NORFOLK (ODU Athletics) – Old Dominion baseball returns to Bud Metheny Ballpark this week as the Monarchs host Southern Miss for a Sun Belt Conference series. The first two games are scheduled for 6 p.m. starts on Thursday and Friday, and Saturday’s game will begin at 1 p.m.

All three games will be streamed on ESPN+ with Ted Alexander calling the action. Live stats will also be available.

Around the Horn
The Monarchs (22-6, 7-2 Sun Belt) took two of three games at Georgia Southern last weekend for their third conference series win in as many weeks. ODU edged the Eagles 7-5 on Friday, then won again Saturday 12-7. The hosts avoided the sweep with a 16-0 final on Sunday.

The pair of victories marked a career milestone for head coach Chris Finwood, who reached 350 wins in his time leading the Monarchs. He is now eight wins away from 600 for his career with a 592-510 mark over 21 seasons.

ODU enters this week ranked fourth nationally in home runs per game (2.18), fifth in home runs (61) and slugging percentage (.580), and eighth in runs (275) and scoring (9.8 runs per game). The team also leads the Sun Belt in walks (167), triples (11), triples per game (0.39), ERA (3.83), strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.52), and walks allowed per nine innings (3.57).

At the plate, seven of nine starters are hitting over .300, led by Alex Bouche with a .375 average. Hunter Fitz-Gerald is next at .354, Thomas Wheeler is third at .333, and Luke Waters follows with a .324 clip. Fitz-Gerald is the team leader in runs (38), total bases (87) and RBIs (38). He and Jake Ticer (.310) have both hit a team-best 12 home runs, with Camden Grimes (.310) right behind them with 11. Wheeler is 11-for-12 this season on stolen base attempts, while Waters and Grimes are both 6-for-7.

The rotation will stay the same for the Monarchs. Blake Morgan (3-2, 4.67 ERA) will start in the series opener, Sam Armstrong (5-0, 2.89 ERA) will get the nod in Game Two, and ODI will go with Dylan Brown (2-1, 3.55 ERA) for the series finale. ODU is holding opposing batters to a .259 batting average.

Scouting Southern Miss
The Golden Eagles (17-10, 5-4) earned a 2-1 series win at Troy last weekend. Southern Miss won the first game 4-1, but fell 5-4 in 10 innings as the Trojans evened the series on Saturday. Sunday’s rubber match went to USM, 13-3. The Golden Eagles then hosted Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday and defeated the Lions, 10-6.

Slade Wilks is batting .343 to lead the team’s starters. Dustin Dickerson has a .317 average and Matthew Etzel comes into the series batting .282. Wilks is also the team leader in home runs (10), runs (20) and RBIs (26). Danny Lynch (.235) and Reece Ewing (.221) have combined for 41 walks and Etzel is 11-for-13 when attempting to steal.

The Golden Eagles will go with Tanner Hall (5-2, 2.14 ERA) for the series opener, Matthew Adams (2-1, 3.79 ERA) for the second game of the series and Billy Oldham (2-1, 3.97 ERA) for the third game. The team owns a combined 4.68 ERA with opposing batters hitting .226 against them.

Southern Miss is 10th in the country in hits allowed per nine innings (7.41). The Golden Eagles lead the league with a 1.30 WHIP and are second in the Sun Belt in fielding percentage (.976), strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.41) and walks allowed per nine innings (4.31).

The Golden Eagles were the preseason favorite to win the Sun Belt with 11 first-place votes and 192 total points. Tanner Hall was tabbed the Preseason Pitcher of the Year and was joined on the Preseason All-Sun Belt Team by Dickersonnand Carson Paetow.

The Series
Southern Miss is ahead 10-4 in the all-time series. The two teams met last year in Hattiesburg, Mississippi when the Golden Eagles were ranked seventh in the country. ODU won the first two games 4-1 and 4-3, but fell 5-4 in 10 innings in the third game.

What’s Next
ODU will travel to Greenville, North Carolina next Tuesday for the first game in a home-and-home series versus East Carolina. First pitch at Clark-LeClair Stadium is set for 6 p.m.