A week ago, head coach Chris Finwood stood in front of his Old dominion University baseball team following a 10-9 loss in Charlottesville to national powerhouse Virginia. It had taken 10 innings for the Cavaliers to shake the pesky Monarchs.
Pesky. It was something Finwood, in his second season at the helm, hadn't always witnessed from his Monarchs. It was a ring-on-the-tree moment for ODU, a step forward.
"That night, playing in front of a big crowd on the road, our guys decided they were going to be a little tougher and fight a little harder," Finwood said. "To be frank, we ran out of pitching playing back-to-back games in the middle of the week and Virginia used their closer for three innings to beat us."
Yes, the Cavaliers put their closer, Kyle Crockett, on the mound to salvage a victory. Then by squeaking out a win over the Monarchs, Virginia turned around and swept a very good Florida State team.
And ODU? The Monarchs turned around and swept a very good William and Mary squad. And quite possibly, they did that because of what happened in Charlottesville. Quite possibly, this team - this program - turned a corner.
"I told them that night in Charlottesville that I was the one judged by wins and losses, but that I'd never judge them that way," Finwood said. "I judge them by their fight, the fundamental soundness of their play, and their team spirit. And I told them that if they kept playing that way they'd win a lot of games."
It was something the Monarchs had in abundance in sweeping William and Mary over the weekend. And if ever there was a series to win this season, beating the Tribe was the one. The Monarchs as a whole needed it to win the Optima Challenge, a year-long contest between the two schools that was going to be decided on the baseball field.
Things didn't look so hot for the Monarchs in the Friday opener against the Tribe as they headed for the bottom of the ninth trailing 5-2. But as Finwood said, "I never sensed panic in the dugout, even when we were down."
The Tribe never recorded an out in the bottom of the ninth as ODU sent six to the plate, the last being Josh Eldridge who doubled to left to drive in the tying and winning runs. On "Bark in the Park Night" at Bud Metheny, that was something to howl about.
"Apparently winning that Optima thing is big here," Finwood said, his tongue firmly in cheek, as if a native of Hampton, Va., wouldn't know the rivalry between the College of William and Mary and the school that was once the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary.
The Monarchs followed that with a 10-1 victory on Saturday and a 1-0 victory on Sunday when junior lefty Ryan Yarbrough threw a complete-game four-hitter, good enough to earn CAA co-pitcher of the week.
The Monarchs swept a William and Mary squad that came in with a national RPI of 26. The Monarchs are hovering in the high 80s, and that's not bad seeing how the program hasn't been in the top 100 in a while. But it's not good enough to earn ODU an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. And since ODU is not invited to participate in the upcoming Colonial Athletic Association tournament, there isn't a lot of post-season incentive coming down the stretch.
Or is there?
"I'm hoping we can ride the momentum," Finwood said. "We could still finish second in the league race, which would have been good enough to make the CAA Tournament.
"The guys feel good. They feel like they are getting better and that we are making strides."
ODU heads for Delaware for a weekend tri-set after they host Liberty today at 3 p.m.
The Blue Hens are a top 100 team in the national RPI and winning on the road is always a chore. The weekend could be big for the Monarchs. Then May 3-5, the Monarchs host George Mason for their final (ever) CAA weekend. As luck (if that's what it is) would have it, the Monarchs don't play during the final week of the CAA's regular season.
Instead, ODU's last six games on the slate will be non-conference games. They will finish the slate with two games at Wofford, in Spartanburg, S.C.
The goal will be to go out on an uptick and at 21-19 a winning record is quite within reach. For those who are counting.