RUSTON, La. (ODUSports.com) – The 18th-ranked Old Dominion baseball team is now one game away from its first-ever Conference USA Baseball Tournament title following a power-packed 13-5 win over Florida Atlantic on Saturday. The Monarchs (41-14) hit a C-USA Tournament single-game record seven home runs, highlighted by three jacks off the bat of Andy Garriola.
“Our guy’s favorite thing is getting to the ballpark and seeing the wind blowing out,” head coach Chris Finwood said. “Today it was, and we got some good pitches to hit. Our guys were awesome today. They just came out ready to go, and we pitched pretty good too. That’s a really good ball club. To beat them five times in a season is a heck of an accomplishment. This group is so tough and so resilient and so fun to watch. They love each other, and they just keep fighting in the batter’s box and out on the mound.”
Saturday’s seven home runs also match an ODU program record, set earlier in the year against Marshall.
Garriola became the sixth Monarch with a three-homer outing and the first since Will Morgan hit three against Kansas State in 2018. In addition, the junior outfielder matched the conference tournament’s single-game home run record.
“It was nice to see Andy Garriola have a day like this,” Finwood said. “He’d been struggling a bit, and when he gets the ball in the air it’s always got a chance to go out.”
The hottest-hitting team in the conference remained that way on Saturday. ODU has now won six-straight games by a 65-30 aggregate margin while averaging 10.8 runs per game during that stretch.
Saturday’s offensive display advances ODU to the C-USA final for the first time since joining the conference in 2014. The Monarchs have won four conference tournament titles in their history – one in the Sun Belt in 1985 and three-straight as members of the Colonial Athletic Association in 1994, 1995 and 1996.
The @ODUBaseball team has never won a @ConferenceUSA title & hasn't won a league championship (any league...) since 1996.— Adam Winkler (@AdamWink) May 29, 2021
With his team one win away from making some history, we chat with @CoachFinny5 on the eve of the title game.
Via @WTKR3 https://t.co/C921N1tLPi pic.twitter.com/o0zNgHSJjQ
Old Dominion wasted little time in bringing out the power bats. Garriola broke a scoreless deadlock with a one-out home run to left field. After a Matt Coutney out and a Tommy Bell walk, Lincoln Ransom hit a tape-measure blast into left center to give the Monarchs a 3-0 edge after two innings.
The Owls (32-25) narrowed the deficit to 3-2 with a pair of runs in the fourth. Nolan Schanuel and Steven Loden led off the inning with a walk and a double before scoring on a sacrifice fly and a grounder to short.
The Monarchs’ potent bats were held in check in both the third and the fourth before surging once more in the bottom of the fifth. Following two quick outs, Carter Trice walked, and Brock Gagliardi singled up the middle to put runners on the corner for Garriola. The nation’s leader in runs batted in added three more to that category with a three-run shot into center field and ended the day with six runs driven in.
On the season, Garriola now has 74 hits, including 14 homers, and 72 RBI all while toting a .341 batting average.
ODU tacked on two more runs in the sixth when Kyle Battle doubled down the line in left to plate Thomas Wheeler and Tommy Bell and make the score 8-2. Bell scored three runs on Saturday while going 1-for-2 with a pair of walks.
FAU canceled out those two runs in the top of the seventh with back-to-back singles with two outs, but the Monarchs put the game to rest with an impressive display of power in the bottom of the seventh.
Gagliardi opened the frame with a double to left center. Garriola turned on the first pitch he was offered for a two-run shot into left to put the Monarchs up 10-4. Matt Coutney followed with a solo homer before Bell also went deep to give the Monarchs three-consecutive home runs and a 12-4 advantage.
“We don’t try to hit home runs,” Finwood said. “They’re just the product of good swings, and we got some talented kids out there.”
Noah Dean entered in the top of the eighth and recorded three strikeouts to strand runners on first and second. Trice hit ODU’s seventh, and final, homer of the day in the bottom of the eighth to make the score 13-4.
With their backs now firmly up against the wall, the Owls battled in the top of the ninth to keep their season alive, scoring one run and leaving the bases loaded. The first four batters of the inning drew walks to plate a run before Aaron Holiday struck out back-to-back batters. Trice made an excellent play on a grounder to his left – diving to field the ball then throwing out the runner from his knees – to end the game and send the Monarchs to Sunday’s championship game.
ODU’s 41 wins this year are the most in a season since 1986, when the Monarchs went 43-16. Only two ODU teams have won more than 41 games in a season.
Old Dominion plated 13 runs on just 12 hits thanks to nine extra-base knocks. Trice, Gagliardi and Ransom each had two-hit days. Garriola led all players with three hits.
The Monarchs used five arms on Saturday. Tommy Gertner started on the hill and allowed two runs on two hits with four strikeouts and three walks in 4.2 innings of work. Jason Hartline picked up his fifth win of the season after pitching two innings and allowing two runs on two hits.
The Conference USA Baseball Championship final is scheduled for tomorrow, May 30, at 2 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network and carried over the airwaves on Money Talk 1310 AM and Rejoice 100.9 FM, with Ted Alexander on the radio call. Old Dominion will play either No. 2-seeded Louisiana Tech or No. 3-seeded Southern Miss. A win on Sunday clinches the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Monarchs, who are in line for an at-large bid to the NCAAs, have made eight trips to the NCAA Tournament with the last coming in 2014.
“We’ve done a lot of things this year that haven’t happened in a long time,” Finwood said. “When you say ‘never done this’ in front of something it’s really special. We put all of our conference championship teams up on our outfield wall, and our guys want their picture on the wall.”