The 49er baseball team made their first NCAA regionals appearance since 2011 over the weekend in Greenville, NC. Charlotte won their first game 13-10 over Maryland, then lost the next two games; 7-5 against ECU and then 2-1, taking on Maryland again.
Despite the disappointing end to the season, it was a very successful year for the program. Friday night's victory over the Maryland Terps was the teams' 40th win of the year. In head coach Robert Woodard's first full season with the Niners, he had a 40-21 record while winning the C-USA coach of the year award and had six players win conference awards as well.
"So proud, we love our players, it's a family, we spend more time together than with our own families," said Woodard in the postgame press conference.
The Niners played a different style of ball game each game this weekend with a sluggers fest Friday, a back and forth game Saturday, along with a pitchers duel on Sunday, but were backed by strong starting pitcher performances.
Game one: 13-10 over Maryland
The Charlotte 49ers won Friday night with a strong starting performance by Andrew Lindsey, who had to leave the game in the 4th inning due to an ankle injury.
Will Butcher provided a strong offensive output going 3-5, scoring twice and knocking in three runs while hitting a home run.
Three Niners hit home runs in the game, David McCabe had two while Butcher and Jack Dragum also had one homer each. Spencer Giesting provided a strong outing out of the bullpen, getting the Niners out of a jam in the 7th inning.
"I think tonight was pretty vintage 2021 Niner baseball. We've won a lot of different ways this year, including games like today. I'm proud of our team for staying in the fight against a really good Maryland team. This one feels good," said Woodard.
The 49ers were able to hold onto a strong 12-5 lead, ultimately winning 13-10, giving the team their 40th win.
The Niners' two losses that led to their elimination both came from rallies in the later innings—giving up their leads in the 8th inning of both games.
Game two: 7-5 loss to ECU
This game for the Niners held extra weight as they were taking on ECU, a team that had swept them in a weekend series early in the regular season.
Trae Starnes made his 7th career start and 5th of the season as the Niners took on the ECU Pirates. Starnes pitched a career-high six innings as he pitched a gem keeping Charlotte in it the whole way.
Aaron McKeithan was the offensive standout for this game, hitting a double and a home run. McKeithan, along with LuJames Groover III, who went 2-4 with two RBIs carried a majority of the load for the Niners. Who went into the 7th inning holding a 5-2 lead over the Pirates.
Starnes was running out of gas going into the 7th inning and had to leave the inning with no outs and a runner on 1st and 2nd base. The projected starter for that game, Bryce McGowan, made his first appearance out of the bullpen on the season and wasn't able to hold the two runners on base making the score 5-4 going into the 8th inning.
ECU battled back in the 8th as well, scoring three runs and taking a 7-5 lead that would hold out through the 9th inning, giving the Niners their first loss in the regional.
"Our players laid it all on the line tonight from start to finish. There's really nothing about this game, outside the outcome, that I would go back and change," said Woodard.
Game three: 2-1 loss to Maryland
The Niners third and final game of the regional was a hard-fought pitchers duel. Matt Brooks, a veteran who faced a tough road of recovery from injury, pitched a career-defining game for Charlotte on Sunday. Brooks had a no-decision in the game as the Niners lost to Maryland 2-1.
Brooks threw an impressive eight innings allowing only one run on four hits and two walks. That tied a career-high innings pitched for Brooks.
"I'm at a loss of word for Matt Brooks, what a story, two years ago Friday night starter, best pitcher on the staff, in a blink of an eye it changes, sixteen months of rehabbing a shoulder, twelve months ago probably barely even touching 80 mph...these performances like Matt's today don't happen overnight," said Woodard.
The sole run for the Niners came off of a solo home run from Austin Knight, the 2021 C-USA player of the year award recipient. That one run held up until the 8th inning where Maryland was able to crack one on the board.
Charlotte had an opportunity to reclaim the lead in the top of the 9th with runners on first and second with no outs, but the runner on second was picked off by the catcher, not allowing the Niners to get back on the board. The bullpen let up one run to lose it in the bottom of the 9th inning.
"Sometimes it's just baseball, there are a lot of different ways to win, but there are a lot of different ways to lose too. It's just the nature of the game," said Brooks.
Season in review
"I'm so thankful for this group of players, coaching staff, support staff and administration for everything that everyone has put in to get us to this point. We certainly hate the outcome. Our players got our program to a place it hadn't been in 10 years. Our guys absolutely laid it on the line from the first pitch against Morehead State to the last pitch here today against Maryland. I'm just so proud of these guys," said Woodard.
The 49ers ended the season with a 40-21 season and came out as the regular season champions in Conference USA.