What’s going on, Niner Nation? My name is TB49 and I am a recent graduate from UNCC and thought that there was something this school needed to get us talking more about Charlotte athletics. This is something I wanted to do in school, but I just didn’t have much time to do it all, but now I have more free time to do these kinds of blogs. I wanted to start the first one now, with our baseball team heading to the #CUSABaseball championship, slated to start Wednesday this week, May 27, 2022. This baseball team is a legit threat to win the entire tournament, although our record says differently. I will start with a run down of the season for those who may not have been paying much attention to them, what they need to do in the tournament to play in the postseason, who has been showing up/who needs to show up, and provide some stats for players as well. So let's jump right into it.
The Niners of course won the 2021 CUSA regular season with a conference record of 24-8 and surpassing 40 wins in the regular season. Last CUSA tournament, the Niners were quickly eliminated going 0-2, however they made the NCAA tournament, putting them in the ECU regional in Greenville, NC. This team was special and just a few outs away from defeating ECU in their 2nd game, but collapsed losing back to back games and sent home.
This season, there was a ton of potential. Even with losing the bat of Dom Pilolli and the athleticism of LuJames Groover to NC State (don’t get me started), the Niners still brought back tons of talent with CUSA POTY Austin Knight, INF David McCabe, INF Nate Furman, and strong pitchers in Spencer Geisting and a healthy Colby Bruce. Coach Rob Woodard, who I’ll often call Woody, made quite some splashes in the transfer portal bringing in Josh Madole, Kaden Hopson, Cam Fisher and many more vital arms to our pitching staff. Unfortunately, P Christian Lothes has been out for the season and he would’ve been a pitcher that would have helped us win a couple more games-but who knows. Lets jump into this season and see what happened with the Niners.
The summary of this season has been not being able to ‘clutch up’. To start the season, the Niners lost to ACC powerhouse Louisville 8-7, but accounted for 4 errors and left many on base. The Niners defeated tournament making teams in UConn and South Florida(Gainesville Regional Winner) quite easily. The Niners got their first home series kicked off against West Virginia, who with my eyes have been the fastest team in the NCAA. The Niners lost the series 2-1, but gave up late runs in the first game to lose the series. With a huge series win against App State(who were too worried about making their TikToks than playing the game) and a couple of out of conference games, the Niners came into conference looking good.
In-Conference games were huge this year, simply because the conference ranks 3rd in RPI. Charlotte Baseball got off on the right foot with series wins over Western Kentucky and then ranked #18 Old Dominion. Both of these series again could have been sweeps, but some bullpen woes early in the season really kicked our asses. After a couple of huge midweek games against Big South Champions Campbell and College of Charleston, the Niners fell into a tough hole getting swept back to back weekends by UTSA and then ranked #18 Southern Miss(2022 CUSA Regular Season Champs). Again, the team let 2 games slip away from them against Southern Miss and really put us behind. The next weekend, Charlotte lost 2 of 3 against Middle Tennessee State and were in a deep hole if they even were to make the conference tournament. And then the hot streak began.
Charlotte demolished Coastal Carolina in a mid week game, which propelled them into a 9 game win streak. This brought the Niners back into CUSA contention and were sitting just outside of the bubble for the NCAA tournament this year. The Niners traveled to Woody’s old home in Chapel Hill and faced off in a crucial midweek game for postseason possibilities. Painfully, the 49ers fell in extras, but that the season was not over. An almost sweep of FAU, and a midweek beat down of the USC Gamecocks put us in a critical last conference series against LA Tech. Coming into the weekend, there was a 5 way tie for 2nd place and Charlotte held tiebreakers over all of them except UTSA. They got a huge win Thursday night against LA Tech, but did not look the same in the last 2 with them losing them both by a combined 22-8(rain forced the last game to finish in 7).
Because the Niners lost the last series against La Tech, and the other tiebreakers played the teams not in contention for the tournament, they ended up with the 7th seed in the bracket. The tournament is double elimination-and the Niners simply cannot afford to have a quick exit from it again. With many baseball writers projecting 3 teams in the NCAA tournament from CUSA, it is important to be the last one standing. Southern Miss is going to be in the tournament regardless of what they do in the tournament because of their strong RPI and regular season championship. As you can see, we have ODU, Middle Tennessee, and La Tech in our portion of the bracket. There is no doubt in my mind that these boys will be pissed off about how this past series went against La Tech and try to get their revenge. Our bats are something no team on the bubble wants to face as it is top to bottom extremely talented. La Tech will throw their ace, and I’d assume we would stay with our non-traditional approach of having a reliever start on the mound and have Geisting come in some longer, relieving innings. We already gave their starting pitcher the work, and hopefully our bats stay alive. Our lineup is dangerous when everyone is rolling, but there have been some guys that have been less consistent and need to show up this week for a postseason berth and even some draft stock for guys.
Get Hot or Stay Hot
This is how I expect our lineup to look come that first game Wednesday. Let's dive deep on these dawgs to give you some more insight.
Nate Furman is everything you want in a lead off batter. With a .356 batting average, Furman has a great eye for the ball and leads the team in walks. That is something huge as it allows the rest of the lineup to see the pitchers best pitches early on and get timed up. Furman leads the team in walks, runs, and hits. An absolute TANK. Then you bring in the Big Maple in David McCabe who can literally put the ball onto the tennis courts with a swing of the bat. Batting .383, and an OPS of 1.323, he is a game changer and needs to stay hot for this team to go far. Tank Furman and the Big Maple have been clutch all year, and expect them to make noise on Wednesday. Josh Madole and Jake Cunningham have really come onto the scene this year in the 3,4 holes and need to stay consistent this week. They are both threats to get on base and even take it out of the park. Cunningham also is a speed demon on the base paths and that is something that the Niners need to do this weekend is steal bases. Cam Fisher in the 5 spot is lethal as he has been a great addition to the outfield, batting .287 and a 1.033 OPS, and leads the team in home runs.
Towards the end of the lineup is when it gets a little bit rocky, however when these guys are hot-THEY ARE ON FIRE. Will Butcher, most famously known for his Butch Bombs, is a wild card in the lineup. He will take every ball 400+ one weekend, then not do much the next. Reigning CUSA POTY Austin Knight has taken a hit from last year and is currently batting last in the lineup. Don’t get me wrong, AK14 is a stud but this year he has not looked anything like the guy he was last year. If he wants to prove his stock in the draft, he needs to be the best player on the diamond.
I love this team and their record does not speak for how dangerous they are. This conference has become one of the toughest in the country, right behind the SEC and Big 12. There are going to be up to 3 teams from CUSA to make the tournament. To be basic, they gotta worry about themselves. They have the chance to redeem their early season woes against MTSU and get revenge on LA Tech, along with asserting their dominance over ODU. The Niners need to be at least in the semifinals of the conference for them to make the big dance. We have seen all these pitchers and hitters, and I have full confidence in the boys to come out swinging and play their best ball of the year. If we want to become a dynasty in baseball, now is the time.
Best of luck boys, give em hell!