In a tough conference match-up against two of the best pitchers in college softball, the Charlotte 49ers (27-21, 7-11 C-USA) were swept by the Florida Atlantic Owls (41-7, 16-2 C-USA) this past weekend. The 49ers were able to rally and keep both games of Saturday’s doubleheader close, pushing the first game to extra innings, but were held off by timely hitting from the Owls in both games. With the losses, Charlotte now sits fifth in the East division of Conference USA (C-USA) with only two weekends remaining in conference play.
Game 1: FAU 3, CHAR 1 (F/8)
The opening game of the series featured both teams’ ace pitcher, FAU’s Kylee Hanson and Charlotte’s Lexi Betancourt, in a tight contest. Both pitchers dominated the first three innings, keeping their opponents from threatening to score early. Florida Atlantic broke the deadlock in the fourth inning with a leadoff single, followed by a stolen base, sacrifice bunt and a squeeze bunt to take the 1-0 lead.
The 49ers responded in the bottom of the fifth inning with a leadoff runner of their own, as catcher Taylar Byrne reached base on a fielding error by the Owls’ first baseman. Freshman Alex Paulson pinch-ran for Byrne and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt from Erin Powers. Paulson then advanced to third base after classmate Kiersten Berrier flew out to right field, and then fellow freshman Emma Ocker blooped a single into left field, scoring Paulson and tying the game at 1-1.
Seven innings wasn’t enough to decide the contest between the teams and marked the fourth time this season that the 49ers have gone to extra innings. FAU retook the lead quickly though, hitting two solo home runs to left field off of Betancourt. Charlotte was unable to rally in the bottom of the eighth and lost 3-1 in game one.
Game 2: FAU 7, CHAR 5
The second game of Saturday’s doubleheader featured much more offense, but the 49ers were still unable to top the Owls, losing 7-5. Ocker and Bailey Rhoney led the way for Charlotte on offense, as both girls went 3-4 with a RBI.
Charlotte got the bats working early, starting with a single up the middle from Ocker and a bunt single from Rhoney. After the two runners advanced 60 feet on a passed ball from FAU, Haley Pace flew one to left field that didn’t quite leave the park, but was deep enough to score Ocker for the 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the second, Byrne and Powers reached base on consecutive walks for the 49ers, which led coach Aimee DeVos to Alex Paulson pinch-run for Byrne again. Berrier moved Paulson and Powers up to second and third base with a sacrifice bunt, and then Ocker continued her proficient hitting with an infield single to score Paulson. Rhoney followed with her second hit of the day, a single to right field, to score Powers and extend the Charlotte lead to 3-0.
FAU was able to get back two runs in the fourth inning off of Charlotte’s Haley Wiseman, but a stellar defensive play by Ocker in left field led to a double play that kept the Owls from scoring. The Owls tied the game in the fifth inning when a defensive miscue in left field by Ocker would have been the third out of the inning, but instead allowed the runner on second base to come around and score.
In the sixth inning, the 49ers were one strike away from escaping a bases-loaded jam, but a hanging breaking ball from Wiseman was punished by the FAU shortstop, scoring four runs and giving the Owls the 7-3 lead.
Charlotte begin to mount a rally in the bottom of the seventh inning, as Ocker picked up her third hit of the game with a two-out infield single. Rhoney followed that with her third hit, doubling to the gap in right center. Haley Pace then singled up the middle, scoring Ocker and trimming the deficit to three runs. Grace Beatty kept the rally going with another single to center field, scoring Rhoney, but the 49ers rally came up just short when Meredith Harris grounded out to shortstop to end the game.
Game 3: FAU 6, CHAR 0
In the closing game of the series, Charlotte learned why Kylee Hanson has been one of the top pitchers in the nation all season, as the FAU ace held the 49ers to six hits while striking out ten batters in the game. On offense, the Owls used their speed to steal seven total bases in the game, putting runners in scoring position for their timely hitting throughout the lineup.
FAU got on the board early in the second inning, stealing two of those seven bases, and the scoring on a single to left field for the 1-0 lead. Another two stolen bases in the third, along with a throwing error from catcher Byrne, allowed the Owls to extend the lead to 2-0.
Another two runs came across for FAU in the fourth inning after a throwing error from left fielder Ocker, giving the Owls the 4-0 lead. The last two runs for FAU scored in the sixth inning after a throwing error from third baseman Grace Beatty and another throwing error from Byrne, with the Owls lead now at 6-0.
Lizzy Birch was a bright spot offensively for the 49ers, going 2-3 on the day and bumping her batting average up to .305 on the season.
This week, the Charlotte 49ers will host the UNC-Greensboro Spartans (29-20, 6-6 Southern) on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Phillips Softball Complex. Then, they will head on the road to Murfreesboro, Tenn. to take on Middle Tennessee State (23-24, 6-12 C-USA) in a very important conference series that will go a long way in determining the postseason fate of the 49ers.