By Harry Minium
NORFOLK, Va. – Charlotte claimed an easy victory over the Old Dominion baseball team Saturday, and much to the chagrin of ODU coach Chris Finwoodthe 49ers got a big helping hand from the Monarch pitching staff.
The Monarchs walked 12 batters, hit two more and walked in two runs when the 49ers broke the game open in the sixth inning of a 13-8 Charlotte victory at Bud Metheny Ballpark.
The loss is the second in a row to Charlotte, which could claim a sweep of the three-game series when the teams meet Sunday at 1 pm ODU has not been swept in a home series since Rice did it in 2019.
ODU (17-4, 2-3 C-USA) walked six batters in Friday’s loss.
“You’re not going to win games when you give good teams 12 free baserunners like we did today,” Finwood said. “We had too many walks, too many hit batters.
“It’s disappointing because we haven’t been walking a lot of guys. I don’t know what’s going on with that this weekend, but we just haven’t pitched well.”
On Friday, Charlotte (16-6, 4-1) teed off on starter Tommy Gertner, and the bullpen did a credible job in an 11-4 defeat. But on Saturday starter Nick Pantos threw well, allowing six hits and three runs in 4.1 innings.
ODU led, 3-1, when Pantos was relieved by Jason Hartlineconsidered one of Conference USA’s best relievers.
But on a day when a cold, gusty wind blew strongly to the right center, Charlotte hit back-to-back home runs against Hartline. Jake Cunningham jacked a three-run home run, and the next batter, Cam Fisher, also homered to give the 49ers a 5-3 lead.
Center fielder Thomas Wheeler homered in the bottom of the fifth to narrow the margin to 5-4, but the wheels came off for ODU in the sixth.
Charlotte scored five runs off two hits and an ODU error to take a 10-4 lead.
The 49ers scored three more runs with two outs in the seventh to make it 13-4. ODU pitcher Jacob Gomez appeared to be throwing well when the home plate umpire said he balked. That scored Charlotte’s Nate Furman, who was on third, and Will Butcher followed by drilling a double down the third base line to score two more runs.
Charlotte’s Will Lancaster (3-0) threw 7.1 innings, which allowed the 49ers to rest their bullpen.
ODU scored three in the bottom of the ninth. Third baseman Kenny Levari drove in two runs when he doubled to left center and left fielder Andy Garriola drove in another with a single.
Charlotte had 13 hits and ODU 12, but Charlotte pitchers walked just four Monarchs.
“We swung the bats a little better today than we did Friday,” Finwood said. “We just need to get more timely hits.”
Wheeler was 3-for-4, scored two runs and had an RBI. First baseman Matt Coutney was 2-for-3 and had three RBIs and scored three runs. He drove his sixth home run of the season well over the right center fence.
Garriola also had a gem of a diving catch on a line drive in the top of the sixth that prevented the 49ers from doing more damage.
ODU is down two starters after catcher Brock Gagliardi injured his throwing hand when it hit the helmet of a 49er batter while he was attempting to throw a runner out. Finwood said the extent of the injury is not yet known, but that Gagliardi will not play against Charlotte Sunday.
Second baseman Chris Dengler is also out with a pulled hamstring.
Sam Armstrongwho is 1-0 in five starts, will start for ODU Sunday. Joey DeChiaro and Noah Dean will be the first out of the bullpen.
“You never want to get swept, especially at home,” Finwood said. “We’ll need a good start from Sam. Those three pitchers are going to have to do it for us tomorrow.”