Charlotte opened up the Conference USA (C-USA) season with a 7-5 loss to Western Kentucky at Truist Field in Uptown Charlotte on Friday, March 18. The 49ers ultimately won the series taking the final two games played at Hayes Stadium and winning those games 3-1 and 13-12.
Charlotte moved to 13-6 on the season and 2-1 in conference play. WKU moved to 9-10 on the season and 1-2 in the conference.
"That's a really good Western Kentucky team that fought extremely hard every single pitch of the weekend," said Head Coach Robert Woodard.
Truist Field is the home to the local minor league baseball team, the Charlotte Knights. The Knights are the Triple-A minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.
Playing at Truist Field in the heart of Uptown Charlotte has become a favorite part of the season for many 49ers players.
"[It's] one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. The surface is great, the backdrop of the skyline is amazing. Just a beautiful place to play baseball and to be able to play there as college kids is a really cool experience and something that I'm super excited for every single year that we get to do it," said sophomore infielder David McCabe.
Charlotte has played a game there every season going back to 2016 except for 2020 when the game was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first game the 49ers played there was against the Georgia Bulldogs on March 8, 2016, where Charlotte won 10-5.
The Hilltoppers took the first game of the series 7-5 in Uptown after a strong offensive output in the mid to late innings.
The game was in jeopardy of being rained out, much like their first scheduled game at Truist Field this season, but the teams ensured they played even through the heavy rain hitting the field when the first pitch was thrown. Luckily, the rain subsided early on and allowed the game to be played without any delays.
"As a coach, you want to play your best every time you put the uniform on and be firing on all cylinders, and clearly, that was not the case last night [Friday night]," said Woodard.
Western Kentucky claimed the lead first with a sacrifice fly in the top of the second inning. In the bottom of the second inning, the 49ers responded, putting up two runs on a Blake Jackson RBI double and an RBI single from Jack Dragum.
The score stayed steady until the fifth inning. When it got to the fifth, the Hilltoppers struck hard, scoring three runs on a lead-off solo home run by Ty Batusich, then a sacrifice fly by AJ Fiechter, and an RBI double by Matthew Meyer. WKU took the lead 4-2.
The next half-inning, Charlotte put up a run of their own with Austin Knight's first official at-bat of the game after being hit by both of the first pitches he faced. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Knight made contact and crushed a home run to left field. The 49ers trailed 4-3 at the end of the fifth.
Charlotte struggled to get outs the next three innings giving up one run in each of those innings. They scored in the sixth on double play, in the seventh on an RBI fielder's choice and in the eighth on a sacrifice fly. WKU led 7-3 going into the bottom of the eighth inning.
In the eight, Charlotte scored two runs to give them some momentum to carry into the rest of the weekend. The runs were scored on an RBI single from Jackson and a sacrifice fly to cut Western Kentucky's lead down to 7-5 going into the final inning.
The Hilltoppers held on to win the C-USA opener 7-5, with their starter Jake Kates getting the win while their reliever Mason Vinyard getting the save. Charlotte's starter Spencer Giesting in his fourth start of the year and fifth appearance of the year got his first loss of the season.
The second game of the series saw Charlotte win a pitcher's duel back at Hayes Stadium beating Western Kentucky 3-1.
Jake Cunningham and Josh Madole provided strong offensive support in the pitcher's duel, both hitting 2-4 with a home run each.
49ers pitchers Will Lancaster and Cameron Hansen combined for nine innings pitched, giving up just one run on six hits and one walk. They also struck out five batters.
"I couldn't be more proud of how our guys responded today. Will [Lancaster] led us off and battled into the fourth inning, and then Cameron [Hansen] was sensational with six shutout innings and not walking a single hitter out of the bullpen," said Woodard.
49ers' Hansen got the win while WKU's Aristotle Peter got the loss in the contest.
Charlotte took the third game of the series, winning 13-12 over WKU to win the first C-USA series of the season.
The 49ers' offense had a strong eight-run fifth inning in which the 49ers reclaimed the lead and grew it drastically to 11-4. However, the Hilltoppers battled back, scoring four runs over the next two innings to cut Charlotte's lead to 11-8.
In the ninth inning, WKU tied the game up with a three-run homer making it 11-11. Another home run in the ninth inning gave the Hilltoppers the 12-11 lead. Charlotte tied it back up in the ninth inning with a walk with the bases loaded, making it 12-12.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Kaden Hopson hit a walk-off single for the 49ers to win 13-12.
"The spirit and the love for the game, the love for competing that our players showed was inspiring… for our guys to hang in there and do what they did, I'm short of words," said Woodard.
Collin Kramer got the win for the 49ers while Vinyard took the loss for the Hilltoppers.
Hansen on Saturday had an excellent pitching performance coming out of the bullpen throwing six innings while only allowing three hits, no walks and striking out five on his way to the victory.
Madole had a good weekend, hitting two home runs over the weekend, batting 4-13 with three RBIs and scoring three runs.
Knight also performed well over the weekend, hitting two home runs while batting 4-12 with two RBIs and scoring three runs.
Charlotte has two midweek games coming up, both being played in minor league ballparks. The first game on Tuesday, March 22 at 6 p.m. is against the Campbell Camels at Atrium Health Ballpark located in Downtown Kannapolis, home of the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers. The second game is on Wednesday, March 23, at 7:05 p.m., back at Truist Field to take on the Davidson Wildcats.