For the Charlotte 49ers baseball team, it’s too bad the 2014 season didn’t start March 25.
Since then, UNCC won more games than it lost, and the 49ers’ Conference USA win percentage would have been good enough to vie for a league tournament bid.
Unfortunately, Charlotte can’t discount the 20 games it played before March 25; the 49ers started the season going 3-16-1, losing their first 11 conference games.
But the 49ers (19-31-1 overall, 10-19 C-USA) won 16 of their final 31, including 10 of 18 in league play, and won three of the last five weekend series against league opponents.
“We made a decision to adjust as time went on,” said Loren Hibbs, who finished his 22nd season as UNCC’s head coach. “From the midpoint of the season, we got better and became a competitive Conference-USA team.
“Moving forward, if our guys get better and we recruit the way we recruited this freshman and junior college class this year, and with the guys we have coming in, I think we have a chance to compete (next season).”
Some of the early season woes can be attributed to a deceivingly tough nonconference schedule. There weren’t many household names on Charlotte’s slate early, but the 49ers played 10 games against non-C-USA teams that eventually won their own league titles.
Charlotte’s overall record was above .500 only once this season. After losing the season-opener against High Point, the 49ers then took two straight from visiting Canisius, which took a 16-game win streak into the opening round of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament.
A week later, the 49ers lost two and tied one against Big East champion Creighton. In early April, Charlotte dropped three of four games to Evansville, which won the Missouri Valley Conference.
When Charlotte played its first C-USA games, starting March 8 with Florida International, players realized that league games would be a lot tougher than they were in the Atlantic 10, the conference Charlotte was a member of from 2006-13.
“Definitely the speed (made a difference),” said redshirt sophomore catcher Brett Lang from Ardrey Kell High. “The weekend starters we faced were better. Hitters were stronger and runners were faster.
“Our first game here, it was definitely cool to watch those guys (for FIU) come on the field. It wasn’t fun to lose, but it was cool to see those guys (being) first-rounders and stuff.”
Nonconference victories against Winthrop and UNC Asheville on March 25 and 26, respectively, and an 11-4 win at Old Dominion on March 30 to salvage the final contest of a three-game series, helped the 49ers turn their season around.
“We started to click, everything started coming together towards the end (of the season),” said Logan Sherer, a freshman from East Mecklenburg High. “We got some confidence. A win at Old Dominion was our first conference win. We really gelled after that and progressed.”
With several freshmen and first-year junior college transfers in the everyday lineup, Charlotte fielded a young team. It didn’t help that dozens of practices and games were lost due to inclement weather early in the season.
For 2015, most of the fielders will return. Starting pitchers Corey Roberts (Olympic High) and Brock Hudgens will graduate, and a third, Ryan Butler (Ardrey Kell), likely will be drafted in the upcoming Major League Baseball draft.
Still, third baseman Derek Gallello, one of a half-dozen seniors on next year’s team, said he believes the foundation has been laid for a successful 2015 season.
“I expect us to come right out of the chute ready to play,” said Gallello. “We know what the competition is. We know who we’re playing and how to win.”
Track and Field
Charlotte 49ers sophomore K’Vonte Scott won the men’s decathlon at the Conference-USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships last weekend in Houston. Scott took first place in the high jump and javelin events of the decathlon and scored more than 400 points more than his closest competitor.
Senior Franco Castro placed 55th at the NCAA Raleigh Regional last weekend. Castro shot rounds of 77-69-78 at the three-day event.
This is the 10th straight season UNC Charlotte has been represented at the NCAA regionals, either as a team or by an individual.