CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Exactly halfway through the Conference USA slate, the Charlotte 49ers will begin the second half just as they did they first half at the friendly confines of Robert and Mariam Hayes Stadium. The Niners will host Tulane in a three-game series starting Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. The entire series is moved up a day to accommodate an off day for Easter Sunday.
Charlotte (9-24-1, 2-13 C-USA) will enter the league series coming off of an 11-1, seven inning victory over Florida Atlantic on Sunday. The Niners would score three in the top of the seventh to help enforce Conference USA’s ten-run rule in Sunday games.
Senior Brock Hudgens would lead the way pitching as the only Niner needed in the win. Hudgens would pick up the complete game allowing one run in the fifth on just two hits with six strikeouts. Hudgens carried a no-hitter into the fifth before FAU registered their two.
“We played tremendous on Sunday,” remarked Head Coach Loren Hibbs. “To beat that caliber of a team on the road, that convincingly was a good deal for all of our guys. We’re going to try and build on that.”
Charlotte started Sunday scoring mounting a two-out rally in the third taking a 3-0 lead. Derek Gallello began with a single to left before Brett Lang kept the inning alive with his single through the left side. T.J. Nichting followed with the big hit of the frame lining a double that short-hopped the wall in right scoring both Gallello and Lang for a 2-0 lead. Nichting would later score himself on Des Roberts’ RBI double to right center.
In a four-run fourth, Jordan Hudson would start with a leadoff walk and later score on Mikal Hill’s double to the gap in right-center. After a Gallello sacrifice bunt moved Hill to third with two outs, the Niners would again string together four-straight two outs hits starting with Lang’s infield single to deep short scoring Hill. Lang would score on Logan Sherer’s single to left moments later while Nichting came around on the same sequence as FAU committed an error in left on Sherer’s base knock.
After FAU scored their run in the fifth, Charlotte immediately got that run back in the sixth as Gallello started with a double down the right-field line immediately scoring on Lang’s single back up the middle. The Niners would tack on their final three in the seventh to provide the 10-run advantage ultimately ending Sunday’s contest early.
As they did all throughout the series-finale, Charlotte’s final three runs would all come with two outs as Zach Jarrett kept the inning alive with a base on balls. Hill followed with a hit-by-pitch before Gallello drove home Jarrett with a single to center. Hill would move to third, Gallello to second on the throw home attempting to throw out Jarrett, allowing aggressive base running to bring in the final two runs. With Brett Lang at bat, an FAU wild pitch not only let Hill score from third, but Gallello as well hustling around from second for the final 10-run difference.
Lang and Nichting each tied career-highs with four hits in the win while Gallello added three. Charlotte’s 1-4 hitters consisting of Hill, Gallello, Lang and Nichting combined to go 12-for-18 in the victory. Out of the 11 runs scored on Sunday, 10 were tallied with two outs on the board.
In Friday’s series-opener, Florida Atlantic erased a 2-0 deficit completing their comeback in the bottom of the ninth on Brendon Sanger’s walk-off single to left. On Saturday, the Niners managed just two hits, two of them by Nichting, in an 8-0 loss to the Owls. FAU starter Jeremy Strawn tossed his own complete game three-hitter striking out six in the win.
Tulane (15-20, 6-11 C-USA) enters the weekend series after snapping a five game losing streak with a 3-2 walk-off win over McNeese State in 10 innings on Tuesday night. Hunter Hope delivered a bases loaded single in the 10th to allow the Green Wave to snap their skid.
“We’re really excited to play them,” continued Hibbs. “We were in the Metro with them way back when and it seems like even from year one, we were playing games against them that mattered.”
Tulane has lost each of their last three Conference USA series losing both games at Marshall (one cancelled due to weather), dropping two-of-three to UTSA and being swept last weekend by nationally-ranked Rice. Four of those losses by the Green Wave were suffered by just a single run.
“We have a lot of respect for them. They’re always well-coached, have extremely talented guys and we’re looking forward to playing them.”
Comparing the two teams, Charlotte sports a better team average entering the weekend by 15 points at .243 to Tulane’s .228. The Green Wave’s pitching staff does hold the better earned run average by nearly the same difference as hitting at 3.87 compared to 4.01.
Individually, Tulane’s Richard Carthon leads the team with a .297 average one point better than Hope’s .296. As for Charlotte, Lang jumps his name to the top of the list hitting .293 entering the weekend.
CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT OUTLOOK
Both teams are performing well below their own expectations and preseason coaches poll predictions, but are running out of time. Tulane was picked fifth overall receiving a first place vote in the poll while Charlotte was picked eighth in the 13-team league. Both finishes in those respective spots would earn them invitations to the league’s conference tournament at Southern Miss. Entering this weekend, the Green Wave currently stand 11th, four back of eighth place, having already crossed their halfway point of C-USA play beginning their seventh week with just 12 games left. Charlotte starts the weekend 13th more than six back in the loss column to the eighth spot with their 15 contests remaining.
CHARLOTTE/TULANE SERIES ROTATION
Thursday (6pm): RHP Corey Roberts (0-3, 3.67) vs. RHP Corey Merrill (0-2, 5.16)
Friday (3pm): RHP Ryan Butler (2-5, 4.17) vs. RHP Randy LeBlanc (3-3, 2.57)
Saturday (12pm): RHP Brock Hudgens (1-4, 3.59) vs. RHP Tyler Mapes (4-2, 1.97)