COLUMBIA, S.C. — One of the best seasons in Old Dominion University baseball history comes down to this. The Monarchs meet the University of Virginia Monday night at the University of South Carolina's Founders Park. Win and the Monarchs win the Columbia Regional of the NCAA Tournament and advance to the first Super Regional in school history.
Lose and what has been a magnificent run comes to an end.
Virginia forced Monday's final game by defeating the Monarchs, 8-3, Sunday night in a game in which U.Va.'s pitching dominated. The Cavaliers struck out 24 ODU batters and staved off several ODU threats. ODU had only five hits and left 10 men on base.
The game time and television destination of Monday's game have yet to be announced.
Monday's winner will host a Super Regional next weekend at a site to be determined. It will not be held at ODU or U.Va., but instead at one of the 20 sites pre-approved by the NCAA in late May.
The Columbia Regional championship game matches two of the commonwealth's premiere programs. U.Va. (32-24), which has a storied history that includes a national championship, got off to a slow start this season, but has won 10 of its last 13 games.
ODU (44-15) won its first Conference USA title this season and captured national attention as a Cinderella team with powerful bats – the Monarchs lead the nation in home runs – and dedicated the second half of the season to Coach Chris Finwood, who lost his wife to cancer in April.
The loss snapped a 9-game ODU winning streak.
U.Va. and ODU are familiar foes. Their series dates to 1965, when ODU was a Division II school. ODU leads the series, 33-31-2.
ODU had defeated Jacksonville and South Carolina to advance to Sunday's Columbia Regional final, needing to win just one more game.
U.Va. lost to South Carolina in its first game and beat Jacksonville on Saturday and South Carolina earlier Sunday to advance to play ODU needing to win two.
The Cavaliers showed no ill effects from the first game and were especially dominant in the early going.
Starting pitcher Griff McGarry threw fast balls of up to 98 miles per hour and was simply too good with his placement and too fast for ODU to hit. He struck out ODU's first six batters and in the third inning, gave up only a walk.
ODU stranded three men in the fourth and players on second and third in the seventh. The usually sure-glove Monarchs also made two errors.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, scored five in the first four innings. Kyle Teel singled in one run and Nic Kent hit a sacrifice fly to score another in the first. Devin Ortiz then homered into the U.Va. bullpen in the third to score two more runs.
Max Cotier singled in another in the top of the fourth, and the Cavaliers led 5-0.
McGarry then began to tire and apparently developed a blister on his finger and the Monarchs took advantage.
Kenny Levari, the first batter in the fourth, drilled a home run over the left field fence into the U.Va. bullpen. The next batter, Carter Trice, drove one over the left field fence a few yards beyond Levari's.
The homers brought to life ODU fans in the crowd.
McGarry then walked three Monarchs to load the bases. After a long cofab on the mound, which drew the ire of Finwood, the Cavs called on reliever Brandon Neeck to end the rally.
He only gave up one more run and was magnificent over 5 2/3 innings, striking out 16 of 24 batters he faced.
Tommy Wheeler came up with two outs in the fourth. He fouled off four pitches with a 3-2 count. The fifth pitch was a ball and Matt Coutney scored, cutting the lead to 5-3.
Leadoff hitter Kyle Battle fouled several pitches long but went down swinging, leaving three runners stranded.
U.Va. claimed another run in the top of the fifth to build the lead to 6-3. With two men on and no outs, but catcher Brock Gagliardi caught a bunt popped up into the air and then threw to second for the double play.
But then Logan Michaels then grounded sharply to Trice, who scooped up a tough bouncer but then threw wildly to first, allowing Kent to score.
ODU had runners on second and third in the seventh, but Neeck struck out two batters to end that threat.
U.Va. built the lead to 8-3 in the top of the ninth, when Logan Michaels drove a single to center field.