The Charlotte 49ers baseball team this season is led by Head Coach Robert Woodard, who is looking to complete his first full season as head coach. When looking ahead to a new season, Woodard said, " I really can't wait, to be honest with you."
Charlotte opens up their season with a three-game series with Morehead State on Feb. 19 at Hayes Stadium.
The impact of abruptly losing the season last year was a tough pill for Woodard and the team to swallow. Losing last season "was a total shock effect," however, Woodard said they are "gonna really enjoy the game more this spring."
Having to tell the players the season was over last year was "not something you (Woodard) prepared to do." He also went on to say, "from that day forward, our staff and players have taken on the mantra of, control what we can control."
Due to not having as much of a season during the fall, Woodard was unsure what he had with 19 veterans and 27 new players.
"Every day is that much more important...and has been a day for us to come together and become one team," said Woodard.
New Pitching Methods
With the collegiate summer league's uncertainty last year, the team sent 18 of its pitchers to Premier Pitching Performance (P3) training in St Louis. Woodard said they wanted to make "sure our pitchers are as prepared as they possibly can be." Woodard had discovered P3 when recruiting as the pitching coach for the Carolina Tarheels Baseball team."(I) noticed strong levels of improvement with our pitching staff not just physically but mentally as well," Woodard said.
This season will be different for the pitching staff due to all Conference USA (C-USA) series being four games instead of the usual three.
"It's gonna challenge our depth," said Woodard. (We're) gonna need guys to be flexible in their roles." Woodard plans to combat this obstacle through whatever means necessary.
Players to Watch
Woodard said they "got a good core group of position-players."
Along with Dominic Pilolli, David McCabe and veterans Todd Elwood and Rafi Vasquez, Charlotte's batting order looks dangerous this year.
Dominic Pilolli is a left-handed outfielder who bats .403 while driving in 14 RBIs last season. He was a C-USA hitter of the week for the week of Feb. 24 last season.
David McCabe is a switch-hitting infielder. Woodard said he is "one of our best defenders no matter where you play him at." McCabe batted .238 last season, knocking in 9 RBIs.
Todd Elwood is a left-handed outfielder in his senior season. Woodard said, "has been a catalyst in this program for several years." Elwood bolsters a career .306 batting average and drives in 42 RBIs in his time with the program.
Rafi Vasquez is a left-handed infielder who possesses "serious power," according to Woodard. He has batted .281 with 57 RBIs in his career here at Charlotte.
Pitchers to Watch
The pitching staff's expectation is for the starters to be the focal point of strength. Woodard said, "I hope and like to think we will have this starting rotation every year," but admitted it is a talented rotation and will be tough to match.
Bryce McGowan and Christian Lothes, along with incoming Junior College (JUCO) players Andrew Lindsey and Austin Marozas, are expected to start. However, veteran Matt Brooks and freshman Spencer Giesting may make a starting appearance.
Bryce McGowan is going into his third season with the 49ers. His pitching repertoire includes a 97 mph fastball, a changeup and slider that he has developed this past summer working at P3. McGowan is ranked as C-USA's number one draft prospect this season and is ranked #58 of draft prospects out of college, according to d1baseball.com. According to Woodard, he will be the primary starter this season for the team.
Christian Lothes is coming off an injured freshman season after pitching only 2.2 innings of work before the season's cancelation. Woodard expected him to be a major contributor last year and be a significant contributor this season in the starting rotation. He has a fastball topping out at 96 mph with a slider in the low to mid-80s. Woodard said he "probably added 30 lbs of pure strength."
Matt Brooks is a redshirt-junior who was formerly Charlotte's Friday night starter before being hurt last season. Woodard said, "who's just an incredible story, has come back from a challenging shoulder injury." He had a 3-0 record with 21 strikeouts in 20.1 innings pitched. Brooks was a former Conference USA All-Freshman Team member in 2017.
Spencer Giesting is a freshman pitcher from Hamilton, Ohio. Woodard said Giesting is a "really talented left-handed pitcher."
Andrew Roach is a returning junior right-handed pitcher. Last season in four starts, Roach had a 2-2 record with 22 strikeouts on 22.2 innings pitched. He is "probably our most consistent pitcher who has a knack for getting outs and missing the barrel while being a big-time competitor," said Woodard.
Being Woodard's first full season as head coach, the 49ers will be facing some tough opponents this season. They are going up against 19th ranked Tennessee, 25th ranked East Carolina, 17th ranked Wake Forest and the always dangerous North Carolina.
Woodard said the goals for the season are to "try to develop our guys to the best of our ability, and work as hard as we possibly can to prepare them as best we can."
Another goal the Woodard told his players not to "plan on being the same team on June 19 that we are on Feb. 19, the plan is to continue to develop over the course of the spring."