Charlotte baseball will attempt to capture its fifth Atlantic 10 Conference title in eight years of league membership as it completes in its final conference series of the regular season this week as the 49ers visit Saint Louis for a three-game series at the Billikens Sports Complex starting Thursday night.
The 49ers are in first place at 16-5 in the A-10 entering the final series, one game ahead of Saint Louis and La Salle, which are both tied with a 15-6 mark. The Explorers are on the road for a three-game set at George Washington this weekend.
All conference series begin Thursday, to allow teams an extra day to travel to the A-10 Championships, which starts next Wednesday. Unlike previous seasons, when two teams earned a bye to the six-team tournament, this season the league expanded the field to seven teams when VCU and Butler were added to the league this season. In this year’s format, only the top-seeded team earns a bye and skips playing on Thursday.
The 49ers own the head-to-head tiebreaker with La Salle by virtue of Charlotte’s series win at Richmond to the start the league schedule of games. Should the 49ers, Explorers and Billikens all end up in a three-way for the league title, the 49ers would also receive the bye and top seed at the Tournament.
The Championship scenarios for Charlotte are as follows…
1) Charlotte wins the league outright with a three-game sweep of the Billikens, or a series victory and La Salle failing to sweep at George Washington.
2) If Charlotte wins twice at Saint Louis, the best La Salle can do is sweep GW, giving Charlotte a Co-Championship with La Salle, retaining the top seed in the Championships
3) Charlotte shares the title with Saint Louis and La Salle if Charlotte wins just one game and La Salle wins two of three at GW, with the 49ers still retaining the top seed.
If Saint Louis wins twice and La Salle fails to win two games at GW, the Billikens and 49ers share the conference regular-season, but SLU would own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Charlotte by virtue of the series victory.
Charlotte has won nine games in a row, including a pair of complete-game shutouts, taking a 3-2 11th-inning walk-off win Tuesday night at home against High Point. The 49ers are 32-19 overall. Saint Louis won Tuesday night in an 11-0 win against Southern Illinois. The Billikens have scored 10-plus runs in their last three games, all victories.
The Billikens and 49ers share the league lead in team batting average in the Atlantic 10, both batting at .293 so far this season. Charlotte’s 3.19 team earned run average is second-lowest in the A-10, at 3.19, while Saint Louis has posted a team mark of 3.77, fifth-best in the league.
Against A-10 teams only, the 49er have a large margin in the team batting average category, hitting .324, with Saint Louis the only other squad to post a batting average over .300 in seven league weekends, at .308. Charlotte is fourth in ERA in A-10 series, at 3.10, while Saint Louis has posted a 3.58 ERA in 21 league games.
During their nine-game win streak, the longest of the season for the 49ers, Charlotte has outscored opponents 60-23, with a team batting average of .342, while holding opponents to a .223 average. Charlotte’s ERA in the last nine combined games is 1.84, with the starting pitchers’ combined ERA settling in a 1.55, including two complete-game shutouts, a one-hit shutout of Butler by Brock Hudgens (Jamestown, N.C. / Southwest Guilford HS) on May 4, and a six-hit shutout of Dayton by John Hamilton (Strongsville, Ohio) on May 11.
Charlotte has been led offensively by reigning A-10 Player of the Week Justin Seager (Kannapolis, N.C. / Northwest Cabarrus HS), who was 7-for-11 over the weekend against Dayton. The junior is second in the league with a .368 batting average, tied for the A-10 lead with 42 runs scored and 70 hits, leading the league with 21 doubles and tied for third in the conference with 38 runs scored.
Thursday’s game starts at 7:30 Eastern with Charlotte junior righty Tyler Barnette (Hickory, N.C.) going against senior Alex Alemann. Barnette is 5-3, with 56 strikeouts and a 3.81 ERA, while Alemann has a team-best 64 strikeouts this season and a 3.30 ERA to go with his 6-5 record. Alemann is ninth in the A-10 in strikeouts, 15th in earned run average as of Monday.
Friday’s game starts at 2 p.m. Eastern and features Hamilton against SLU sophomore Nick Bates. Hamilton is also 5-3, with a 3.07 ERA and 56 strikeouts. Bates has a 6-3 mark, a 4.38 ERA and 41 Ks. Hamilton is 10th in the league in ERA, tied for 12th in strikeouts.
The series finale will have Hudgens pitch for Charlotte against Billikens junior Clay Smith. Hudgens leads Charlotte with 71 strikeouts, third-most in the conference, to go with his 6-0 record and 2.86 ERA, best among the starters and eighth in the league. Smith is 6-2, tied for 10th in the league with 60 strikeouts and has a 4.12 ERA with one week left.
Charlotte is 36-16 all-time against Saint Louis, an old rival from the previous incarnation of Conference USA, and the 49ers have posted an 18-6 mark in the Gateway City.
A series win would mean Charlotte would start the Atlantic 10 Tournament, hosted at home inside Robert and Mariam Hayes Stadium, on day two, in the 10 a.m. game against the winner of the 4/5 contest that takes place on Wednesday.