(Courtesy: Harry Minium/ODU Sports)
NORFOLK, Va. – Old Dominion threw eight pitchers, and they were brilliant, and third baseman Kenny Levari provided some ninth inning heroics when he lofted a home run over the left-field fence to send the annual Commonwealth Classic game into extra innings.
But No. 14 East Carolina rallied in the top of the 13th, scoring three runs on four singles and a throwing error to claim a 4-1 baseball victory over the Monarchs Wednesday afternoon at Bud Metheny Ballpark.
ODU’s pitchers, including three freshmen and a sophomore, allowed just one run and six hits through 12 innings before the Pirates (35-14) broke through against ODU freshman Landen Burch.
Burch threw three innings of relief and was sharp when he shut down the Pirates in the 11th and 12th. But in the 13th, the Pirates scored three runs on two, two-out singles from centerfielder Ryley Johnson and third baseman Alec Makarewicz.
“I thought Landen Burch was great,” ODU head coach Chris Finwood said of the 6-foot-4 righthander from Corning, New York.
“At the end of the game he gave us everything he had. He was just running on fumes in the 13th and left a couple of two-strike pitches up in the strike zone.
“You have to give ECU credit. They did a good job hitting.”
The Monarchs (30-18) have been in something of a slump as of late in large part because of poor pitching and fielding. Yet it was ODU’s bats that let the Monarchs down Wednesday. ODU had just three hits, including two from Levari, and struck out 18 times.
It was ODU’s third consecutive loss in extra innings over the last three weeks and Finwood said that’s because the Monarchs aren’t getting clutch hits when they need them.
“I was proud of our pitching,” Finwood said. “Especially the young guys. They all competed.
“Eighteen strikeouts, that’s just a bad job offensively. We’ve got to do better than that. That’s been an issue when we haven’t been good. We strike out too much.”
Vincent Bashara, a junior from Norfolk’s Maury High School, started for ODU and pitched well, limiting the Pirates to just one hit in three innings. Joey DeChiaro threw two innings in relief and did not allow a baserunner.
Righthander John Holobetz, who leads ODU with six saves, threw one inning of shutout relief in the tenth inning after Levari’s home run.
“But I couldn’t use him any longer than that,” Finwood said. “We need him this weekend.”
Indeed, the Monarchs do. ODU plays a key Sun Belt series at James Madison Friday, Saturday and Sunday. ODU is fighting to make the Sun Belt Tournament field and hopes to finish among the top six.
Finishing sixth or higher means you play one less game in the double elimination tournament. The bottom four seeds in the 10-team tournament play a single-elimination round, with two going on to join the other six teams.
At 13-11 in the Sun Belt, ODU is tied with Troy for seventh place. The Monarchs close out their Sun Belt schedule next week with a three-game home series against Georgia State.
“I think it will take 16 or 17 wins” to make the top six, Finwood said. “We’re certainly capable of doing that.”
ODU was coming off a grueling road trip to Arkansas State and fatigue may have been an issue, Finwood said. Because of a weather-related canceled flight, the Monarchs spent Sunday night in a Chicago airport.
The team flew to Northern Virginia Monday night and bused home to Norfolk, arriving shortly after midnight.
“It probably had a little bit to do with our offensive struggles,” Finwood said.
“But we’ve got to very quickly turn the page. We’ve got a big series at JMU.”