Redshirt sophomore shortstop Justin Roland (Salisbury, N.C. / East Rowan HS) drove in all three runs, including the game-winner in the top of the 11th as No. 27 Charlotte outlasted La Salle 3-2 Friday at Hank DeVincent Field. The win put the 49ers one win away from a top-two seed and a bye at the upcoming Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament, and two wins away from its fourth conference title in the past five seasons. The 49ers are 37-11 on the season, 16-6 in league play. The Explorers slip to 25-21, 11-8 in the A-10.
The 49ers are now 10-1 in one-run games this season and lowered the nation's lowest ERA to 2.17 after 48 games. The 49ers also moved their mark to 25-1 when holding an opponent to two or fewer runs.
La Salle scored first with a run in the first inning off of Charlotte starter Andrew Smith (Matthews, N.C. / Butler HS). Smith issued a leadoff walk and then a single to right fielder Jon Gyles in the bottom of the opening frame. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners up to second and third, but a fielder's choice infield ground ball caught the lead runner out at home before first baseman Eric Kammler dropped an RBI single into right for the first run of the day.
Charlotte answered with two runs in the second. Ross Steedley (Granite Quarry, N.C. / East Rowan HS) reached with one out on an error from Kammler and one out later, Niners first baseman Kevin Gillespie (Bedford, Ind.) drilled a double into the left field corner to put runners at second and third with two outs. Roland delivered with a two-RBI single to center for his sixth and seventh two-out RBI of the year and a 2-1 Charlotte lead.
Both pitching staffs clamped down on the offenses. The 49ers only got four more hits from the third to the 10th innings, while La Salle registered six hits in those eight innings.
In the ninth, the Explorers put runners at second and third with one out before a fielder's choice tapper to the mound caught Dan Klem off of third. With two outs and a full count, left fielder Brendan Norton drove a single to left with the runners in motion to score shortstop Joe Bennie from second to tie the game.
Both teams got leadoff walks to start the tenth inning, but could not score the run.
In the 11th, outfielder Cory Tilton (Cary, N.C. / Green Hope HS) reached on a high chopper to third that turned into an infield single. After a Gillespie sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch put Tilton at third, Roland came through again with an infield single deep to the shortstop to push across Tilton to tie his season high with the third RBI of the game.
La Salle put pressure on the 49ers in the last half inning, with a leadoff single from Klem. Charlotte reliever Wes Hatley (Norwood, N.C. / South Stanly HS), who came in to throw to start the tenth, then got a ground ball to force out Klem at second on a bunt attempt by Bennie. Charlotte sent in freshman Micah Bryan (North Wilkesboro, N.C. / East Wilkes HS), who had not pitched since the Massachusetts two weekends ago. He threw a wild pitch that allowed Bennie to second base and pinch hitter Adam Kammler recorded an infield single in front of the mound to put runners at the corners with just the one out. Bryan then recorded a pair of strikeouts to end the game and capture his first career save.
Hatley got his first win of the season (1-0) after tossing 1.1 Innings of relief. He gave up a walk and a hit, recording one strikeout.
Bryan's two-thirds of an inning were his two strikeouts, with his one hit.
The loss went to La Salle closer Pat Christensen (2-1). He came into the game with an unblemished record and a conference-leading 12 saves. He tossed three innings of relief, touched up for four runs and a walk, with two strikeouts.
Smith got a no-decision after 7.2 innings. He allowed just the one run on six hits and a walk, with five strikeouts. It was the fourth time this season he has given up two or fewer earned runs in seven or more innings of work and not gotten the win, and the third time in the past four weeks.
Charlotte improved to 3-1 this season in extra innings, and is 9-1 all-time in extra inning games played in Atlantic 10 Conference games, including the 2008 A-10 Tournament Championship game.
Charlotte and La Salle will meet for a doubleheader Saturday at noon, due to graduation on the La Salle campus on Sunday.
NOTES: The ninth-inning run allowed was just the eighth against Charlotte this season... The 49ers have outscored opponents 8-5 in extra-innings this season... Charlotte is 29-0 when leading after eight innings this season... When Charlotte scores three or more runs this year, the 49ers are 35-2, including 5-0 when scoring exactly three runs... La Salle recorded more hits (10-8) than Charlotte, but the 49ers improved to .500 (6-6) when that occurs... Charlotte is batting .305 with two outs this season, holding opponents to a .206 batting average with two outs... The 49ers are outscoring opponents 129-53 this season with two outs.