T.J. Sachs

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Big things coming in smaller packages for 49ers

We are in the midst of a basketball revolution. A time where the new taunts the old, where skill outscores size and speed generates opportunity. For the most part, basketball wears the same outfit it did decades ago, but to say there hasn’t been a wardrobe change would be ignoring the facts. Though the 3-point line has been present in the NBA since 1979, and in college since 1986, athletes are now discovering how much one shot can sway a game. Simple math proves two shots from behind the arc put an opponent down three possessions if they score the old fashion way. Perfecting this shot, while constructing a process that compliments the offense has become an attractive option for both professional and college programs.

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Joseph Uchebo watches free throws from afar. Photo by Maria Saenz.

The Charlotte 49er basketball team, headed by coach Mark Price, might be faced with an opportunity to take advantage of this system and unleash an explosive offense that showed flashes this year after going 14-19. Star center, Joseph Uchebo, standing at 6-foot-10, anchored the 49ers this season by reeling in rebounds and banging with the big boys in the paint. Unfortunately, Uchebo has crossed the finish line and will graduate at years’ end.

“We’re taking a big hit, losing big Jo cause he can be a 20 rebound kind of guy,” says freshman point guard Jon Davis. “We bought us some wings, both 6-foot-7, long and versatile to help us out a lot.” Hudson Price, son of Mark Price, is among one of the acquisitions as well as the transfer from Clemson, Austin Ajukwa, who will be eligible to play in his second semester of next year.

This leaves Price with a choice to make. Either recruit a capable big man or look to the bench. “We do have some big guys on our roster,” says Price. But he insists the ultimate goal is to feature the best players on the court. “There will definitely be times this year we’ll play with a smaller lineup and play a lot of small ball,” states Price, who will be heading into his second year at UNC Charlotte.

Red shirt senior Braxton Ogbueze. Photo by Leysha Caraballo.
Red shirt senior Braxton Ogbueze. Photo by Leysha Caraballo.

Basketball has taken a major turn toward

, the math behind what it takes to have the highest percentage of winning.  “Teams have all caught on to the whole points-per-possession argument,” former coach of the New Jersey Nets, Lawrence Frank told the New York Times. The average amount of 3-point field goal attempts per game in the NBA is approximately 23.9. Just looking back to 2003, the same 30 basketball teams were only hoisting up 14.4 threes per contest, almost a 66 percent increase in attempts.

College basketball is also slowly catching up to the pros since adopting the arc seven years after the NBA. The top 10 3-point shooting teams of 2016 attempted almost four more 3-pointers, per game, then the top teams of 2001. This stat might not be shocking, but it is interesting to note that back in 2001, the top 10 3-point shooting teams included only one team who ranked in the top ten that year. In 2016, five of the top 10 3-point shooting teams were ranked top ten in the nation. That trend highlights the fact that the big college programs are, in fact, mirroring a fast paced, 3-point shooting scheme and proving it can make for winning basketball.

So what makes Charlotte a potential team to run a small lineup and be successful? Starting at the top, Price is a legend in the NBA and became just the second player, after Larry Bird, to join the 50-40-90 club. Those who shoot at least 40 percent from three-point range, 50 percent from the field and 90 percent from the free throw line in a single season. Throughout a 12-year NBA tenure primarily spent with the Cavaliers, Price shot over 40 percent from 3-point range, a number still good enough to rank No. 30 all time. Its plain to see, then, that the man knows 3 pointers. He has channeled his style of play and implemented a system that allows players to feel loose on the court.

Because of Uchebo’s departure, and a roster that includes several freshmen, you might think Price was skittish about adopting a more open game and restrict his players’ agency on the court. Instead, Price chooses to trust their judgment. “I give our guys freedom to take shots,” says Price. “I think it lends itself to confidence. Believing that ‘hey,’ coach thinks I can make this shot and wants me to take it when I’m open.” This atmosphere generates chemistry on the floor and builds trust among players. It’s a similar blueprint proving successful for one of Price’s peers, Steve Kerr, another 3-point sharpshooter-turned-coach now guiding the Golden State Warriors.

You can already see the results. The 49ers sported the top 3-point percentage in Conference USA throughout the regular season, shooting .382 from beyond the arc, which is the highest percentage Charlotte has posted in almost two decades. Charlotte’s 3-point success contributed to an impressive 78.3 points per game, creating a foundation where the 49ers can run and gun, push the pace and continue outscoring opponents.

Mike D’Antoni and the Phoenix Suns started the small ball trend in the early 2000s before the 2014 Golden State Warriors inherited the system, eventually capturing an NBA championship. The system has since trickled down into collegiate locker rooms as well. Former Michigan State Big Ten player of the year, Draymond Green, stands at only 6-foot-7, yet plays anywhere from small forward to center where he can match up with opposing teams seven footers. Athletes listed at 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-7 are usually marked as tweeners, meaning too small for a power forward but too tall for a small forward. That used to be a blemish; now, in today’s faster-paced game, it’s become an asset.

“The games always kinda evolving and teams I think, a lot, become copy cats of what’s being successful at the time and so right now the big buzz is the Golden State Warriors,” says Price.

Price says the 49ers aren’t aiming to copy some system in an effort to find secret success. But there are signs that small ball could work, if needed, in certain game situations with the roster. Freshman Andrien White, an athletic guard who wasn’t necessarily recruited on his 3-point shooting ability found his stroke behind the arc in the system Price has implemented,  pouring in 67 3s’, good for second on the roster.

Andrien White hoists a contested three. Photo by Ben Robson
Andrien White hoists a contested three. Photo by Leysha Caraballo.

“Andrien was a pleasant surprise,” Price said, and conceded that the 6-foot-3 guard put in a lot of time over the offseason from beyond the arc. “His confidence grew as the season went along and he wound up being one of our top 3-point shooters.” No doubt, hard work and dedication pay dividends on the court but the right system needs to be in order as well, a system that gives players the confidence to play fast, take shots and trust each other.

It seems this metaphorical train of small ball is moving forward and gaining speed, welcoming those, who believe in the system enough, to be willing to jump from the safety of their roots.  It’s clear the 49ers need to find a little more depth at the center position, either through offseason recruiting or other avenues. But basketball is a progressive sport, always changing, and Charlotte has the tools to adapt in this new climate and, better yet, be successful doing so.

 

Charlotte earns first C-USA win in split with UTSA

Lexi Betancourt and Grace Beatty fist bumping in game 1 victory. Photo by Benjamin Robson
Lexi Betancourt and Grace Beatty fist bump in game 1 victory. Photo by Benjamin Robson

The Charlotte 49ers (17-9, 1-4 C-USA) split their Saturday doubleheader with Conference USA foe, UTSA, dominating their first contest, 7-1 but slipping in the nightcap, 2-1 in nine innings. The early game marks the 49ers first conference win and featured a stellar performance from senior pitcher Lexi Betancourt.

Betancourt struck out eight batters while surrendering only three hits and four walks in the game 1 victory. She also relieved in the ninth inning of the later contest, tallying another strikeout in the late game effort.

Some notable performances Saturday include freshman Meredith Harris, who sported a 2-for-4 performance in game 1 and sophomore Grace Beatty registered two RBI’s and crossed home plate twice. Teammate Taylor Byrne tacked on two RBI’s and Haley Pace joined the action with two runs.

Game 1: Charlotte 7, UTSA 1

Betancourt kept UTSA in check through the first four innings, preventing any hits from the Roadrunners until the fifth inning.

The 49ers broke the stalemate early with two quick runs in the second inning. Freshman Lizzy Birch walked to lead off the inning and moved up on a Harris’s sacrifice bunt. Senior Courtney Carroll advanced her to third and they were brought home with a single from Byrne down the field line.

Charlotte padded the lead in the third inning off an error from UTSA trying to bring the ball home after a laser from Harris up the middle. Beatty, who walked earlier in the inning, scored off the miss handle and put Charlotte ahead 3-0.

After giving up a run in the fifth inning Charlotte answered the call in the same frame. Pace reached after being hit-by-pitch and scored on a Harris single up the middle.

The following inning, Charlotte added insurance in a three run outing after freshman Kiersten Berrier and Pace both reached on fielders choice and rounded the bases on a single from Beatty, who in turn scored on a Birch single to left field.

Game 2: UTSA 2, Charlotte 1

Saturday marked the first extra inning contest of the season after Charlotte clung to a 1-0 lead until the top of the seventh. From there, a fielder’s choice and a dull single over second base tied the game at one

“Were running into a little bit of a problem in the last innings and that’s been kinda been what’s happening the last several games,” said head coach Aimee DeVos. “You got to be able to close out the game and that’s what the struggle is.”

In the top of the ninth, the Roadrunners took advantage of two singles and consecutive walks to plate the winning run.

Charlotte pitcher Haley Wiseman takes the loss but sat down nine batters through eight innings while allowing just four hits.

5 reasons why Charlotte men’s will win the C-USA tournament

Photo by Benjamin Robson
Photo by Benjamin Robson

The Charlotte 49ers tip-off the Conference-USA tournament Wednesday, March 9 at 7 p.m. ET. In preparation for the event, our staff writers weighed in on why the 49ers will crown themselves champions come Saturday:

The Mark Price Effect

Although Mark Price can’t go and shoot the lights out on the court with his players, coach Price was once in conference tournaments, which takes us back to the 1985 Georgia Tech season.

In 1985, Price was in his senior season with the Yellow Jackets, where he would later have his jersey retired, averaging just under 20 points per game.

It came down to Georgia Tech and Chapel Hill in the ACC championship, with Price leading the way for the Yellow Jackets.

Price was named the MVP of the championship game, beating Carolina 57-54, and bringing the first ACC title to Georgia Tech.

He can do the same thing for the 49ers this season, but this time, as a head coach.

Although Charlotte is playing with one true senior (Joseph Uchebo) and one junior (Braxton Ogbueze) in their starting lineup, they have been pieced together by three freshmen throughout the entire season: Curran Scott, Andrien White, and Jon Davis.

Price has worked long hours with his freshman and the rest of the 49ers basketball team to get them prepared for the most important week of their collegiate career, the C-USA tournament.

With the lack of college tournament experience, Charlotte can lean on their most experienced Charlotte member, Price, to bring a championship back to the Queen City and Niner Nation in his first season at the helm.

Photo by Benjamin Robson
Photo by Benjamin Robson

Three-Point Shooting

The three-point shot has become Charlotte’s backbone. It is one of the reasons why the 49ers have turned things around in Price’s first season, which is fitting as the rookie head coach was known for his three-point precision as a professional.

After Bernard Sullivan ended his career due to numerous concussions, Price went to a four out, one in offensive scheme to start games. This allowed Charlotte to space the floor with more shooters and quicker tempo game. Perhaps Price adopted this from the professional level, as there is more emphasis on three-point shooting in the pro game today.

Regardless, Charlotte has four capable shooters on their roster. Ogbueze, White, who broke the most threes made by a freshman in a single season at Charlotte, Scott and Davis. These are the four players that coach Price marches out at tipoff. Each one is shooting or close to 40 percent from three. As a result, Charlotte leads the C-USA in three-point percentage at 39 percent and the fourth highest scoring team at 79 points a game.

This is exactly how Charlotte can win the C-USA. When the 49ers are making their threes, they can beat anyone in the conference. Charlotte blew out North Texas and Rice in back-to-back games by shooting a combined 46 percent from three. Despite the overtime defeat, Charlotte used the three-pointer to come back from a 10-point deficit against Old Dominion by making half of the threes in the second half.

With the pressure of the conference tournament on the horizon, Charlotte should stick to their cards and continue to shoot from three.

Confidence

Charlotte is getting hot at just the right time. Despite the tough 80-77 loss to the Mean Green of North Texas on Saturday, the 49ers still have momentum on their side after two strong wins at home, against UTSA and UTEP. Coupled with a vital road win over Rice this past Thursday night, the team is demonstrating just how talented they truly are.

Entering the conference tournament as the No. 7 seed, the 49ers will again challenge Rice and look for their third victory of the season against them. If Charlotte continues their winning ways, they will be rewarded with the No. 2 seed Middle Tennessee State, a rematch of an exhilarating game that the 49ers lost by only two points at Halton Arena back in Feb.

Confidence is key when it comes to tournament time, and the 49ers have gained plenty of it with their play late in the regular season.

Photo by Benjamin Robson
Photo by Benjamin Robson

Offensive Potency

The 49ers have registered 90 points or more on seven different occasions this year, five of those surpassing 100 points. Youth and poor defense at times can hold back this team but for the most part, consistency is the key if the 49ers plan to sweep the C-USA bracket.

It’s likely their head coach, Price, who happens to be one of the all-time greats in NBA free-throw with 90 percent and three-point with 40 percent is rubbing off on these talented freshman. Charlotte sits atop the conference in two offensive categories, averaging 73.2 points per game and shooting 39 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman White, who wasn’t even brought to Charlotte for his long shot, recently broke the 49ers freshman three-point record and junior guard, Ogbueze is catching fire of late, throwing up 30 points in Charlotte’s last game at Rice.

The 49ers might not have experience on their side, but they don’t lack the ability to score and last time I checked, winning is defined by putting up more points than your opponent when the final buzzer sounds.

Bench Power

The starting five has become consistent in the past few months and though they bring in most the points, the bench of Charlotte can’t be overlooked. The biggest presence on the bench would be that of junior Anthony Vanhook.  Starting only three games in conference play, Vanhook averages 7.1 points per game, shooting .533. He has grabbed 68 rebounds, recorded 47 assists and six blocks in conference play.

Uchebo has put a lot of wear and tear on his legs, keeping his health in mind, having Benas Griciunas to come in and snag some rebounds for the Niners.

Another player who has delivered when he’s put in is Reid Aube. Aube is flawless in conference play, not missing in the paint or behind the free-throw line. If these players, along with the rest of the 49er bench continue to step up when they are put in, Charlotte could go all the way.

Charlotte leaves 10 on base in second loss of season

Becca Shipper Photo by Ben Robson.
Becca Shipper. Photo by Ben Robson.

The 49ers finished up their trip at the ESPN World Wide of Sports complex at Walt Disney Orlando in a losing effort, dropping their second contest of the year, 10-5 to Fordham, Sunday Feb. 28.

Now sitting at 12-2 on the season, Charlotte continued to prove they didn’t have trouble getting on base. But instead, struggled rounding the bases and advancing runners through home plate, recording 13 hits while leaving 10 players on the bags.

Notable mentions include Freshman Kiersten Berrier, who recorded three hits in the contest, and Lizzy Birch who tallied a double and a triple that resulted in a run. Sophomore Grace Beatty, Haley Pace, and Becca Shipper each contributed two hits apiece.

The 49ers started hot, a common occurrence this season, jumping out to a quick lead in the opening frame. Shipper walked to lead off the inning and advanced to second on a single from Pace. Birch would bring Shipper home on a sacrifice fly and Pace shortly followed on a single from Berrier to put the Niners up 2-0.

Fordham came out swinging in the second inning, stringing together three straight doubles to put the Rams on the board. Charlotte responded quickly in the bottom half behind a lead off single from freshman Emma Ocker. Catcher Taylar Byrne moved her to second on a sac bunt then Courtney Carroll joined the action with a single of her own, moving Ocker to third and finally home after first baseman Bailey Rhoney forced fielders to freeze, keeping everyone safe and putting the Niners up, 3-1.

The Rams fought back, taking advantage of a walk, fielder’s choice, single and an illegal pitch to erase the deficit and tie the contest.

Action subsided until the fifth inning when Charlotte regained the lead after Birch led off with a triple, later scoring on a sac fly from Ocker.

The Rams pulled their Ace in the sixth inning, exploding for six hits resulting in six runs to take their first lead of the game. Charlotte was unable to dig out of the hole and tacked on their second loss of the season.

The 49ers return to action Wednesday, traveling to Raleigh to face North Carolina State at 5 p.m.

Back-to-back shutouts lift Charlotte to 11-0

Bailey Rhoney. Photo by Leysha Caraballo
Bailey Rhoney. Photo by Leysha Caraballo

The 49ers continue their smoking hot season, improving to 11-0 after a two game shut out, Friday Feb. 26, in Orlando, Fla. against Yale and Morgan State. Charlotte currently sits one game back from their best win streak and start in program history, which were both set in 2007.

Dominating pitching performances from senior Lexi Betancourt and sophomore Haley Wiseman propelled both victories.

Betancourt sat down 10 batters, allowing just four hits as she picked up her league high seventh win on the season and her second shut out. Wiseman noted her upper classman’s performance and shined in game two, posting a career high 15 Ks, allowing just two hits for her fourth victory of the year.

Three Niners recorded multiple hits in Friday’s opening contest. Sophmore Becca Shipper and Freshman Lizzy Birch and Emma Ocker each tallied two hits. The 49ers highlighted three different names in the finale, displaying depth on offense with sophomore Haley Pace, Grace Beatty and senior Courtney Carroll each cranking out a pair of RBI’s.

Game 1: Charlotte 4 Yale 0

Shipper ended a three-inning drought with single to left, leading things off for the 49ers. Kiersten Berrier reached first on error and advanced to second. After two quick outs, Birch entered, who fouled off six straight before finding her pitch and mashing a ball to left field, bringing home both Shipper and Berrier for Charlotte’s first runs.

Keeping the pressure on Yale, Charlotte produced yet again in the following inning. Ocker led off with an infield single followed by a sacrifice bunt, moving her to second. A double to deep center from Shipper plated Ocker to gain insurance in the fourth inning.

Charlotte added their final run in the fifth to complete the shutout. Betancourt took a no-hitter to the fifth inning before surrendering a single from Yale pitcher, Francesca Casalino.

Game 2: Charlotte 8 Morgan State 0

Most wouldn’t have predicted Wiseman would churn out career high strikeouts after the opening inning, which featured hitting a batter and walking another. But after settling in, Wiseman commanded the mound, carrying a no hitter into the fifth inning and coming just three outs shy of tying the single-game strikeout record set by Katie Watkins in 2013.

Charlotte plated two runs in the first inning, one coming from Ocker utilizing a walk to claim a base, then reaching second on a groundout from Pace. She scored the first of her three run performance on the back of a Beatty single. After a walk and a couple of errors committed by the Bears Beatty too crossed home plate.

The trio of Ocker, Pace and Beatty struck again in the third inning, successfully loading the bases with Carroll on deck.

The senior showed poise in the box, eyeing a few pitches before sinking her teeth into a laser up the third base line bringing home both Pace and Beatty. Carroll was soon rewarded two batters later when Bailey Rhoney singled to right, extending the lead 6-0.

Charlotte forced the mercy rule in the bottom of the sixth after Shipper and Ocker were both batted home by, who other than, Pace and Beatty.

The 49ers spotless record will be tested Saturday when they open another double header against their first ranked opponent of the season in former Conference USA member No. 22 UCF at 3:30 p.m. Syracuse follows at 5:45 p.m.

 

Charlotte ties second best start in program history, 9-0

Haley Pace celebrates with her team at home plate. Photo by Leysha Caraballo
Haley Pace celebrates with her team at home plate. Photo by Leysha Caraballo

Charlotte softball improved to 9-0 on the season after capping off the weekend with a win against Presbyterian, 6-2, tying for the second best start and win streak in program history. Sunday’s win at Phillips Softball Complex completed the five game weekend sweep, which featured Charlotte outscoring opponents 35-5. The 49ers totaled an impressive 71 hits in the three day stretch and although that excited, head coach Aimee DeVos still pointed out areas that needed improvement.

“It wasn’t quite as sharp a day for us, even a little bit from pitching standpoint at least from our standards of what we set,” said DeVos. “Had a few errors that weren’t necessary but at the end of the day you still have Lexi [Betancourt] in the circle and she’s ‘been there, done that.”

Sophomore Haley Pace, who has had a phenomenal weekend turned in another standout performance Sunday, recording the team’s first home run of the season crushing a two run solo shot to deep right. Pace went 2-for-3 with two runs and three RBI.

“I hadn’t had a great start this year like I was hoping too but I made some adjustments and really my team has been picking me up in the dugout, said Pace”

DeVos acknowledged her sophomore shortstop but wasn’t surprised by the big day, stating, “That’s the type of hitter she is and that’s the reason we have her in the three spot; to give us just that.” Hayley was in a zone today and she ripped the ball all over the field.”

The Niners started slow and battled in a close matchup through the first two innings before breaking down the barrier and racking up a season-high 12 hits.

Becca Shipper started the Niners off in the bottom of the third, connecting on a pitch to left field. She advanced to second off a sacrifice bunt but Pace would handle the rest, sending a bomb to opposite field to bring them both home.

The Blue Hose would cut the lead to one in the top of the fourth after a double brought in a runner who previously boarded on a bunt single

Charlotte answered quickly, earning back the run after from senior Courtney Carroll who crossed home plate after Bailey Rhoney singled through the right field gap.

Carroll wasn’t finished, immediately slicing a ball over the pitcher’s head to bring home Pace who led off the inning with a single down the left field line.

“It feels awesome,” says Carroll. “It’s a great start for us and we just want to keep it rolling. At the beginning of the year we were a little scared because everyone’s a little new but I think we mesh very well.”

Lexi Betancourt. Photo by Leysha Caraballo
Lexi Betancourt. Photo by Leysha Caraballo

With a 4-1 lead, Charlotte gained insurance in the sixth inning bringing home Emma Ocker off a Kierston Berrier single and a sac fly shot by Pace, recording her third RBI of the contest.

With a comfortable 6-1 lead, Charlotte would sacrifice another run in the final frame off a single to right field. A Niner fielding error would leave two on with one out. Pitcher Lexi Betancourt showed poise, forcing back to back groundouts to earn her sixth win of the year.

Charlotte will finish off their 11 game home stand on Wednesday, welcoming (RV) USC Upstate to the Phillips Softball Complex for a doubleheader beginning at 3 p.m.

Charlotte improves to 6-0 behind strong pitching

Sophomore. Haley Wiseman. Photo by Benjamin Robson
Sophomore. Haley Wiseman. Photo by Benjamin Robson

The Charlotte 49er softball team continues to roll through the season thanks to dominant pitching performances. The 49ers improvec to 6-0 on the year after a doubleheader, Friday Feb. 19, against Stony Brook and Presbyterian. As if having a perfect record wasn’t enough, Charlotte has outscored there opponents 47-5 thus far.

GAME 1: Charlotte 10, Stony Brook 1

Senior Lexi Betancourt got the ball for the 49ers for the first matchup against the 2015 American East Coast Conference Champions, Stony Brook. Betancourt had another solid outing, registering five strikeouts and allowing just two hits to tally her fourth win of the season.

The Niners came out swinging, registering five runs in the first inning off of just two hits. Becca Shipper, who tallied six RBI’s on the day, and Kiersten Berrier, led off the side and were both able to take a base. Haley Pace then ripped a double into the left center gap, bringing home both runners. The Niners would plate three more runners before the end of the opening inning off a couple of walks and a bunt single.

“I think the first inning has been very strong for us,” “Then we’re backing it up with phenomenal pitching,” said head coach Aimee DeVos. “We’re keeping them off the bases and the defense is making the plays when they’re there. We’re really balanced right now; we just have to continue to execute.”

Charlotte continued to take the freebies in the third, loading up the bases courtesy of two walks and a fielder’s choice. Shipper cashed in with a triple to deep right allowing freshman Lizzy Birch, Meredith Harris, and Bailey Rhoney to cross home plate.

The Seawolves avoided a blowout in the fourth on a solo shot from catcher Melissa Phelan over the left field fence. Charlotte would respond quickly, plating two runners in the bottom of the fourth, bringing about the mercy rule for the victory, 10-1.

GAME 2: Charlotte 9, Presbyterian 1

Sophmore Bailey Rhoney found the hot bat in this matchup, going 3-for-4 with a double, three runs, and two RBI’s.

“Bailey executed for us on many plays, hitting runs, putting the ball in play and came up big with runners in scoring position and we need that to happen,” said DeVos.

Rhoney’s output alone proved to be enough for the victory, especially with Sophmore pitcher Haley Wiseman throwing heat off the mound. In just her second outing with the 49ers Wiseman reeled off a career high 12 strikeouts with no walks, coming just three outs away from her fist shutout of the year.

“I think staying up every inning has been key for our team and making sure we do the little things like hit behind the runners and move them around the bag to be successful as a team,” said Haley.

Charlotte began the contest the same way they have all season — jumping out to a lead in the first inning. Charlotte has now scored in the first inning of every matchup this season.

In the fourth, the 49ers found their production on back-to-back doubles from senior Courtney Carroll and Rhoney. Charlotte would also take advantage of two errors by the Blue Hose to get a third run across, putting the Niners up 4-0.

“We seem to be; we have an inning, we have a big inning,” said a pleased DeVos. “That puts a team back on their heels and were looking to really pound on that.”

After tacking on two more runs in the sixth inning off a Shipper single, the Niners eyed their second shutout of the year. Charlotte finished strong at the plate turning three hits and three walks into three runs, stretching the lead, 9-0.

But on the first pitch of the seventh inning, Presby’s Hope Rogers would spoil the party; smacking a ball over center field to give the Blue Hose their lone run of the day. Wiseman kept composure and finished strong, striking out the final three batters with just 16 pitches to end the day.

The Niner’s wont rest long, returning to action for another dual matchup Saturday, facing St. Joseph’s and Stony Brook again at noon and 2 p.m.

49ers men’s basketball proving to be a game of inches

Ridell Camidge celebrates under the confetti. Photo by Chris Crews
Ridell Camidge celebrates under the confetti. Photo by Chris Crews

Ever heard the phrase, “football is a game of inches?”

For those who have followed the Charlotte 49ers men’s basketball team this year, it’s clear this phrase can be translated into basketball terms. A basket here or a defensive stop there and the 49ers record of 9-15 could easily be flipped. Eight games this season have been decided by two possessions or less.

Many will see the record of this team or hear whispers on campus and attach a negative connotation to this season. But head coach Mark Price would argue this stance, stating, “For the people that just look at win loss records you know that’s the way some people value and judge things but this year for us, it’s a lot more than that, its about how were playing, how were growing, how were competing and I feel like we’ve made great strides and were gonna try to continue moving forward in these last eight games,” (seven now after the win over Rice).

If you expected a, win now, lucrative basketball program this year, it would have been easier to let you down before watching the last 24 games. Charlotte had only two notable pieces returning for the current season in Braxton Ogbueze and Bernard Sullivan; Ogbueze being the only starter.

Sullivan has since retired due to a surplus of concussions in his athletic career and Ogbueze played point most of last year and is adapting to a new role in the offense. Charlotte also welcomed five newcomers, three of them being freshman, two counted on to contribute right away in the starting lineup in Andrien white and John Davis. Not to mention an entire new coaching staff.

Considering the circumstances, Charlotte wasn’t exactly blessed with a winning hand from the beginning. But what should be noted is the fact that they are blessed with a team that, at the least, believes they can win every time they step foot on the court. The eight nail biting losses highlight the heart of this basketball team and the mood has completely changed. A team that used to be a freebie on opponent’s schedules is turning into a guaranteed dogfight for fort minutes.

Joseph Uchebo greets Braxton Ogbueze after drawing the four point play. Photo by Chris Crews
Joseph Uchebo greets Braxton Ogbueze after drawing the four point play. Photo by Chris Crews

In the most recent loss to conference foe Old Dominion, Charlotte was tested again. After trailing 10 points at the half, the 49ers rallied in front of the home crowd to take the lead late in the second half. Monarchs senior Trey Freeman tallied three of his 38 points when he sunk a three pointer to force overtime with 18 seconds remaining. Charlotte would end up losing in OT but the point is, having a senior like Freeman, who has the experience in pressure situations greatly increases a teams chances of coming out on top when it counts. All great teams and players had to first learn how to lose in order to make the necessary adjustments to attain success.

“There’s some game planning, there’s some stuff you can teach but ultimately it comes down to experience and the other night Old Dominion had the ball in a seniors hands and we had the ball in a freshman’s hands,” said Price. “You can say well this and that but, that’s a lot. A guy that’s been through the wars versus a guy that’s learning as he goes every game.”

Learning how to win is all part of the process that coach Price preaches, and its not going to happen over night. Hanging in these games to the end is giving these young guys a chance to learn what it takes to get the job done. Even if the result isn’t exactly desirable, the experience is priceless.

“We got a young team,” said Price. “The more close games you play in, the more experience your guys get, the more comfortable your gonna be in those situations.”

In Price we trust

Mark Price. Photo by Chris Crews
Mark Price. Photo by Chris Crews

With the second half of the season among us, many are beginning to acknowledge the growth of the basketball team, the players, and the program as a whole. All would be true realizations in their own right.

But some forget this isn’t just the first year for three stand out freshman on the 49ers. Head coach Mark Price is also growing with this young team, learning how to be a head coach for the first time in his career, and going through the process of what it takes to be successful.

“It’s all new to me,” said Price. “This is the first time being a head coach obviously, but the first time to go through the conference so every team we play is a new experience.”

It hasn’t been the easiest campaign for Price who endured a 1-8 start to the season, which left many questioning the first year coach’s methods. In all fairness the 49ers were hosed in the scheduling department to start the season, facing elite non-conference opponents by the likes of Syracuse and Michigan in the Battle for Atlantis. Followed by Davidson at home and then at Miami.

“Unfortunately our schedule was brutal early and I wouldn’t say slowed the process but made it more difficult,” claimed Price.

In this stretch Price proved to be persistent and patient with the development process of his team. He understood that a young team takes time to mesh and mature together.

“Three or four months ago none of these guys even knew each other or played together before, Price said. “Building chemistry and togetherness takes time, it doesn’t just happen over night; I don’t care what your talent level is.”

Mark Price and his two fellow recruits, Joseph Uchebo and Curran Scott. Photo by Chris Crews
Mark Price and his two fellow recruits, Joseph Uchebo and Curran Scott. Photo by Chris Crews

This isn’t the first time Price has stressed going through the “process.” In his two years as an assistant coach with the Charlotte Bobcats, Price completely reconstructed small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump shot. Gilchrist was notorious for his funky jump shot leading to a dismal 27.2 percent shooting percentage on attempts from 3-10 feet away. Price understood altering muscle memory takes time and worked with Gilchrist tirelessly to find something that worked.

Gilchrist went on to make 50 percent of his shots from 10-16 feet in his third year and 37 percent from 16 feet out to the three-point line, a 31 percent increase compared to his rookie outing.

Price has the experience and patience to turn a deficient situation into a prosperous opportunity, which is exactly what’s in store for the future of these Charlotte 49ers.

Through their first nine games Charlotte averaged just 68 points per contest, ending the string of games with a tough loss at home to the Campbell Camels over eight weeks ago. Price challenged his players from then on, being visibly frustrated in the post-game conference.

“It’s just mind boggling to me how you can come out and not be ready to play basketball.

I told the guys tonight everything’s wide open right now, I gotta find some guys that can go out and get excited about playing,” stated Price.

Mark Price on the bench with his coaching staff. Photo by Chris Crews
Mark Price on the bench with his coaching staff. Photo by Chris Crews

Star guard Braxton Ogbueze was next to Price during that conference and took coach Price’s words to heart; as did the rest of the team.

“In life your going to have tough times, your gonna have learning blocks and as coach said right now we got to figure out how to start the game with a better energy and I feel just a better approach,” said Ogbueze who currently leads the 49ers with 12.6 point per game.

It’s becoming clear that Price, who is second all-time in the NBA for free throw percentage (.904) and 29th in three-point percentage (.402), is rubbing off on the 49ers.

Over the next nine games, Charlotte averaged an impressive 81.7 points per matchup. This stretch featured the emergence of freshman guards Jon Davis and Andrien White who both took C-USA freshman of the week awards twice this year. Charlotte also positioned itself second in the conference in scoring average (80.1) and number one for three-point field goal percentage (.418).

Not to mention, with the latest win over NC A&T, Charlotte has now won four of their last five matchups, improving to a respectable 8-14 record.

Price has truly grown as a collegiate coach and will continue to gain the trust of his players as well as Charlotte fans. With a young team and only a 22 game sample size, its clear there’s only good things to come in this program. The learning process continues day by day, getting stronger, both as player and coach.

“I feel like I’m learning every day as well as my players,” said Price. “I feel like were headed in the right direction and hopefully we keep moving that way.”

Jon Davis: The Initial Believer

Jon Davis. Photo by Chris Crews
Jon Davis. Photo by Chris Crews

On April 23 of last year a bond was formed, a bond between coach and player that started a new era in Charlotte basketball. Freshman guard Jon Davis was Mark Price’s first acquisition as a head coach for the 49ers. The move is proving to be mutually beneficial for both sides as Davis continues to shine on a young and talented team with enormous potential.

“He will always be that first recruit, always be special in my mind,” said Price. “He took a chance on me and I took a chance on him. We started this thing together and when we get the program to where we want it to be we can both look back and take great pride in that.”

Davis played out his high school career at Clinton Christian in upper Maryland. In 2014, as a senior, he averaged 18 point and 4 assists per contest while earning Conference player of the year and Conference tournament MVP honors. After receiving a plethora of collegiate offers, Davis chose to take his talents to DePaul University. A school that offered him something no other school would at the time; playing time in his first year.

“I had maybe 10 offers from a lot of, so called, major schools like ACC, Big Ten, stuff like that but they all wanted me for 2015. DePaul wanted me for 2014 and at first I didn’t want to do the prep so I thought just take what I can get.”

Davis had a close relationship with an assistant coach from DePaul, which weighed heavily on his decision to commit there. Fate intervened when the same coach was fired. Davis immediately withdrew his decision and landed at Hargrave military prep under decorated head coach A.W Hamilton, who also attended the prep school as a student.

Jon Davis emerges in front of Niner Nation for the first time. Photo by Chris Crews
Jon Davis emerges in front of Niner Nation for the first time. Photo by Chris Crews

“The fact that he also went to Hargrave he knows the everyday struggle of waking up at six, the daily hassles, going to practice and he’s just a great coach,” said Davis.

So how exactly did Davis come across Charlotte’s radar? Luckily, current assistant coach, Chris Ferguson, spent his last eight years on the coaching staff of Oklahoma State where Davis was scouted a few years back. Ferguson, being in his first year at Charlotte as well, relayed the information to coach Price who then gathered the entire coaching staff to see Davis workout at Hargrave.

“What really got me was the fact that all four of them came to see me workout in Virginia about 10 miles north of Danville, which is in the middle of nowhere,” said Davis who was moved by the effort of the Charlotte coaching staff. “I don’t think any of them ever saw me even play in a game and they offered me a scholarship. That just shows the confidence they had in me.”

Confidence has since grown in the freshman point guard as Price continues to trust Davis with more minutes and a larger role in the 49er offense. Extended play has directly correlated to heightened production as well as the team’s overall success.

Davis just received his second Conference USA Freshman of the Week award following a two game streak where he averaged a staggering 22-points and 6.5 assists per game. He registered 72 minutes of play while shooting 77.3 percent from the field and 72.7 percent from beyond the arc. Davis continues to lace up when the lights shine brightest, currently heading the team in C-USA play for both points and assists, averaging 16.4 points and 5.4 assists per game.

Settling into the point guard role didn’t happen over night for Davis but it hasn’t exactly been a lifelong position for the 6’2 guard either.

“I didn’t start playing point guard, honestly, until last year at Hargrave. That’s the first time I had true point guard responsibilities where I had to run a team,” said Davis. “You got to make sure everyone else is getting involved, you got to worry about defense, you got to set everything up and you also have to worry about doing stuff for yourself. A successful point guard can score the ball, assist, and have great efficiency.”

It also helps that Davis is learning the role from a legend in the basketball community who played point guard through out his 12 year NBA tenure. No doubt Price and Davis will always share that bond for the game, which in turn creates a greater sense of team chemistry and pays dividends on the court.

“To jump on board first and say hey coach I want to come play for you and obviously playing the position that I played as a player. Our relationship that way as well, we kinda have that bond with each other,” said Price as he cracked a smile.

As far as the future of the Charlotte 49ers, the mood around the locker room is trending upward. Everyone is buying into the system and excited to see what lies ahead. Davis is not the only freshman sporting impressive numbers this year. Guard Andrien White is coming off a 30-point performance in the win over Marshall and is currently second on the team for points per game. Also, in recent weeks, Curran Scott has jumped in the action, averaging 21 points over the last three weeks.

The young talent on this team bodes for a successful future in this program’s near future and Davis would agree. “As far as me, Andrien and Curran, we’ve done a great job of getting better since we came here and I think were all level headed kids who love playing basketball and want to get better.”

 

 

Niners dismantled by ODU in series finale

After a quick start, the Charlotte 49ers found themselves in a deep hole giving up 15 unanswered runs through seven innings before the 10-run mercy rule was enforced. The 49ers would end up losing the battle 15-1, surrendering 17 hits to Old Dominion (16-13, 5-7) who took the series, winning two-of-three on the weekend.

Charlotte (11-15, 5-10) started off the contest with a quick run in the first as Eric Eason walked to first and moved to second on Brad Elwood’s free pass. Logan Sherer’s RBI single to left brought Eason home for the first and only run for the Niners.

“You got to give Old Dominion credit,” said Charlotte head coach Loren Hibbs after the game.

“I mean they really played well today, they were really comfortable in the box offensively and we just didn’t do a whole lot to make them uncomfortable. So they were just better than we were.”

Old Dominion took advantage of three errors by the Niners and would come up with two clutch two-out hits in the second, racking up four runs. A pair of unearned runs in the third and a couple leadoff walks in the fourth allowed the Monarchs to jump ahead 8-1.

All hope was lost after old Dominion lit up the scoreboard with a slew of seven runs in the sixth inning. Zach Rutherford, who already had a RBI double in the third, left his mark again with a two-run single to center leading up to Connor Myers who blasted a another two-run double down the left field line.

The Monarchs had eight batters cash in with hits on the day compared to the 49ers two. Sherer would account for two of the three hits registered for Charlotte and went for an impressive 8-13 hitting .615 in the series at ODU, scoring three runs.

Charlotte will stay on the road and hope to make the necessary adjustments when they head back to Virginia on Tuesday, facing off against Virginia Tech at 5:30 p.m.

 

Softball can’t complete the sweep, fall vs. Middle Tennessee

The Charlotte 49ers took the field Saturday afternoon in a Conference USA matchup against Middle Tennessee. In a lopsided matchup, the 49ers fell 10-2 after a crippling fifth inning where the Blue Raiders piled up six runs. A win would have capped off a sweep for the series and continued their five game win streak.

Middle Tennessee (13-19, 1-13 C-USA) jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead at the top of the opening inning when Cor’Nisha Birdsong singled to right field. After stealing second, Morgan Harris would single to center field and drive home Birdsong for the first run of the day. The 49ers would leave Jackie Kleinsmith on third in the first inning after Haley Pace struck out for the third out.

The Blue Raiders wouldn’t waste any time as Randi Cookus connected with an effortless homer to left field bringing the lead up to two. Charlotte started to find some hits in the bottom of the second after a base hit from Courtney Carrol, who would move over to second off a sacrifice bunt from Grace Beatty.

The 49ers (20-15,7-4 C-USA) tacked on a run after a blast over the first baseman’s head from Hayley Lewis, cutting the lead 2-1.

In the top of the third, the 49ers made a pitching change after a single from Birdsong, opting to take out Lexi Betancourt for freshman Bailey Rhoney. Betancourt had a huge day Friday posting 20 strikeouts and could have been fatigued. Rhoney was rattled right out of the gates after walking Alma Cortez. A sac bunt would advance Birdsong and Cortez. With runners on second and third Rhoney walked another batter and Cookus blasted a shot to center field scoring two and stretching the lead 4-1.

The Blue Raiders killed all doubt of a comeback in the top of the fifth with a slew of six runs. Rhoney could never find her groove on the mound hitting two batters and walking two. With Cortex and Harris on base Carlie Jenkins pushed the ball to deep right field, bringing home both runners. Cookus followed with a single, advancing Jenkins to third. Kristin Uselton took her fourth ball and loaded the bases.

Rhoney then hit Megan Griffith to bring home a run followed by a 49er outfielder error, allowing Kiarra Freeman to take a base scoring another 8-1. The last two runs came from a walk and a fly ball that dropped right over the second basemen’s head. The 49ers tried to conjure up some momentum and found one more run in the bottom of the fifth on a wild throw home but later stalled out with runners on second and third.

Charlotte’s five game win streak would come to an end, but they will look forward to their doubleheader next Wednesday, as they host Furman. The first game will start at 4 p.m.

Niners can’t complete late rally, fall 7-5 against FIU

Charlotte would like to forget the previous meeting at FIU, which turned into a landslide of 23 runs behind a poor defensive outing. In todays game, although more suspenseful, Charlotte (7-11, 1-8) continued to struggle with three errors FIU took advantage of to edge out the 49ers 7-5.

The Panthers would draw first blood to lead off the second with a base hit from Zach Soria followed by a sacrifice bunt from Austin Rodriguez to move Soria to second. J.C Escarra would clean up a pitch and single up the middle to plate Soria and give FIU the early 1-0 lead.

FIU extended their lead to three in the third inning as Julius Gaines took first on a fielder’s choice, stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by the Niners. Charlotte’s woes continued after a wild pitch brought home Gaines. Edwin Rios would then blast his fourth homer of the weekend on a solo shot to right field.

Charlotte cut into the deficit with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth. Danny Raley started the Niners off with a single to right and advanced to second on a FIU fielding error. With Zach Jarrett on base by fielders choice, Brett Netzer then singled to left followed by an RBI base hit from T.J Nichting which brought home Raley. Brad Elwood would then follow with a sacrifice fly to left that brought home Jarrett trimming the lead to 3-2.

The Niners would run into some more trouble when FIU tacked on two more runs in the fifth off a lead off triple from Brian Portelli and the first of two balks called on the Niner pitching staff. Later on Edwin Rios would use a walk to his advantage rounding the bases and scoring off an RBI groundout to short off the bat of Mitchell Robinson. In the sixth inning Jack Schaaf would be walked, advance to second on a fielders choice and take third on the Niners second balk of the afternoon and scored off a Soria RBI. This gave FIU a comfortable 6-2 lead until the Niners made things interesting in the eighth inning.

Charlotte would start their rally with base hits from Hunter Jones, Nick Daddio and Raley, loading the bases and forcing FIU to bring in reliever Danny Dopico. Dopico would get two quick strikeouts but Nichting’s two-RBI single to center and Elwood’s base hit cut the lead back to one at 6-5.

FIU would cease Charlotte’s momentum with a late insurance run in the bottom half of the eighth inning as Rios singled Gaines home. The Niners had one last chance to render a dramatic comeback in the ninth inning putting the tying run on base, but momentum was quickly halted after a pair of strikeouts by Dopico.

“We still had a chance in the last couple of innings,” said Charlotte head coach Loren Hibbs. “When we get in these environments we’ve got to do a better job not only playing, we’ve got to do a better job managing the game and we’ve got to do a better job developing more depth because you’ve got to use more guys,”

The Niners will finish up their road trip with Wake Forest for their first of two meetings this season. The game is set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday night..

49ers Softball shuts out Marshall

After a long road trip, the Charlotte 49ers returned home to host Marshall (17-8, 3-3 C-USA) for only their second home game in five weeks.The 49ers had full support in a packed stadium and sported pink jerseys in light of raising money for “Strikeout cancer awareness.”

Lexi Betancourt got the start and has been on a tear in recent games, even being named C-USA Co-Pitcher of the week. Betancourt picked up where she left off, firing 11 strikeouts in the 4-0 shutout. She continues to show composure especially with runners on base.

With a stalemate through the top of the third inning, Charlotte (12-11, 1-2, C-USA) finally connected with a big double from Hayley Lewis. Natalie Capone quickly followed, sneaking a base hit by the shortstop and bringing in Lewis for the 49ers first run. A double play and a pop fly would then end the inning.

The Thundering Herd started the fourth inning strong, posting consecutive base hits with runners on first and second. Jackie Kleinsmith would not be fooled as she picked off Emileigh Cooper trying to steal third base for the second out.

Betancourt would handle the rest retiring Taylor McCord to save the inning. Kleinsmith would prove to be effective on both sides after smacking a monster home run to center field in the bottom of the fourth.

With a 2-0 lead heading into the fifth inning Charlotte almost found themselves in some trouble after a triple from Marshall’s best batter, Morgan Zerkle. Betancourt would stay poised and strike out Kaelynn Greene for the final out.

After a quick out, Charlotte’s Capone snuck a blooper over the third basemen’s head to get another hit on the board. Next, Jessica Plemmons really stretched the lead, blasting a two run homer to left field giving the 49ers a 4-0 lead, which they would hold on to through the final inning.

Through a strong pitching performance and a stout outfield, Charlotte would finish strong and post the shutout for game one in the series. They face off again at 3 p.m. as Charlotte will try to finish off the doubleheader.