University City

Hibbs leads 49ers into NCAA baseball tournament

The Charlotte 49ers are the top seed in the Atlantic-10 baseball tournament and the 2011 regular-season conference champions.

The 49ers' pitching is among the best in the nation, but their success in large part is due to their leader and head coach, Loren Hibbs.

Hibbs is not making the critical pitch late in the game or getting the clutch hit, but he is entrenched in each play and has been for nearly 20 years.

Hibbs celebrated his 50th birthday May 17, but that is not his biggest recent accomplishment. On April 28, Charlotte defeated the University of Massachusetts 11-4 to earn Hibbs his 600th career win.

The 49ers are 39-14 on the season and currently second in the NCAA with a 2.21 earned-run average.

Starting pitcher Tyler Barnette, a freshman from Hickory High School, is 8-1 on the year and has a 1.98 ERA. Andrew Smith, from Butler High School, is 8-4 with a 1.98 ERA.

Those two are the leaders on the mound, but it is Hibbs who sets the tone in the dugout.

Hibbs has been with the 49ers since 1993. He has seen plenty of success and has produced major league talent including John Maine, a former star pitcher for the New York Mets, and Jason Stanford, who pitched for the Cleveland Indians.

Seattle Mariner manager Eric Wedge played for Hobbs at Wichita State University, as did 17 other All-Americans and many Major League players including Darren Dreifort, Mike Lansing, Pat Mears and Doug Mirabelli.

Hibbs played for the Wichita Shockers, and in 1982 he scored 125 runs, an NCAA record that still stands. Hibbs briefly played in the San Francisco Giants farm system but found his niche in coaching.

Hibbs is one of the few people to ever play and coach in the College World Series. As a player, his Wichita State team reached the World Series in 1982, and as an assistant he and the Shockers went four times.

Hibbs has been implementing his winning ways at UNC Charlotte since he arrived. Since 2005, his teams have won at least 31 games, including a school record 49 and a trip to the NCAA Regionals in 2007.

The 49ers won the regular-season Atlantic-10 championship for the second straight year under Hibbs. Since taking over the program, Hibbs' teams have averaged more than 30 wins a season and rank eighth nationally in winning percentage, at .696, with a 199-87 record from 2006-2010.

In 2007, behind Boston Red Sox draft pick Adam Mills, Charlotte led the nation in ERA at 2.64. This year the number will be better, and Hibbs again will win at least 30 games.

The 49er offense has a team batting average of .299, their opponents hit just .225. Despite hitting just 18 home runs, the Niners have scored 382 runs, more than double their opponents, who have just 172. as a team.

With their outstanding pitching, timely hitting and sound defense, Charlotte has a chance to advance further than they ever have and deep into the NCAA tournament, which began June 3.

Following Hibbs is their best chance, and the 49ers hope he leads them to many more victories.