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Inside the Monarchy

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: March 05, 2014
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Inside the Monarchy

Monarchs pack it up and head for Rice to kick off Conference USA play

Well, they certainly could have drawn an easier first opponent, that’s for sure.

When Old Dominion’s baseball team flies to Rice this week to play a three-game set against the Owls, the Monarchs will be embarking on a tall and mighty task. This is the same Rice program that won the College World Series in 2003 and has produced 18 first-round draft picks.

Last season, 12 different former Owls pulled on major league jerseys. These guys are the real deal.

They are also just a baseball team, and every baseball team is beatable on any given day in college baseball. That’s what sets baseball apart from other sports. Take football. Lose a game during the regular season and your chances of a national championship are pretty much caput.

Lose an entire three-game series in early March in baseball and it’s on to the next series. Baseball is about timing and getting hot at the right time. It’s about throwing young, impressionable players – particularly pitchers – into the fire early, because what may burn them in March can help them in May.

“This is the first three games of 30 conference games we’ll play,” ODU coach Chris Finwood said. “We come home, win or lose, and we’ll have 27 more. You play so much baseball in a college season that you learn to be level-headed and to not be as concerned about the opponent as you are about yourself.”

Twenty-seven is an important number this weekend, in so many ways. The Monarchs will come home with 27 more Conference USA games to play. To win a baseball game usually takes 27 outs. And when the Monarchs board their flight to Houston, home of the Owls, they’ll take 27 players.

That’s how it is in college baseball. By rule, Finwood will walk to home plate and hand over a 27-man roster that he will employ for the weekend’s series. So will Rice. Finwood likes to take 15 position players and 12 pitchers for a series.

What’s left behind are sometimes bruised egos. It’s a numbers game, but it can also be a chess match of matching the opposition’s strengths. Say a team has an unusual number of lefthanded hitters. That may move Finwood to take an extra lefthanded pitcher. Decisions must be made.

One decision made harps back to that theory that getting a young pitcher work now against quality opposition can help down the road. So Turner Bishop, a touted freshman lefthander from Virginia Beach’s Kellam High, will make the trip. And another decision harps to the fact that it’s a long season: Joey Benitez, another touted lefty, will not make the trip as he nurses a slight injury. It’s all about management of resources at this point.

That and the weather.

“So far it’s the worst I’ve ever experienced as a coach,” Finwood said as the snow outside his window tried to melt. The Monarchs were supposed to play top-ranked Virginia in Charlottesville on Wednesday, but the latest snow blast pushed that back to April 1 (no fooling). “We’ve been kind of lucky because up to now the weather hadn’t affected our games. But it’s definitely affected our practice schedule.

“We’ve been limited to hitting inside, throwing and lifting. It doesn’t give you much opportunity to get in a rhythm.”

Rhythm or not, the Monarchs have to this point hit well in breaking out to an 8-4 record. They are second in the conference to Florida International in just about every offensive category, and as Finwood points out, “we’ve played a more challenging schedule than they have, in my opinion.”

The losses ODU has have been to quality opponents: Georgia Tech, VCU, Rutgers and nationally ranked Kentucky. They also took two of three from that Rutgers squad and avenged the VCU loss a week later.

If anything, the Monarchs should be happy to get out of the snowbelt that Hampton Roads has suddenly become. Their moods should be light. Their bats should be quick. Their arms mighty. Besides, this is the start of their spring break. Classes are out.

But more importantly, it’ll be in the mid-60s all weekend for their games.

Houston, we don’t have a problem.

Play ball!

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