2022 College Top 25 Preview: No. 24 Old Dominion
Last season: 44-16 (22-10 in Conference USA); reached regionals
Final Ranking: No. 16
Coach (record at school): Chris Finwood (287-236, 10 seasons)
The good news: Old Dominion lost graduated outfielder Kyle Battle after last season, but otherwise returns everyone from a lineup that clubbed 105 home runs as a team and led the Monarchs to a place as a No. 1 seed in a regional, including sophomore left fielder and Team USA alumnus Carter Trice, fifth-year senior shortstop Tommy Bell, who has more than 800 career plate appearances, fourth-year junior outfielder Andy Garriola, who has enormous raw power, and sophomore third baseman Kenny Levari, who plays with his hair on fire, has pop in his bat and has a good enough arm that he might one day be a prospect on the mound. They also get back second baseman Chris Dengler, who missed most of last season with injury but was one of the most dynamic players in the ODU lineup during the shortened 2020 season. The lineup should also allow ODU to play good defense, as it returns premium defenders in fifth-year senior first baseman Matt Coutney, Dengler at second base, Bell at shortstop and fourth-year junior center fielder Thomas Wheeler.
The bad news: Three of ODU’s four weekend starters from last year are gone. The one returner is fifth-year senior lefthander Tommy Gertner, who will bring experience to the role this season, but needs to go deeper into games to be more effective. The other projected starters are sophomore lefthander Jacob Gomez, who pitched out of the bullpen last season leading with a low-90s fastball, and third-year sophomore lefthander Joey DeChiaro, who has the biggest velocity of the three, with a fastball that touches the mid 90s. Two things will additionally help the pitching staff greatly. One is the return of two big bullpen pieces in third-year sophomore lefthander Noah Dean, a hard thrower who is an intriguing prospect for the 2022 draft, and fifth-year senior lefthander Jason Hartline, who was ODU’s most effective pitcher in any role a season ago. The other good news for the pitching staff is that Conference USA is going back to three-game weekends this season, which will allow the best arms ODU has to pitch a greater percentage of its innings on the weekend.
Player to know: Carter Trice, OF
Trice exploded onto the scene as a freshman, hitting .355/.426/.632 with 14 home runs and 54 RBIs as the team’s everyday second baseman. That performance earned him a spot on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team over the summer. This season, he’ll move out to left field in deference to Dengler returning to the lineup, and he’s a good enough athlete to make that work. Regardless of where he plays, he will continue to be a centerpiece of the lineup thanks to his power, which helped him lead the team in doubles last season with 17 and tie for second on the club in homers. He’s not a burner, but he has enough speed to make things happen on the bases, as he swiped eight bags in 10 tries a season ago.
Path to Omaha: The clear key for the Monarchs to reach their potential is the pitching staff. The hope has to be for Gertner to become more of a workhorse or for Gomez and DeChiaro to be ready to fill in, or ideally, all of the above. The good news if that breaks right is that ODU last season rose to the No. 13 national seed by season’s end and came up one win short of a super regional on the strength of a powerful lineup, a deep—if unspectacular—pitching staff and positive computer metrics thanks in large part to Conference USA having a resurgent season overall. That formula should be replicable in 2022. The lineup is stout, the talent on the pitching staff is good, even if some of it is unproven, and Conference USA is poised for another good year.
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