A return to Conference USA after seven years means life only gets tougher for the Charlotte 49ers baseball team.
"A lot of baseball guys I know around the country tell me Im crazy to say this, but we welcome it," said 49ers coach Loren Hibbs. "Well be better for being in (C-USA)."
C-USA consistently sends more than one team to the NCAA tournament (at least four league teams have made the postseason in nine of the past 12 seasons). Rice, the 2003 national champ, is one of the countrys elite teams.
The 49ers were consistently one of the top teams during their time in the Atlantic 10, where they won five regular-season titles and made three NCAA tournament appearances in seven years.
But Hibbs said the 49ers will have to step up in every area to contend in C-USA.
"Recruiting is at the top of the list," said Hibbs, who has a 21-year record of 669-510-3. "We have to be more organized to bring a higher level of development for players, and that comes down to coaching. Weve got to do a better job of managing games, every day. Just be more attentive to things like that."
The 49ers lost several key players to either graduation or the draft from last seasons team that went 37-23, including third baseman Shane Basen (.307, 49 RBIs), first baseman Justin Seager (.351) and pitchers Tyler Barnette (6-3. 3.97 ERA) and John Hamilton (.6-3, 2.76).
Key pieces returning this season are right-handed pitcher Brock Hudgens (7-1, 2.77) and junior second baseman Brad Elwood, who hit .343 last season and struck out just 10 times in 233 at-bats.
"Hes just got really good hand-eye coordination," said Hibbs of Elwood, who played at Monroes Piedmont High. "He puts the barrel of the bat on the ball just about every time."
Among the 49ers top newcomers are infielder/pitcher Logan Sherer (East Mecklenburg) and infielder Zach Jarrett (Hickory), the son of NASCAR hall-of-famer Dale Jarrett.
The 49ers will start the season without injured infielders Matt Creech (shoulder) and Mikah Hill (hamstring).
• Charlottes opener Friday against Youngstown State at Hayes Stadium was canceled because of this weeks winter storm, as are home games Saturday and Sunday against the Penguins and Virginia Tech.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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