RUSTON, La. - For the first time in a quarter-century, the Old Dominion University baseball team is a conference champion.
Sunday, ODU knocked off Louisiana Tech 7-5 in 10 innings to win the program's first-ever Conference USA tournament title. The Monarchs' last league championship came in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) in 1996.
With the victory, the Monarchs' seventh straight, ODU earns an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament - it's first trip to the postseason since 2014.
The Monarchs have now won five 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.
Tommy Bell, the Russell D. Anderson Most Valuable Player of the tournament, gave ODU its first lead of the contest, 4-3, in the sixth inning after blasting a three-run homer to left field. Robbie Petracci made it a 5-3 game after a pinch-hit home run on a torn ACL in the eighth. LA Tech would score one run in the eighth, as well as the ninth to force extra innings. In the top of the 10th, Kyle Battle hammered a two-run homer to center to seal the deal for the Monarchs.
"What a game. Our kids are unbelievable, they really fight for each other," said ODU head coach Chris Finwood. "I can't imagine anyone could draw up a better conference championship than that one. It was a back-and-forth battle. Congratulations to LA Tech, they have a fantastic ballclub and ran a great tournament in a fantastic facility. The crowd was awesome today, by far the best environment we've played in this season, which should help us in the NCAA Tournament."
In the top of the 10th, Bell was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game, before Battle hit his league-leading 18th home run of the season to lift the Monarchs to their first ever C-USA title.
"We came into this game with a nothing to lose mindset," explained Battle. "We just played loose and free, like we have all year and we were able to come out on top against a very good team. We set a goal of going to Omaha before the season started, but we are going to continue to take it one game at a time. I think this group has something in them."
Bell, the tournament MVP, went 8-for-13 (.615) with three home runs, while scoring seven runs and compiling eight RBI in four games.
"I have been here for four years and I have never been on a team like this. I love these guys," said Bell. "This is a really special feeling. I'm at a loss for words right now, but we have more work to do, so that is the focus now."
ODU's 42 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 42 games in a season.
"Plans don't always turn out the way you want them to, but everything we hoped was going to happen for us this weekend, happened," concluded Finwood. "And our guys made it happen. I'm so happy and proud of our guys, their picture is going up on our outfield wall."
The 2021 NCAA baseball tournament field of 64 will be revealed at Noon Monday on ESPN2.