The Charlotte 49er baseball team opens up Conference USA tournament play on Wednesday, May 26, as the top seed. The team will look to put it all together after a successful season and reach the NCAA tournament.
The 49ers finished the year with an outstanding 37-19 overall record with big wins over nationally-ranked Tennessee and North Carolina. Charlotte was also 24-8 in C-USA play which earned them the regular-season title and ranked number 16 in the polls.
"Wins are harder to come by, and they mean just a little bit more. We feel like we've prepared at a high level and earned the seed that we are," said Head Coach Robert Woodard.
The 49ers will be fueled by infielder Austin Knight who has delivered all season long. Knight leads the team in batting average currently with an outstanding .355. He leads the nation in doubles with 28 and is second in the league in hits with 77. Watch for him to be key in the contest.
Lujames Grover III has stepped up for the team in his freshman year. Grover is second in batting average on the team at .353. He has been the spark for the 49ers and will look to keep it up in this important conference tournament.
"We knew coming on that he [Lujames] had a high ceiling," said Woodard. "He has blown away our expectations and has helped us to win many games."
One player has received honors for their contributions this season. Austin Knight is a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy, which goes to the best player in all of college baseball, and it is well deserved for all the hard work that he has put in.
The team has been extremely well-rounded this season, as not one aspect has gone unnoticed. The 49ers rank fourth-best in the league in combined batting average as they sport an impressive .299. The team also ranks fifth in pitching with a 5.21 ERA and third in fielding at a .973 clip.
Charlotte has had a great season with long winning streaks and award finalists. They will look to capitalize on lessons learned from the regular season this week in Ruston, Louisiana.
Scouting the Opponents
The team will take on the Raiders of Middle Tennessee for the first time this season at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon. The Raiders finished the season with an underwhelming record of 23-27 overall, with a conference record of 12-19.
"Our team looks ready to go. We know that we're starting out with a very fiery and talented Middle Tennessee team," said Woodard. "They're going to really challenge us on the base paths and pitch at a very high level."
This will be uncharted territory for both teams, and it is on one of the biggest stages. The Niners will either face Old Dominion or Florida Atlantic on Thursday in bracket play. The team is amped up to get back out on the field.
Keys for a Charlotte Win
The long ball has led to much success for the 49ers throughout the season. The team has 58 home runs on the season, which has allowed Charlotte to score often and in large amounts. This will be key for the 49ers to come out on top.
The pitching staff for the Niners will look to keep the Raiders at bay. Middle Tennessee is not known for leaving the ballpark as they only have 31 total home runs. If the 49ers can keep the Raiders away from the long ball, the chances would be in Charlotte's favor.
The team will look to have fun and not stress too much about the NCAA tournament. All the hard work that all the players and coaches have put in will pay off this week. The time is now for the Charlotte 49ers.
"You can feel the excitement and energy all throughout our program as we arrived in Ruston on Monday," said Woodard. "We're excited to tee it off tomorrow and start our postseason run that we hope lasts a few weeks."
Charlotte will take on Middle Tennessee on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in Ruston, Louisiana, at the brand new Pat Patterson Park and J.C. Love Field, home to Louisiana Tech. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN+.