Louisiana Tech finally ran out of magic Sunday.
Old Dominion proved it was still in full possession of its power.
Kyle Battle hit a two-run home run in the top of the 10th inning to lift ODU to a wild 7-5 victory over the Bulldogs in the Conference USA Tournament championship game in Ruston, Louisiana.
The win gave the Monarchs (42-14) their first C-USA tourney title and the league’s automatic entry into the NCAA Tournament. ODU will learn its regional destination and opponent Monday.
“What a game,” 10th-year Monarchs coach Chris Finwood said. “These kids are unbelievable how much they fight for each other. I can’t imagine you can draw up a better conference championship game than that one.”
Battle’s blast, his 18th, came on a 1-1 fastball from reliever Jonathan Fincher (7-3). The opposite-field shot sailed over the wall in right-center field.
It was the third homer of the day for the Monarchs, who lead the nation with 101.
But it was bookended by high drama.
With ODU clinging to a 5-4 lead, Parker Bates led off the bottom of the ninth with a game-tying solo homer to dead center field off reliever Noah Dean.
Louisiana Tech brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the 10th, but reliever Aaron Holiday (4-1) coaxed a weak grounder to shortstop off the bat of Hunter Wells to end it.
Tommy Bell hit a go-ahead, three-run homer in the sixth to give the Monarchs a 4-3 lead, and they added to it with Robbie Petracci’s pinch-hit solo homer in the eighth.
The Bulldogs pulled to within 5-4 on Taylor Young’s RBI double in the eighth, which left runners at second and third with two outs. But reliever Noah Dean caught Wells looking at a 1-2 curveball to put out the fire.
If ODU’s players felt the tension, it didn’t show in how they played.
“We were just playing loose and free, just like we have all year, and we were able to come out on top against a very good team,” Battle said. “I think this group has something special cooking.”
Added Bell, the tournament’s MVP: “I’ve been here for four years, and I’ve never been on a team like this. It’s a really special feeling. We got more to go, so that’s what we’re going to focus on now.”
The teams took decidedly different routes to the title game.
ODU went undefeated in three tournament games entering Sunday, scoring 34 runs in the process. The Monarchs tied a C-USA tournament record with seven homers in Saturday’s 13-5 win over Florida Atlantic.
The Bulldogs had played five games, including a pair of comeback wins over Southern Miss on Saturday that kept them playing late into the night. Louisiana Tech had three walk-off wins in the double-elimination tournament.
But it was Battle who played late hero when it mattered most. The senior outfielder from Glen Allen trotted the bases Sunday as his clutch homer bounded across railroad tracks well beyond the wall, silencing a raucous crowd of 2,484.
“I said I wasn’t going to be late on the fastball, and I took advantage of it,” Battle said.
Steele Netterville’s ground-ball single through the left side scored Bryson Bates from second to give Louisiana Tech a 3-1 lead in the fifth.
The Monarchs squandered a golden opportunity in their half of the fifth, when Battle drew a one-out, bases-loaded walk to pull his team to within 2-1. The walk chased Louisiana Tech starter Ryan Jennings for reliever Kyle Griffen, who struck out Kenny Levari and Carter Trice to end the threat.
Bates hit a two-out, two-run single to right off ODU starter Nick Pantos to give the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead in the third. It followed a two-out walk, a single and a passed ball to put the runners into scoring position.
The deficit was the Monarchs’ largest of the tournament.
As his team celebrated on the field behind him and the historic significance of the win began to set in, Finwood struggled to hold in his emotions.
“Their picture’s going up on the wall,” he said. “Real special.”
David Hall, firstname.lastname@example.org