Charlotte baseball begins its quest for a fourth Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament title Wednesday at 1:30 in an opening-round match against seventh-seeded Richmond at Robert and Mariam Hayes Stadium. live video is free at this link, but tickets are still available by contacting the 49ers Ticket Office at (704) 687-4949 or simply by visiting the Hayes Stadium Ticket Office for good seats.
Charlotte, which split the 2013 regular-season title with Saint Louis and Rhode Island, drew the number-two seed for the tournament. The 49ers finished the season 34-21, including the 17-7 A-10 record. Charlotte was 26-9 at home in 2013, where the site of the Championships take place this season. The 49ers have won 40 out of their 49 series played on the home turf since the facility opened on March 31, 2007.
Charlotte and Richmond opened the conference regular season at Pitt Field in Richmond, with the 49ers taking two of three in the series. Charlotte and Richmond are the only two teams in the tournament field to play four of the other six teams in the top seven in the league standings. Both programs went 8-4 in those 12 games.
Both teams are going with their Friday starters, the same as in the conference opener for both teams on March 22. Charlotte starts junior Tyler Barnette (Hickory, N.C.), who finished the year with a 6-3 mark and a 4.10 earned run average. He had 58 strikeouts and 25 walks in the regular season. Richmond will go with lefty sophomore Zak Sterling, who was 4-1, with a 3.82 EAR. He logged 48 strikeouts and 28 walks this year. Both starters went six innings in the matchup earlier this season. Both allowed seven hits, with Barnette allowing five runs, with a walk and strikeout. Sterling was tagged for two runs, one of then earned, with four strikeouts and two walks. The game was won by Charlotte with four runs in the ninth inning in an 8-5 victory.
Due to imbalanced schedules (the 15-team league only played eight conference weekends), not all of the teams played the top competition during the regular season. Top-seeded Saint Louis, fourth-seeded Xavier and fifth-seeded George Washington all played three series against teams in the field. Saint Louis and Xavier were 5-4 in those series, while GW finished 3-6, sweeping their final series of the season against La Salle as their only wins against a top-seven finisher. Sixth-seeded La Salle only had two series against teams in the tournament, winning one against Richmond and losing all three to GW to finish 1-5. Third-seeded Rhode Island played only one series against the top teams in the league, losing two of three to Xavier during the regular season.
Charlotte finished 10-2 at home against the Atlantic 10 during the season, the fifth time Charlotte won double-digit games at home against the league. Charlotte is 76-28 all-time at home against A-10 teams. The 49ers also set a new attendance record this season by seeing 35,104 fans into the gates of the park. It’s the school-record fourth consecutive season that the 49ers have brought in more than 30,000 fans in a season.
Charlotte is 12-6 all-time in the A-10 Tournament, last sweeping through the field to win the 2011 crown. Charlotte beat Richmond twice in that tournament, the only two times the Niners and Spiders have played outside of the regular season.
Since these games count toward the home ledger for NCAA purposes (but not towards the RPI), Charlotte has a chance to tie or set a new record for home wins in a season. Charlotte is just three wins away from tying the school mark of 29 home victories, set in 1998 and matched in 2010.
Charlotte finished second in the league with a team batting average of .288, just seven points from Saint Louis. The 49ers also finished second in earned run average in 2013, at 3.14, just behind league-leader Rhode Island and their 3.08 ERA. Of the seven teams remaining, only George Washington finished in the bottom half of the league in team batting average (13th, at .253) and only La Salle was in the bottom half of the team ERA list (14th at 5.12). Charlotte, Saint Louis, Rhode Island, Xavier and Richmond were all in the top five in both categories of offense and pitching in 2013.
Individually, junior Justin Seager (Kannapolis, N.C. / Northwest Cabarrus HS) is a strong Player of the Year candidate. The outfielder/first baseman finished in the top five in the league in most offensive categories, including batting average (3rd, .363), slugging percentage (5th, .505), on-base percentage (2nd, .457), runs scored (tied for 2nd, 44), hits (tied for 1st, 74), doubles (1st, 21) and ended tied for sixth in the league with 38 RBI. Seager’s 21 doubles are tied for 13th nationally and he is 26th in the nation in doubles per game. Seager is nationally ranked also in hits (87th) and batting average (88th).
Charlotte’s Saturday and Sunday pitchers, senior lefty John Hamilton (Strongsville, Ohio) and junior righty Brock Hudgens (Jamestown, N.C. / Southwest Guilford HS) were both in the Top 15 in the league in earned run average, opponent batting average and strikeouts, while reliever Hunter May (Cornelius, N.C. / Hopewell HS / Pitt CC) was tied for the league lead of eight wins at the end of the regular season.
Charlotte will face either Rhode Island or La Salle in their second contest of the tournament. With a win, that game takes place against the winner on Thursday at 1:30 p.m., or with a loss, it will be an elimination game at 8:30 Wednesday night.
Charlotte is 3-1 all-time in the tournament championship game, losing only to Saint Louis in 2010. The Niners swept the 2007, 2008 and 2011 tournaments.