Old Dominion baseball team was playing on fumes, and yet took Louisiana Tech down to the game’s final play.
The Monarchs staged an 9th-inning rally, taking a 7-6 lead on a Brock Gagliardi two-run home run, his second of the game, and were two outs away from beating the Bulldogs and claiming a berth in the Conference USA championship game.
But pinch-hitter Walker Burchfield shot a dagger into ODU’s hearts, drilling a two-run single to left field that scored two runs and gave LA Tech an 8-7 victory Saturday night at Pete Taylor Park.
LA Tech (41-19) advances to Sunday’s 2 p.m. championship game, in which the Bulldogs will take on UTSA for the C-USA title.
ODU (41-17), meanwhile, awaits what coach Chris Finwood says is surely an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve got baseball left to play,” he said. “Our season’s not over.
“These guys deserve to keep playing and they will.”
National prognosticators had ODU on the bubble entering Saturday. The Monarchs opened the day by beating LA Tech, 9-6, in 13 innings in a classic game in which Andy Garriola drove in the game-winning run and relief pitcher Jason Hartline threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings.
Saturday night’s game was also a back-and-forth affair in which both teams walked an emotional tightrope. The Monarchs celebrated wildly after Gagliardi’s second home run, the first two homer game of his career, then looked in stunned silence as LA Tech players celebrating by jumping into a pile on first base.
D1Baseball had the Monarchs as the last team out of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday morning, but had Alabama in the tournament, and the Crimson Tide was eliminated from the SEC Tournament by Florida, a game D1Baseball writers called “crucial” to Alabama’s hopes of gaining an at-large bid.
But Gonzaga and Dallas Baptist, which ranked among the top 30 in the RPI, both lost in their conference tournaments, meaning teams that weren’t expected to go to the NCAA Tournament will gain automatic bids.
According to warrennolan.com, ODU moved up three places on Saturday in the NCAA RPI to 42nd. Finwood said winning 41 games in the nation’s fifth toughest conference warrants a bid.
ODU also has a ton of momentum — the Monarchs won 10 of their last 12 games, with both losses coming to LA Tech, which is No. 37 in the RPI.
ODU swept two games from East Carolina, which plays for the American Athletic Conference title Sunday and may host an NCAA Regional, as well as a win Virginia and two at Southern Miss.
The Monarchs bus back to Norfolk on Sunday and hope to be able to gather to watch the NCAA Tournament show at noon Monday on ESPN2.
“l’ll be on the phone with people as will our administration,” Finwood said.
Saturday’s game was ODU’s final event ever in Conference USA. The Monarchs join the Sun Belt Conference, along with Southern Miss, Marshall and James Madison, on July 1.
Finwood said Athletic Director Dr. Wood Selig will also work the phones.
“We want to make sure all the committee members know what we’ve done this year,” he said. “I know people on the committee and they need to know how much we deserve to be in.
“At the end of the day, it’s people in there and they’re voting. Your metrics are your metrics and ours are awfully good. But you still have to be careful.”
LA Tech took a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning. Leadoff hitter Taylor Young began the game with a bunt single, followed two batters later by a walk to Steele Netterville. Cole McConnell then singled to right to score Taylor, and then Jorge Corona hit a sacrifice fly to right field that scored Netterville.
ODU’s bats then came alive in the fourth when the top of the lineup pounded out four hits for four runs.
Thomas Wheeler hit a triple down the right field line and then wheeled home on a throwing error. Matt Coutney then doubled and was driven home by a double from Garriola.
Gagliardi then drove a line drive home run to the opposite field off a billboard in left field to make it 4-2.
LA Tech tied it right back up in the bottom of the inning on a two-run double from Young.
LA Tech retook the lead in the sixth, when Myers hit a sacrifice fly to right field to score Nettervile. But with runners on second and third, reliever Joey DeChiaro forced McLeod to fly out, stranding both runners.
Coutney then tied it up with a solo home run in the sixth, bouncing the ball off the same billboard that Gagliardi hit earlier in the game.
ODU used nine pitchers in Saturday morning’s victory over LA Tech. The Monarchs used seven against the Bulldogs, including Connor Muly, who made his first career start.
Tommy Gertner threw three strong innings in his second pitching effort of the day. DeChiaro also threw for the second time and was exceptional in 2 1/3 innings.
Yet things went badly for ODU in the bottom of the ninth, when Monarch pitchers loaded the bases with two walks and then hit a batter.
Vincent Bashara then struck out Adarius Myers swinging, but then Burchfield hit the shot to left field that broke the Monarchs’ hearts. Garriola fielded the ball cleanly and made a valiant effort to throw out Netterville, who scored the winning run just ahead of the throw.
The pain was still apparent in the faces of the Monarchs long after the game ended.
“It hurts because of a good thing,” Finwood said. “It hurts because they care about each other, because of how hard they fight for each other.
“Teams who lose at the end of the year and it doesn’t hurt, they don’t get it. And these guys got it.
“I’ve never been prouder of a team than I’ve been today. I wish we had a couple more bullets to fire on the mound. But it is what it is. I thought the guys who pitched today pitched their butts off. We just didn’t have enough of them.”