49ers offense shines in victories over Blue Raiders
For the second time this season, the Charlotte 49er softball team (31-21, 10-11 C-USA ) went on the road and swept a conference opponent, this time taking down the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (23-28, 6-15 C-USA). The 49ers’ offense proved excellent in all three victories, combining for 22 runs scored on 32 hits in the series. Freshman Emma Ocker went 6-for-13 on the weekend from the leadoff spot for the 49ers and Haley Pace totaled 10 RBIs throughout the series, bringing her season total to 47.
Lexi Betancourt and Haley Wiseman continued to excel in the circle for the 49ers, limiting Middle Tennessee to four hits in each game while totaling 20 strikeouts together. Betancourt, now 19-14 on the season, and Wiseman, who is 12-7, have now held opponents to a .214 batting average on the season, while combining for over 320 strikeouts.
Game 1: CHAR 9, MTSU 5
It may not have been her best outing, but senior pitcher Lexi Betancourt proved to be the star of the first game of the series. By defeating the Blue Raiders, Betancourt earned win No. 70 of her career, a new record for the Charlotte program. To get this win though, the 49ers got plenty of help from the offense, especially Haley Pace, who had five RBIs in the game.
Emma Ocker and Grace Beatty also made contributions on offense for the 49ers. The freshman Ocker went 3-for-4 with a RBI and scored all three times she reached base, while Beatty was 4-for-4 in the game, recording two doubles and two RBIs. Pace, Ocker and Beatty were responsible for nine of the 13 hits for Charlotte in the game, continuing the impressive hitting from the top of the lineup.
The 49ers took the lead early after Ocker led off with a single, moved to second on a Bailey Rhoney sacrifice bunt, and then came around to score on the first double of the day for Beatty. Meredith Harris then singled through the right side to score Pace, who had reached on a walk before the Beatty double.
Middle Tennessee took the lead back in the bottom of the first inning though, scoring three runs after two walks by Betancourt and then a home run to dead-center for the 3-2 lead.
After a scoreless second inning, Charlotte jumped back in front in the top of the third, scoring two runs on a long home run from Pace, her eighth of the season. In the fourth inning, the 49ers added two more runs to take the 6-3 lead.
Erin Powers led off with a double to left field and then moved to third base on a sacrifice bunt from Kiersten Berrier. Up came the left fielder Ocker, who doubled into the gap in right-center to score Powers. After a single from Rhoney moving Ocker over to third, a sacrifice fly to right field from Pace scored the second 49er run of the inning.
The Blue Raiders got those two runs back in the bottom of the inning after Betancourt hit a batter and then an error by Lizzy Birch put two runners on for Middle Tennessee. Those two runners came around to score on a double to left field, but Charlotte managed to hold onto their 6-5 lead.
Charlotte scored their final three runs in the top of sixth inning, extending the lead to 9-5 for the 49ers. Berrier and Ocker led off with back-to-back infield singles and then Rhoney moved the two over to second and third base with another sacrifice bunt. Next in the box was Pace, who singled to center field to score Berrier and Ocker, her fourth and fifth RBIs in the game. Beatty followed with her second double of the game, scoring Pace for the ninth run of Charlotte’s 9-5 win.
Game 2: CHAR 5, MTSU 1
In the second game of the doubleheader, the 49ers kept up their offensive firepower by plating five runs on eight hits. The offense backed another stellar pitching performance from Haley Wiseman, giving up one run and four hits to the Blue Raiders for her twelfth win of the season.
Middle Tennessee broke through early against Charlotte after a leadoff walk, a stolen base and a RBI double down the right field line, giving the Blue Raiders a 1-0 lead. Wiseman settled down after the first inning, only giving up three hits throughout the remaining six innings of the game.
The 49ers broke the game open in the fourth inning, scoring all five of their runs on just four hits. Taylar Byrne was the first to reach base, hitting a double to right-center with one out in the inning. With two outs, Kiersten Berrier reached on an infield single to shortstop, moving Byrne over to third base on the hit. Emma Ocker followed up with a double along the chalk of the left field line, scoring Byrne and tying it 1-1.
Next up was the designated player, Bailey Rhoney, who took first base after being plunked by the Middle Tennessee pitcher. Then came Haley Pace, the power-hitting shortstop, smacking a grand slam to straightaway center field to give Charlotte the 5-1 lead. The home run bumped Pace’s total to an impressive nine RBIs on the day, bringing her season total to 47.
Wiseman finished off the Blue Raiders from there, recording four of her seven strikeouts across the last three innings. With the win, the sophomore pitcher is now 12-7 on the season with a 3.04 ERA.
Game 3: CHAR 8, MTSU 3 (F/10)
The 49ers broke the early deadlock in the top of the third inning after Emma Ocker managed a two-out, infield single. Bailey Rhoney followed with a double to the gap in left-center as Ocker raced around the bases to take the 1-0 lead.
Charlotte extended their lead in the next inning, scoring another run to make it 2-0 49ers. With one out, Lizzy Birch got hit by a pitch and then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Taylar Byrne. Next in the box was Erin Powers, who laced a pitch down the right field line for a RBI triple.
Middle Tennessee managed to tie the game in the bottom of the inning though, after two walks and an error, allowing two Blue Raiders to come around and score without even getting a hit.
The 49ers jumped back out in front in the fifth inning, taking the 3-2 lead. Haley Pace singled to center field with two outs, moving to second on a wild pitch, and then scooting over to third base on another wild pitch that walked Grace Beatty. Freshman Meredith Harris kept the two-out rally going with a single up the middle to score Pace.
In the bottom of the inning, the Blue Raiders tied it up once again with a two-out single, a stolen base and then a single into right field that scored the runner from second base. Middle Tennessee threatened to win it in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Lexi Betancourt got the last out of regulation with her eighth strikeout of the game to hold the Blue Raider runner on third base.
After two more scoreless innings, Charlotte broke the game open in the top of the tenth inning. Emma Ocker led off with another infield single, followed by yet another double from Bailey Rhoney to put runners on second and third base for Haley Pace.
The sophomore slugger chopped a ground ball up the middle that the Middle Tennessee shortstop was able to field but couldn’t make a play on, allowing Ocker to score, giving Charlotte the 4-3 lead. After Grace Beatty grounded out to the pitcher and moved Pace over to second base, Meredith Harris hit a first pitch fastball through the left side to score Rhoney and make it 5-3, Charlotte.
After another ground-out to the pitcher, this time by Lizzy Brich, sophomore catcher Taylar Byrne came to bat and smacked a two-out double to left-center field, scoring Pace and Harris. Coach Aimee DeVos wanted to put some speed on the bases in hopes to keep the rally going, so freshman Alex Paulson came out to pinch-run for Byrne. The decision paid off for the 49ers, as Erin Powers singled up the middle and the speedy Paulson came around to score, making it 8-3, in favor for the 49ers.
Lexi Betancourt was impressive across all ten innings, giving up three runs on four hits and five walks, while recording an impressive eleven strikeouts against the Blue Raiders. When we previewed this series earlier in the week, one of the keys to victory was keeping Middle Tennessee’s Precious Birdsong from hurting the 49ers with her bat and speed. Betancourt and Wiseman did just that in the series, allowing Birdsong to just reach base once in each game on a walk, while only going 2-8 overall.
The Charlotte 49ers will not have a mid-week game this week, instead resting up for their final conference series on Saturday and Sunday, May 7 and 8, against Louisiana Tech. As the standings are now, the 49ers are in third place in the East division of Conference USA and would qualify for the conference tournament, but will look for victories at Phillips Softball Complex over the Lady Techsters to ensure their postseason status.