After making the conference tournament last season, Charlotte has high expectations for the 2017 season
Baseball season looms overhead at Robert and Mariam Hayes stadium with opening day only three weeks away. As the team prepares to welcome West Virginia on Feb. 17, the expectations for the 49ers are high this season.
The squad is facing one of the most rigorous schedules in the program’s history. The 55-game schedule (32 home, 30 away) will include seven NCAA regional opponents – nearly half of their games.
“We’re excited for the challenges. Anybody that pays attention to college baseball will know that we’re biting off a big chunk. If we perform at the level we expect them to perform at we’ll be rewarded in June,” head coach Loren Hibbs said.
Their first contest away from the Queen City will be to face off with a nationally-ranked South Carolina team. The Gamecocks also had a showing in the Super Regional last season prior to being swept by Oklahoma State.
There are also two games on the Niners’ schedule that will take place Uptown in the Charlotte Knights stadium. Those two contests will be against Wake Forest on March 21 and N.C. State on March 28. This will mark the third year that the 49ers can be seen Uptown. Hibbs says it is an “exciting” atmosphere for his players to be in.
The 49ers return all of their infield starters with the exception of third base, a void that will be filled by East Carolina transfer Jackson Mimms. With the weekend starters returning, the experience found on the Charlotte roster will prove to be valuable for the squad.
Before the first practice, Charlotte is already being put on the map with junior Brett Netzer being named a third team preseason All-American.
Last season the infielder held a .384 batting average that included five home runs and 35 RBI. Along with being named to the All-Freshmen team his first season with Charlotte, Netzer was named to C-USA’s second team to conclude last season.
He was second on the Charlotte team in runs, hits, RBI, doubles, triples, home runs and walks. Netzer ranked in the top five in the conference in doubles with 17, on base percentage with .461, hits with 81 and slugging percentage with .555.
In addition to his All-American nod, Netzer was named to the preseason all-conference team. Joing him on the roster are seniors Logan Sherer and T.J. Nichting.
Sherer had an impressive showing in his junior season. He recorded 12 home runs and 52 RBI and finished with a .336 batting average. Sherer came in second in C-USA in slugging percentage with .574, home runs and RBI.
He was in the top five for total bases tallying 128 and runs scored having 48.
Nichting lead the 49ers last season in hits, doubles, two-out RBI and multi-hit games. During the 2016, campaign the switch hitter had a career best 17-game hitting streak. The senior led C-USA in doubles (23), was sixth in hits (82) and finished fifth in RBIs (.358).
“It’s nice to be recognized for the work that you put it and it’s nice to see your teammates recognized for their work. Those are preseason awards and as nice as they are, it doesn’t mean too much because we still have work to do and stuff to do,” Nichting said.
The team entered the conference tournament last year in the eighth seed. After Charlotte qualified for the conference tournament last season, a major accomplishment in the C-USA league, their sights are set on finishing on top this year.
The next step is to compete for a conference championship.
“In this league you can finish fifth and still qualify for a regional,” Hibbs said. “We’re striving to be the best in the league.”
After putting in work during the off-season, the 49ers are predicted to finish at sixth in the conference.
“The level of expectation is a little higher than that, we’re trying to win a conference championship. To keep it in context, with as good as the conference is, if we finish sixth we will be a regional-type team,” Hibbs said.
The players are aiming to be the best this season as well, Sherer said, “We want to put another sign out there in left field and I think we can do that.”