Monarchs Baseball Sweep Louisiana Monroe in Opening Sun Belt Weekend Series


Bruce Butler, ODU Athletics

Touch ’em all! Junior catcher Robbie O’Neal trots around third base after blasting his two-run HR over the left-field wall in game two against ULM.

By Benjamin Draper, Sports Editor

In its first weekend of Sun Belt Conference play, the Old Dominion Monarchs Baseball team traveled down to the University of Louisiana Monroe 7-14 (0-3 Sun Belt) for a three-game conference series. ODU earned the series sweep over the Warhawks and improved their record to 18-2 (3-0 Sun Belt). The Monarchs came into the weekend on a three-game winning streak after earning a win over Charlotte and dominating Princeton in a pair of games earlier in the week. 

On Friday night, Old Dominion opened up the scoring in the top of the second inning as senior outfielder Thomas Wheeler struck a two-out solo home run. The Monarchs held onto their one-run advantage until the fifth inning, when the Warhawks responded with a pair of doubles and another single that brought in two runs to regain the lead. ULM’s lead did not hold up long and ODU tied things up in the top of the sixth inning when junior infielder Hunter Fitz-Gerald evened the score at two with a solo blast over the left field wall.

The score remained tied at two until the next Monarchs at-bat in the seventh, when junior Kenny Levari got on base with a single and was eventually brought in off a single down the middle from senior catcher Tyler Wheeler. ODU led 3-2 going into the bottom of the eighth inning before the Warhawks tied the game at three after an RBI single went down the left side that brought in the runner on base. Louisiana had the opportunity to pull ahead with runners in scoring position, but thanks to the pitching from sophomore right-handed pitcher John Holobetz, ODU was able to get out of the jam. Nine innings were not enough to settle game one in the series and both teams were deadlocked at three. 

Sophomore RHP John Holobetz winds up for the pitch in game one against ULM. (Bruce Butler, ODU Athletics )

In the top of the tenth inning, sophomore infielder Luke Waters reached base off a throwing error from ULM. On the ensuing at-bat, junior outfielder Josh Trujillo advanced Waters off a sacrifice bunt and then intentionally walked Fitz-Gerald, putting the Monarchs in a position to score. Freshman infielder Alex Bouche singled up the middle, which brought Waters into score from second base off a throwing error that also resulted in Fitz-Gerald reaching home plate, putting ODU up 5-3. The Monarchs finished the game with a double-play to earn a gritty game-one victory. 

Holobetz improved his record to 1-1 after tossing 2.2 innings of shutout baseball. He struck out five batters while giving up three hits and no walks. Sophomore left-handed pitcher Blake Morgan started and had two runs to account for four hits and one walk. He had two strikeouts in five complete innings. Junior pitchers Trent Buchanan and Jacob Gomez tossed 2.1 combined innings while tagging five strikeouts in the Monarchs’ victory. 

Game two on Saturday was not as competitive of a matchup. Old Dominion bolted out to an early lead with runs tallied in each of the first five innings, leading to a 13-1 victory over ULM. In the top of the first, Waters blasted a double to right-center field to lead off the game as Fitz-Gerald and junior infielder Jake Ticer both got on to load the bases. On the ensuing at-bat, Bouche hit a ground ball into a double-play, but Waters was able to reach home plate safely to put ODU up 1-0. The Monarchs came out blasting in the second inning when senior Camden Grimes solo-homered over the right-field wall. Later in the inning, ODU tallied on another run off the RBI single from junior infielder Chris Dengler, giving them a 3-0 advantage. 

In the top of the third inning, Old Dominion created more separation with ULM with a pair of doubles from Bouche and Grimes that eventually made it 4-0 ODU. Ticer added another run to the Monarchs’ in the fourth inning thanks to a sacrifice fly. Louisiana got on the board in the bottom of the inning with a double that brought the runner home. On the ensuing at-bat for ODU, they pulled away in the fifth after adding on another four runs due to a two-run bomb down the left-field line from junior catcher Robbie O’Neal and a pair of runs, extending the advantage to 9-1. 

The score remained the same through the sixth inning, but in the top of the seventh, Old Dominion tallied four more insurance runs to increase the lead to 13-1. The score would stand there the rest of the afternoon as the Monarchs earned the series victory. Junior right-handed pitcher Sam Armstrong (4-0) had another strong performance as he limited the Warhawks offense to only one run off of four hits and two walks. Along with that, he tallied four strikeouts in the 5.2 innings that he pitched. Junior left-hander Joey DeChiaro tossed 1.1 innings in relief while juniors Ron Cole and Kyle Scrape both pitched an inning each. 

Four Monarchs finished the afternoon with multi-hit performances. Waters was 4-for-6 in the batter’s box with two doubles, a triple, and four runs scored. Grimes and Dengler both went 3-for-4, as they both doubled and scored twice. Grimes added one home run and two RBIs to his totals, while Dengler drove in one run. Bouche finished the game hitting 2-for-5 with a double, one run, an RBI, and a walk. 

Going into the Sunday series finale, Old Dominion had their sights set on the weekend sweep, which would extend their win streak to six games. In the top of the first inning, ODU got out to another early advantage after Waters led off the game being hit by the pitch. Grimes came to the plate and hit a ground ball to third base, but a throwing error from ULM gave Waters time to take third base. On the next at-bat, a wild pitch brought Waters in for the score and ODU added another run in the inning off a Tyler Wheeler single up the middle for the 2-0 advantage. 

Senior OF Thomas Wheeler slides into third base in game three against ULM. (Bruce Butler, ODU Athletics )

Throughout the first four innings of the contest, the Warhawks had opportunities to advance runners into scoring position, but the ODU fielding was able to turn double plays on numerous occasions to keep the lead at 2-0. In the top of the fifth inning, Grimes got the scoring started with a leadoff solo homerun over the left-center wall. Later in the inning, Fitz-Gerald scored a run from third on a Thomas Wheeler fielder’s choice. After a pitching change from the Warhawks, Old Dominion tallied on another two runs, extending their lead to 5-0. In the bottom half of the inning, ULM was able to break through and get  on the board after a single up the middle brought in the runner from second. 

The game remained 5-1 until the top of the seventh, when Thomas Wheeler blasted a two-out triple down the right-field line before Tyler Wheeler came up to bat and singled up the middle to bring Thomas Wheeler in from third to add another run to the Monarchs advantage. It was 6-1 going into the bottom of the eighth inning when the Warhawks loaded up the bases for an opportunity to strike, but off the ground ball hit, Dengler flipped it to Grimes at second before he threw it to Fitz-Gerald at first for the double-play; however it was not in time, as ULM brought in a run off of the hit.

Louisiana then threatened in the bottom of the ninth when they were able to load the bases again, but with two outs, graduate left-handed pitcher Robert Cook struck the batter out swinging and ODU earned a 6-2 victory along with the series sweep. Freshman left-hander Bailey Matela (2-0) received credit for the victory after striking out three ULM batters with one hit in two shutout innings pitched in relief. 

The ODU bats were pivotal in Sunday’s victory as Tyler Wheeler went 2-for-3, driving in two runs and adding a walk and stolen base. Thomas Wheeler finished 2-for-4 with a triple, a run, stolen base and a RBI. Bouche finished the afternoon 2-for-4 with a run scored along with a walk and stolen base. Freshman Dylan Brown went 4.1 innings while only giving up one run on three hits and three walks with one strikeout to account for. Grimes went 1-for-4 tallying a homerun for the Monarchs. 

After their Sunday matchup against ULM,  head coach Chris Finwood expressed how impressed he was with his team’s performance throughout the weekend. 

“We pitched well all weekend. They gave us a few runs today. It was a tough day to hit with the cold and wind,” Finwood stated. “We played pretty good defense all weekend. I’m proud of the guys for being ready to go today. I’m looking forward to getting back home this week and warmer temperatures!”

Next up for the Monarchs is four home games this week. On Wednesday at 6 p.m., Old Dominion will host in-state foe Liberty at Bud Metheny Ballpark. Later in the week, they will continue conference play with three games against the University of Marshall.