In many ways, this season could already be deemed a success for the Charlotte 49ers’ baseball team.
The 49ers finished the regular season with 32 wins, their most since 2013, and defeated nationally ranked opponents in East Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest. They also found success in Conference USA, winning 18 games, their most in the league since 1998.
Yet, as the No. 4 seed in the C-USA tournament – which is double-elimination and Charlotte opens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against fifth-seeded Louisiana Tech – the 49ers still have more to prove if they hope to make the NCAA tournament.
Here are five things to watch as Charlotte opens play at MGM Park in Biloxi, Miss.:
Can Charlotte’s bats stay hot?
The 49ers’ 570 hits during the regular season ranked fifth in C-USA. However, from April 30-May 12, they tallied just 31 in five games (6.2 average).
Charlotte’s offense has returned to form in recent weeks and enters the C-USA tournament with double-digits hits in six straight games. But hits could be hard to come by against Louisiana Tech and potential second-round opponent Southern Mississippi – which rank third and first in the conference, respectively, in batting average against.
For the 49ers to continue their success at the plate, they’ll look for significant contributions from senior T.J. Nichting.
This season, Nichting has been one of the most dominant hitters in C-USA – and even nationally. During the regular season, he ranked third in the country in hits (87) and 36th in batting average (.378). He was also tied for 23rd in runs (58)
Although Charlotte didn’t play top-seeded Southern Mississippi this season, Niching went 10-for-25 with seven RBIs and six runs scored in six games against Louisiana Tech and Texas-San Antonio, the other teams on the 49ers’ side of the bracket.
In the field
Perhaps Charlotte’s greatest strength is its defense. That will need to continue to be the case if it hopes to make a run toward the C-USA title game.
The 49ers committed just 42 errors during the regular season, and their .979 fielding percentage ranks first in the conference and 18th nationally.
An ace in the deck
Charlotte features one of the best pitching staffs in C-USA, boasting a 4.46 ERA and .273 batting average against. Those marks rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in the conference.
Redshirt sophomore ace Colton Laws leads the group. His 2.06 ERA ranks second in C-USA and 34th in the country, and he also boasts a .97 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched), which ranks 29th nationally.
In Wednesday’s first-round game, Laws will likely take the mound against Louisiana Tech’s Nate Harris, who is 9-0 with a 1.75 ERA. From there, it will be interesting to monitor when, or even if, Laws pitches again during the tournament and how the rest of the staff performs.
The 49ers haven’t reached an NCAA regional since 2011. But despite perhaps the program’s best season since then, Baseball America currently projects that drought to continue.
With an at-large bid likely not in play, Charlotte’s postseason hopes lie in winning the C-USA tournament and the automatic bid that comes with it.
C-USA BASEBALL PAIRINGS
Wednesday ( ESPN3)
Game 1: (6) Rice vs. (3) Florida Atlantic, 9 a.m.
Game 2: (7) Florida International vs. (2) Old Dominion, 12:30 p.m.
Game 3: (8) Texas-San Antonio (1) Southern Miss, 4 p.m.
Game 4: (5) Louisiana Tech vs. (4) Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday ( ESPN3)
Game 5: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 9 a.m.
Game 6: Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 12:30 p.m.
Game 7: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 4 p.m.
Game 8: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 7:30 p.m.
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs. Loser game 7, 3 p.m.
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs. Loser game 8, 6:30 p.m.
Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner game 9, 9 a.m.
Game 12: Winner Game 8 vs. Winner game 10, 12:30 p.m.
Game 13: Same teams as Game 11, 4 p.m. (if necessary)
Game 14: Same teams as Game 12, 7:30 p.m. (if necessary)
Sunday (CBS Sports Network)
Championship, 1 p.m.