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Posted: Monday, Jun. 02, 2008

Charlotte pitchers squander 8-run lead

KEN TYSIAC
Published in: Charlotte 49ers (inactive)

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RALEIGH Charlotte 49ers coach Loren Hibbs tried to explain what happened to his pitching staff Saturday.

It wasn't easy.

An eight-run, fifth-inning lead wasn't enough to keep Charlotte from getting eliminated from the NCAA tournament's Raleigh Regional. A resilient James Madison team rallied for a 13-12 win at Doak Field.

Charlotte starter Luke Stahl breezed through three scoreless innings but didn't make it out of the fifth. B.J. Hagen has pitched well for the last month or so, but didn't have his best stuff.

Sam Pierce (4-1) gave his best shot, but still was trying to return to top form after taking a line drive in the jaw several weeks ago, and took the loss.

Bryan Hamilton and Kelly McLain each pitched a scoreless inning after the Dukes had done their damage. But they were on limited pitch counts, so Hibbs couldn't use them longer.

"We don't want to blow anybody's arms up," Hibbs explained. "We've got some guys that have a chance to do some things in the future. We're just not going to do anything to blow anybody's arms up."

Finding fresh pitchers is James Madison coach Spanky McFarland's problem now. He enters today's loser-bracket game against South Carolina with two pitchers -- little-used freshman left-handers James Weiner and Alex Valadja -- who haven't thrown already in the regional.

The Dukes (39-18) used seven pitchers Saturday.

"We'll be holding pitching auditions later tonight," McFarland joked.

Charlotte (43-16) led 10-2 before the pitching staff faltered. A two-run double by Trevor Knight capped a six-run sixth inning that tied the score at 10-10.

In the seventh, two James Madison runners scored when Brett Sellers singled to right field and center fielder Cory Tilton bobbled the ball for an error. The Dukes led 13-11.

"I'm upset," said Charlotte third baseman Aaron Bray, whose solo shot to lead off the fourth was his second home run in two days. "I'm sure everybody on my team and the coaches are upset that we're going home this early."

Hibbs thanked his seniors, who are leaving the 49ers with back-to-back, 40-win seasons for the first time in school history.

But Charlotte came to Raleigh hoping to get some national attention against strong competition. Squandering an eight-run lead won't get them the kind of recognition they were seeking.

"We're really proud of what we've accomplished," Hibbs said. "We're just extremely disappointed that we're not going to get to play again tomorrow."

Observations | Ken Tysiac

• N.C. State is the only team Charlotte didn't meet in the Raleigh Regional.

But 49ers coach Loren Hibbs left Raleigh with a healthy respect for the Wolfpack's pitching staff. N.C. State entered Saturday night's game with a 3.39 ERA that Hibbs thought was impressive because of the way the ball carries at Doak Field.

"The ball seems to fly a lot more here in the afternoon than it does in the evening," Hibbs said.

The 49ers played both their regional games in the afternoon. They gave up 13 or more runs three times in 57 regular-season games -- and twice in two regional games.

• One of the dangers of a college baseball regional is that pitchers will get overused as their teams attempt to stay alive. James Madison's Turner Phelps threw 79 pitches as a starter Friday and 43 more Saturday, when the Dukes' bullpen struggled. That's a lot of pitches over two days.

• Friday's game took 3 hours and 57 minutes. That's a long time to be playing baseball when the temperature is in the 80s and it's humid.

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