After starting the semester in the weight room and in small groups for skill development, Charlotte baseball began the team phase of preseason practice Friday at the practice turf fields above Robert and Mariam Hayes Stadium in unseasonably sub-freezing temperatures. The start of the team phase around the country denotes the three-week mark until the start of the regular season, which begins for Charlotte at home on Friday, February 14, with a 4 p.m. contest against Youngstown State. The Penguins will play Virginia Tech at noon in the stadium for those two programs’ season-openers.
Last season, the start of spring practice was pushed off a day due to a wintry mix that hit the area, and the team practiced in temps in the 40s to start the 2013 season. By the following week, however, Charlotte enjoyed highs in the 70s heading into February.
The 49ers lost seven players to graduation (three outfielders, a shortstop and a third baseman, along with two pitchers) and two more juniors to the draft (first baseman Justin Seager and weekend starter Tyler Barnette), but have reloaded with talent from junior college and prep ranks to complete the 2014 roster.
Three more players, senior Corbin Shive, junior Des Roberts and freshman Matt Creech, are coming off of redshirt seasons to add depth from within the ranks already on campus. Shive will resume his active 37-game streak of reaching base safely, the way he ended his 2012 campaign.
A look through the roster shows the 49ers have been working hard in the weight room, with a few more pounds on the frames of a variety of players, while conditioning kept the team light on its feet.
Charlotte had a healthy dose of field work in the fall, with a scrimmage against the Ontario Blue Jays Canadian travel team, as well as the Green/White fall series.
The 49ers return the majority of the bullpen, with players who logged nearly 83% of the relief innings pitched and nine of the 13 saves recorded last season. The 49ers tied the school record with 29 home victories last year, including three in the conference tournament, held on campus for the first time.
Head Coach Loren Hibbs is entering his 22nd season at the helm of the baseball program, the school’s all-time winningest baseball skipper. He is 31 wins away from 700, possessing the 44th-most wins by an active coach in Division I.
The 49ers return to Conference USA this season, with a 30-game league slate on the docket, tying the most conference games Charlotte has ever played (30-game league schedules were carried out in 2002, 2004 and 2005 in C-USA previously for the 49ers.) The league features 13 teams in one division, with eight teams advancing to the conference tournament, held at Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, Miss. The tournament will have a pair of four-team double-elimination brackets, with a single championship game. The regular season will be equitable for Charlotte, with alternating home and road series in league play, broken up by an off weekend in week five before beginning back on the road to start the final six weeks of league competition, alternating road and home weekends until the conference tournament.
Charlotte will host Evansville for that first weekend of April to fill the league’s open spot. Charlotte will play all but Marshall and Rice in league competition this season. Baseball will have 12 league teams after a second realignment after the season.
Team practices are open to the public, and will feature a good portion of the workouts in scrimmage situations. The 49ers will hit the field for team stretch at 12:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting, with Tuesday the designated off day from field work.