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INSIDE THE MONARCHY

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: May 23, 2014
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Joseph Guaragna
Courtesy: Joe Harper

INSIDE THE MONARCHY

Something to write home about after a long season of splinters

by Rich Radford

Leave it to a kid from Mississauga to get a big hit while the Old Dominion University Monarchs play for their postseason lives in Mississippi.

OK, so you’re figuring Joseph Guaragna got in front of his home folks and came up big Thursday in the Conference USA baseball tournament in Hattiesburg, Miss., right? That’s not quite the story line. Mississauga is not in Mississippi, although it sure sounds like it should be.

Guaragna is from Ontario, and Mississauga is a suburb of Toronto. That’s right, Joey is a Canuck. Chris Finwood spotted him playing for a travel club called the Ontario Blue Jays (go figure). During his college coaching career, Finwood has actually pulled more than his share of Ontario Blue Jays while on the recruiting trail.

Guaragna wasn’t supposed to play on Thursday in a loser’s bracket elimination game against Florida International. He was supposed to do what he’s done most of the year, watch from the bench as a talented group of upper classmen manned ODU’s outfield. Guaragna had a grand total of five at-bats – and zero hits – coming into Thursday.

Alas, about 15 minutes prior to the first pitch, it became obvious that junior leftfielder Josh Eldridge wasn’t going to answer the bell. A victim of food poisoning, Eldridge gave the wrong answer when Finwood asked if he was prepared to play.

“When you don’t say yes, that’s a no,” Finwood said.

With all-conference outfielder Nick Walker already set on the lineup card at second base Thursday, Finwood had few options. Guaragna was it.

With the Monarchs trailing 1-0 in the fifth, the lefthanded hitting Guaragna doubled down the rightfield line, driving in two runs as the Monarchs took the lead. Guaragna would later score from third on a double steal, giving ODU a 3-1 lead. They would nurse home a 3-2 victory, improving to 34-23 on the season.

So the question now becomes, is that enough to get the Monarchs into the upcoming NCAA Tournament as an at-large participant? Or do they need one more win when they play Friday afternoon against Middle Tennessee State?

Finwood said he has no idea, but would like to believe a few factors make the Monarchs appealing to the NCAAs selection committee. One of those factors would be their 8-1 victory late in the regular season against top-ranked Virginia. Another would be the fact that 19 of ODU’s victories this season are against teams with RPIs of 150 or better. Only Georgia Tech has a higher number of wins against the 150s.

The third factor would be that a lot of bubble teams have already gone 0-2 in their own conference tournaments across the country this week.

“If we had lost and had gone 0-2 in our own conference tournament, then people would have had ammunition against us,” Finwood said. “But we didn’t. We’re still alive.”

The Monarchs will throw Victor Diaz (4-2), who had three big Sunday victories late in the season for ODU. And the Monarchs can hope that their propensity to turn double plays continues. In the first two games of the tournament, ODU has turned six double plays. Their 60 double plays for the season is a school record.

“Look, we’re not a lock for a bid to the NCAA tournament,” Finwood said. “So every win at this point is important.”

As is every double play. And every hit from a kid who had people scratching their heads and asking, “Who?”

Friday’s elimination game with Middle Tennessee State begins at 4 p.m. Eastern Time and can be seen on the Conference USA Network or heard locally on STAR1310 AM.

So will Guaragna be in the lineup?

“Ya never know,” Finwood said. “He wasn’t supposed to be in it today, but he was.”

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