CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After an eight-season hiatus, the Charlotte 49ers baseball team will once again open up Conference USA this weekend hosting 21st-ranked Florida International at Robert and Mariam Hayes Stadium. Charlotte spent 10 years from 1996-2005 playing in Conference USA before changing over to the most-recent Atlantic 10.
Charlotte is 3-2 all-time against FIU as the two teams will meet for the first time since opening the 1992 season together in Miami. The Niners opened the year with a 14-7 victory and later took game three of the four-game set 9-4 splitting the opening-weekend 12 years ago. The first-ever meeting back in 1988 saw Charlotte shutout the Panthers 2-0 in early May during the Joe Tomanchek Memorial Tournament.
The Niners will enter the weekend series looking to turn things around in the midst of a current seven-game winless streak. Charlotte dropped a 5-1 decision on Wednesday against UNC Asheville as the Bulldogs scored five unanswered runs en route to the victory.
The 49ers tallied their lone run in the second as Mikal Hill, who is on a current five-game hitting streak hitting .538 in the past three contests, started with a double to right before scoring on a perfect hit-and-run executed by Des Roberts. UNC Asheville answered with a run in the third before scoring three in the fourth to open up the lead.
Florida International comes into their Conference USA opening-weekend ranked #21 in the country thanks to their 12-1 start to 2014. The Panthers started the year sweeping a four-game series from Rutgers before sweeping Stony Brook in a three-game set. The lone loss for FIU came in a 3-0 defeat by Dartmouth last weekend. Most recently, the Panthers were victorious in their first road game of the year defeating Bethune-Cookman 6-0 on Wednesday.
“We’ve got a great club coming in this weekend in FIU,” remarked Head Coach Loren Hibbs. “They’re in the top 25 and have only lost once.”
As a team, FIU currently leads Conference USA in batting average (.321), on base percentage (.427), runs scored (114), hits (142), RBI (100) and home runs (7). Not to be outdone, the pitching staff for the Panthers leads the league in earned run average (1.64), opposing batting average (.199) and runs allowed (28).
Hill enters the weekend as a team-leading on offense hitting .406 for the Niners. T.J. Nichting sports a .324 average coming into Conference USA play while Brett Lang, carrying a 10-game hitting streak (13 going back to 2013), has put together an even .300 average coming in.
Ryan Butler (1-0, 1.50) will make his third start of the season to open the FIU series at 4:00 p.m. Friday. Last time out, Butler took a no-decision after tossing six innings in the opener against Creighton. Butler allowed two runs on six hits striking out five. In his victory over Canisius, Butler carried a no-hitter into the sixth tossing a one-hit shutout with seven strikeouts in the win.
“It’s the earliest I think we’ve ever started conference play,” stated Hibbs. “After two weekends of play, now we’re in the third weekend of play, since we lost the first weekend, playing conference games against a top-25 team. We have one day to try and practice a little bit if the weather holds and then tee it up against a good team on Friday”
Charlotte/FIU Weekend Rotation
Friday (4:00pm): RHP Ryan Butler (1-0, 1.50) vs. RHP Mike Franco (2-0, 1.65)
Saturday (2:00pm): RHP Corey Roberts (0-1, 0.63) vs. RHP Mike Ellis (2-1, 1.12)
Sunday (1:00pm): RHP Brock Hudgens (0-0, 2.45) vs. RHP Robby Kalaf (1-0, 1.00)
*Mikal Hill is 7-for-13 in his last three games sporting that .538 average. Hill leads the team with four multi-hit games entering the weekend and has a five-game hitting streak hitting .471 during that time.
*Brett Lang enters the weekend with a 10-game hitting streak to start 2014, making it 13 straight games with a hit going back to his final at bats of 2013. Brad Elwood comes in with an eight-gamer in tack while T.J. Nichting has hit safely in seven-straight.