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Mace & Crown | July 21, 2017

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Old Dominion Baseball Preview

Old Dominion Baseball Preview
Matt O’Brien
Sports Editor

When you walk into Coach Chris Finwood’s office, the first thing you see on his desk is a clear plaque commemorating his 2014 season.  He was awarded East Region Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association.

Two vintage Louisville Slugger bats hang from the back wall. There are frames honoring the great Hank Aaron and behind his desk is a picture of Cy Young winner and Old Dominion Alum Justin Verlander. Next to his old gloves and catcher mitts are five different styles of ODU baseball hats. Finwood sits at his desk on a cold morning in his beanie ready to talk baseball.

Finwood’s team was picked to finish fifth in the C-USA this season in pre-season rankings behind teams like Florida Atlantic and No. 8 ranked Rice University.

“I don’t personally put any stock into preseason rankings, whether it’s individual or team rankings. They don’t get you any extra hits, doesn’t get any extra strikeouts, it does nothing for you when the umpire says play ball,” Finwood said.

Senior outfielder Connor Myers, junior pitcher Sam Sinnen and sophomore infielder Zach Rutherford represented the Monarchs in the C-USA preseason honors. ODU was the only team in the conference to have three players chosen.

“They are three good players we are counting on to have a good year for us, and we hope they can improve, but of course, it’s team effort,” he said.

The Monarchs posted a 27-29 record last season– a season that featured wins over defending NCAA champion UVA and Rice. ODU baseball advanced to the conference tournament for the second straight season.

“It shows your guys if you play well, you can beat anybody on your schedule. We have had some recent success against Virginia and we look to continue that this year at Harbor Park,” Finwood said.

The landscape of this year’s team has changed as the Monarchs will have to adjust to some key losses. Infielders P.J. Higgins and  Taylor Ostrich were drafted by major league teams (Cubs and Padres) and both posted.300 batting averages last season. On the mound, No. 1 starter Greg Tomchick was also drafted  by the St. Louis Cardinals. This years outfield will be without lefty slugger Josh Eldridge.

“In college baseball you’re always wondering who is going to be on your team next year, especially when you are fortunate enough to have draftable players. As a coach, you always have to have contingency plans for when guys sign or don’t sign,” Finwood said.

Finwood speaks very highly of those slotted to take the place of those big bats in the middle of the lineup. Kurt Sinnen comes into this season expected to take on a bigger role and was .247 hitter last season. Former relief pitcher Turner Bishop has been converted into a full time hitter and corner outfielder. Finwood expects some nice production in the heart of the order from the Virginia Beach native as he hit six home runs in fall play.

“Turner has had a great fall for us. He’s always shown the potential to swing the bat, and I think trying to hit and take the mound in relief was a little much for him. I figured why not convert him and let him hit,” Finwood said.

The last time Finwood converted one of his relievers it was Ben Verlander, who currently plays for the Detroit Tigers and led the C-USA in home runs in 2013.

On the opposite side of the ball, this year’s team is very hopeful on the mound after being riddled with injuries on the pitching staff last season.

Adam Bainbridge returns as perhaps the Monarchs’ strongest arm. Bainbridge went 4-2 last season and posted a team best 2.39 earned runs against average. Nick Hartman will be slotted as this year’s closer, and his fastball was clocked in at 97 mph this fall. Jake Josephs (3-1) is back after being injured on and off last season, and Victor Diaz is back and throwing after missing all of last season due to injury.

Finwood also spoke very highly of some of his newcomers on the mound. Local Brett Smith from Grassfield high school looks to make an impact. Freshman Morgan Maguire will also see some innings. The Rumson N.J. native posted a 0.97 ERA in his senior season.

“We are much improved on the mound without a doubt, and we are excited by our new pitchers this year,” Finwood said.

When asked if there was any one guy who was going under the radar, Finwood cracked a smile and quickly responded with catcher and designated hitter Kyle Beam. Beam is a junior college transfer from Oregon.

“He has a lot of power and has swung the bat very nicely as of late. He has a fantastic arm, and I think he is a guy that can surprise a lot of people. No one knows a lotabout Kyle just yet,” Finwood said.

The Monarchs will start the season away in the Caravelle Resort Tournament in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. ODU opens the season taking on the No. 10 ranked team in the country– the N.C. State Wolfpack.

“We’re not easing in to things by any means, but starting against these tough opponents will only help us better solidify the roles of some of our younger guys for the rest of this season,” Finwood said.