NORFOLK, Va. (ODUSports.com) – Old Dominion's big bats, which led all of college baseball in home runs much of last season, were largely silent Friday afternoon against Iona College.
The Monarchs managed just three hits – all singles – and none of them led to a run.
But ODU took advantage of two critical Iona errors, its speed on the bases and outstanding pitching and defense to claim a 4-2 victory over the Gaels in the Monarchs' season opener at Bud Metheny Ballpark.
It was ODU's first game since the Monarchs' storybook 2021 season, in which ODU won 44 games, its first Conference USA title and was seeded No. 1 in an NCAA Regional for the first time ever.
Other than a scoreboard video commemorating last season, and the likeness of the 2021 team on the left field wall, there was little mention of the championship season before the opener. And that was intentional, ODU coach Chris Finwood said.
"Last year was a special season," Finwood said. "It was a fun, fun group. It's nice to see the guys' picture on the wall out there. They're immortalized at the Bud and that's great.
"But the world keeps spinning. We've got to move on to this year. And we've got a lot of work to do."
ODU, ranked 24th nationally, got outstanding pitching from four players.
Jason Hartline picked up where he left off last season and closed out the game by striking out three of six batters that he faced to pick up the save.
Defensively, shortstop Tommy Bell roamed the infield like a vacuum cleaner, and robbed Iona of several hits.
"Tommy made so many outstanding plays," Finwood said. "He probably won the game for us."
The Gaels scored in the second inning without a hit. Jaz Burton and Luca Lotito both walked, then moved up a base on a sacrifice bunt by Brad Polinsky.
Jim Pasquale then grounded sharply to third and ODU's Kenny Levari was forced to throw to first to get the second out.
A run scored, but Lotito was stranded on third when Bell scooped up a ball deep at shortstop and threw out Phoenix Bowman by half a step.
ODU scored all of its runs in the fifth. Robbie Petracci led off with a walk and was replaced by pinch runner Josh Trujillo, who promptly stole second. Bell then walked and both he and Trujillo pulled off a double steal to leave runners on second and third.
In all, the Monarchs stole five bases in the fifth.
Thomas Wheeler then drove in two runs when he hit a hard ground ball to second base that Nick Carnavale could not handle. It was ruled an error.
Carter Trice then drove home a run with a ground ball to third base that Phoenix Bowman scooped up, and as he turned to throw, dropped the ball, allowing Wheeler to score.
Levari then scored on a passed ball to make it 4-1.
Iona scored in the top of the eighth when Lotito singled up the middle, scoring Jake Field. But with two outs and two men on base, Hartline caught Polinsky looking with a fastball on the outside corner to get the strikeout.
"It felt good to get this win," Hartline said. "We're definitely hoping to build off today and got some momentum tomorrow."
The teams meet again Saturday at 2 and Sunday at 1 p.m. The Monarchs also have a three-game home series with Binghamton next weekend.
Finwood said he hopes ODU's bats are a little livelier the rest of the weekend.
He was unhappy and let his players know at game's end that, with temperatures dipping into the mid 40s and a cold wind blowing from centerfield, that they didn't shorten up their swings.
"We've talked about that the last 10 days," he said. "When the wind is blowing in like that, you're not going to hit the ball out of the park.
"You've got to shorten your swings and hit it in play and we were absolutely awful at doing that today.
"They know me. They know they're going to hear about it. So hopefully they'll come out and have a little better approach tomorrow."
He said that's just one of many lessons this team will learn before Conference USA play begins in mid March.
"This year's team has got to find its own way," he said.
"Certainly the first month of the season before conference play starts, that's what it's all about."