It was a Win-Win Situation, particularly for the Monarchs
By Rich Radford
If only the weather had really cooperated.
Tuesday night’s Old Dominion-Virginia affair at Harbor Park had the makings of something truly special: The top-ranked team in the nation was visiting an in-state school for a game, something that rarely happens. The Cavaliers don’t like to go on the road in their own state.
Also, that top-ranked Virginia team was also coming off a weekend in which it took two of three at Florida State, which at the time was ranked No. 2 in the nation and hoped to supplant the talented Cavaliers but didn’t.
The wind was blustery and rain at times spit. But the 2,937 who braved the elements – and really, it was still a comfortable 64 degrees throughout – got to see something that rarely happens these days. The Monarchs spanked the top team in the country, 8-1.
Actually, it was so rare that it had never happened before. This is the first time ODU’s baseball team has beaten the No. 1-ranked team in the country.
And you know what? It wasn’t even close. By the eighth inning, the Virginia faithful were heading for the parking lot and Monarch fans had taken up the tried and true “O-D-U” chant, starting it on the concourse behind first base and expanding throughout the stadium.
Virginia had not lost a non-conference game since February and had only lost eight times all year coming in. This was a shocking score, a shocking result. It was also a result that ODU’s coaches will be able to brag about on the recruiting trail, one they will get mileage from, for sure.
Virginia also got mileage out of the game. Throughout the stadium, the split in fans adorned in ODU gear and fans wearing Virginia orange and blue was about 50-50.
Virginia fans took the opportunity to picnic pre-game in the area beyond leftfield, which was for a moment a sea of orange.
“You just don’t get to see Virginia play here much,” said Dave Husbands, who sported a Wahoos baseball cap. “I work in Norfolk, but both of my children went to Virginia, so I really wanted to see this team play tonight. I was monitoring the weather and keeping up with the Tides doubleheader prior to the game to make sure it was going to happen.”
That’s right, this was a tripleheader day for the staff of the Norfolk Tides. But it was also the most lucrative. Said one concessions employee, “This is the best night of business we’ve had all season.”
Fans came to relax, drink a cold one, and be merry.
They were there to enjoy themselves. Some came wearing the colors of both schools. An ODU sweatshirt coupled with the UVA cap was not uncommon.
Frank Thomson, sitting along the first-base side, labeled himself “conflicted.”
“I grew up in Portsmouth as a University of Virginia fan, but I have all three of my degrees from Old Dominion, a bachelor’s, masters and a Ph.D. in oceanography,” Thomson said. He looked at the scoreboard. “But I’m not all that conflicted by that score right now.”
When he looked, the Monarchs led 2-1. Thomson was in the stands with his friend and ODU graduate Frank Taylor. They had brought their sons, Braeden and David, to the game. The kids wanted to go, so their youth baseball practice was canceled for the night.
It was a night in which the baseball gods shined down upon the Monarchs. Virginia made a holistically uncharacteristic four errors, some of them aided by the slightly slippery surface and the wind.
And the Monarchs got out of a jam early on that would really be Virginia’s only chance to exact some punishment. Having already scored, the Cavaliers loaded the bases with one out in the second inning. But ODU third baseman fielded a chopper near his bag, stepped on it, and threw to first for an inning-ending double play.
At the other end of that throw, first baseman Josiah Burney made a clean pick of a sloppy throw. Upon game’s end, it was a blip of a play. When it happened it was huge.
Also big was Josh Eldridge’s run-scoring triple into the rightfield corner in the sixth inning that helped stretch ODU’s lead from 2-1 to 4-1.
By the ninth inning, the Monarchs could sense a win. The players in the dugout were doing imaginary pushups toward their teammates in the bullpen and those in the bullpen were returning the favor.
When the final pitch of the night left Brad Gero’s hand and the third strike was in P.J. Higgins’ mitt, ODU’s reserves didn’t file out of the openings at the end of the Harbor Park dugout, they leaped over the railings and raced into the infield as their bullpen teammates sprinted in from the rightfield pen. It was a celebration worthy of a win over a top-ranked team. The understandable celebration lasted but a few moments before the Monarchs composed themselves and shook hands with the Cavaliers.
Yet it was a scene that needs to be repeated.
Virginia visiting ODU and playing at Harbor Park was a very good thing. It served a lot of purpose from both sides. It had been eight years since the Cavaliers last visited Norfolk.
This is something that needs to be repeated, regardless of outcome.